Published On: Sun, Jun 3rd, 2018

Conspicuous Infringements: Donald Trump’s Relentless Assault on Truth and Beauty

By Louis René Beres, special to Jewish Business News

“`Beauty is truth, truth beauty’ – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
John Keats, On a Grecian Urn

Donald Trump’s multi-pronged attacks on truth and beauty are difficult to overlook, even for the most ardent supporters of this bitterly rancorous presidency. In virtually all pertinent matters of aesthetics – singularly delicate matters for a nation that is generally far more comfortable with tangible considerations of crime, war, and terrorism – Mr. Trump has gone well beyond simple inattention or mere indifference. He persists, as an example, with endlessly witless references to “a beautiful wall with a beautiful door” (Mexico); gold-plated toilet accessories at Mar a Lago; a military parade to honor a commander-in-chief who never served a day in America’s armed forces; and all the “great people” who cheerfully attend his so-called rallies – including the “very fine” Nazi and white power marchers he celebrated so openly after Charlottesville.

Reciprocally, Mr. Trump can discover only ugliness among those patently undesirable immigrants who so foolishly hail from “shithole countries.” As the president explicitly cited to Norway as a manifestly more suitable source of future immigration to the United States, one can readily infer that his strong personal preference here would be for “Aryans.” Is this conclusion anything less than plain?

There is more. In one favored sector of Trumpean “beauty,” it’s all about beautiful walls and doors. In another, and as part of the president’s corrosively anti-historic promise that the country will soon be “great again,” beauty is effectively about a welcome restoration of “pure blood.” In any event, whatever this president’s chosen object of American “beauty” at one particular moment or another, Mr. Trump’s viscerally crude references and metaphors have managed to defile truth and beauty simultaneously.

Ultimately, even for a president who is overly fond of expressing himself in illiterate clichés and monosyllabic grunts, language must have certain palpable consequences. Trump’s “rallies,” embarrassingly low-level street gatherings that center on the leader’s stream-of consciousness reality-show wisdom, still serve a conspicuous political function. Above all, they offer comfort and reassurance to each and every compliant rally participant, to all those dutifully chanting wearers of red hats who might otherwise be made uncomfortable with analytic thought.

The Trump apparatus accomplishes this distracting goal by renouncing every daunting or potentially intimidating element of science or intellect, thereby reducing for its loyal followers any hard-to-fathom concepts or problems to more simplistic and manageable explanations.

Why trouble oneself, Mr. Trump routinely inquires of his too-easily charmed listeners, with annoyingly difficult intellectual tasks? Why even bother to read or think seriously if a readily available alternative is to identify and threaten “those responsible” (always, there are identifiable enemies) for any and all alleged societal harms? Whatever the particular context of the moment, one implicit Trump rally message is always readily decipherable and is always the same:

Reading is only for fools who try in vain to think for themselves. Just trust in me. I am a problem solver. “I alone can fix it.”

Sound familiar?

Tariffs and trade wars? Not a problem. Never. “I know how to win a trade war.” This presidential claim, of course, is wildly implausible. Significantly, so long as it remains acceptable to this president’s ritually sycophantic chorus of partisan supporters in the Congress, it will also prove starkly injurious to our national economy, national security, and long-term well-being.

“Look at me,” Trump always seems to tease further, an impressive example of just how far a commercial real-estate person can rise despite an evidently utter loathing for knowledge, education, art and beauty. It was not by accident that Sinclair Lewis chose to make his immortal Babbitt a dreadfully narrow man of raw business and commerce, one who also unashamedly defines shiny toilet fixtures and automobile chrome as the incontestable acme of great art and beauty. “Do not seek the higher man in the market place,” cautions Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, but all-too-many Americans still choose to disregard such manifestly sensible warnings.

There is still more. By the abundantly twisted standards of Donald J. Trump and his faithfully-adoring minions, there are essential and productive spheres on this deeply-fractured planet that are nonetheless lacking in beauty. Of these allegedly contemptible stains on the always-sacred market place, science and intellect are routinely ranked among the worst. How, after all, could a mere scientist, writer, reporter, physician or scholar ever consider himself or herself comparable to someone who knows how to become very rich? Adapting a page from Tevya’s famous song in Fiddler on the Roof, the Trump apparatus fully understands: “If you’re rich, they think you really know.”

Tevya also “understood” the distressing irony. Now, shouldn’t Trump’s loyal supporter’s understand at least as much?

