Trump’s Pantheistic Temptation

September 10, 2018
Posted in Blog
September 10, 2018 Editor

Trump’s Pantheistic Temptation

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February 06, 2017

by Vern Redekop

WN: Anything my friend and scholar Vern Redekop writes — and he is prolific! — is invariably thoughtful/thought-provoking. To understand a greater context for his article copied in full below, please see: René Girard. Vern is a noted Girardian scholar.


In the book, René Girard and Creative Mimesis, Wolfgang Palaver contributed a chapter entitled, “Vox Populi, Vox Dei and the Pantheistic Temptation.” As he describes it, the “Temptation” is to think that vox populi, the voice of the people, is vox dei, the voice of God. What this means practically