“Intellect rots the brain,” shrieked Joseph Goebbels to fevered Nazi rallies in Nuremberg in 1935. With little doubt, such earlier “insights” could resonate deeply with many of today’s Trump followers, and – expressly or unwittingly – with their self-promoting champion’s ideas about art and beauty. After all, back during the Third Reich, during what could now be taken as a partial prototype or even archetype of Trump rallies, the Fuehrer’s remarks were also pure gibberish and were also glaringly incoherent.

An effective way to gain better insight into the continuous historical disjunction created between truth, art and beauty is to recall or revisit Charlie Chaplin’s closing speech in The Great Dictator. Even today, it remains a brilliantly timeless parody of seemingly profound oratory. “Art,” said Picasso, in an observation that seemingly turns Keats on its head (but still makes a great deal of sense) “is a lie that lets us see the truth.”

Of course, today’s Trump supporters would more than likely consider Picasso as a regrettable expression of “degenerate art.”

More than anything else, Donald Trump and his steadfast rally adherents despise absolutely anything that is authentically aesthetic, cerebral or intellectual. Within this excruciatingly frightened mass of chanting followers, it’s not just that no one reads or discusses real books (least of all the president himself), but also that no one respects the inherently great beauty of suitably complex ideas. Within this insistently demeaning “crowd” (a term favored still earlier over “mass” by the seminal 19th century Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard), each single crowd member, in pleasingly stark contempt of serious thought, tremulously holds all bewildering notions of “mind” at a comfortably safe distance.

To be sure, there are Trump rally participants who have had some respectable version or other of higher education, and who even remain visibly loyal to alma mater. The reason, however, is less convincingly any fond recollections of intellectual stimulation than pleasingly hazy memories of a once-uncomplicated and largely anesthetized existence, one plausibly fueled by football, alcohol, and a thunderous social herd of shallow demands and warming reassurance.

In the final analysis, beauty must always lie within a meaningfully valued sphere of unfettered contemplation and serious reflection. Ideally, it should conduct Americans gracefully into an harmonious world of challenging and stimulating thoughts, not toward any hideously primal screams of group hatred or bitterly partisan howls of planned social execration. Left embedded in presidential office, Donald Trump’s steeply corrupted aesthetics could ultimately lead the United States not toward any reasonable expressions of political truth, but instead to a brazenly disordered future of “know nothing” governance and grievously perpetual conflict.

It can happen here.

Politics mirrors aesthetics, and vice-versa. In essence, Donald Trump’s openly crude and corrosive politics are little more than a precise reflection of his degraded personal sense of art and beauty. Unsurprisingly, this president’s politics are already irremediably defiled, and are not subject to any possible repair by just keeping him “on script.”

The overriding problem for America today is not the “play,” but rather the “players.” The script is always beside the point.

Our Trump “Beauty/Truth Problem” warrants much closer study and respect. If not relieved of his high office, Donald J. Trump can only lead us further as a nation toward belligerency, terror and expanding forms of societal dislocation. In the credibly worst but still conceivable case, this intolerable result could include a miscalculated or accidental nuclear war with North Korea or even Russia.[1]

Always, the poet’s core message should be brought back to mind: “Beauty is truth; truth beauty.” Going forward, our country’s Trump-generated aesthetic losses will likely impair any collective sense of what is typically right and proper. Reciprocally, this grievous impairment will then “feed-back” into various overlapping sectors of aesthetics, further degrading what had once been welcomed in the United States as ennobling and beautiful.

It is still possible to avoid such sorely damaging reciprocities, but only if an already diminished nation finally manages to get hold of its critical senses.

 

[1] Professor Beres is the author of several major books and articles dealing with prospective US presidential irrationality and nuclear decision-making. His most recent writings in this genre have appeared in The Atlantic; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; Israel Defense;The Hill; US News & World Report; and JURIST. In 1976, when he was composing his Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (later published by The University of Chicago Press), he corresponded with General (USA/ret.) Maxwell Taylor, a former Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. In response to Professor Beres’ query about how to prevent any irrational presidential order to launch US nuclear weapons, General Taylor had replied: “The only real protection is not to elect one (an irrational president) in the first place.”

Louis René Beres is professor emeritus of political science at  Purdue University. Beres is the author of twelve books including, “Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy,” which was published in 2016 by Rowman & Littlefield. His lectures and research focus on international relations, terrorism, and international law.

Special to Jewish Business News

 

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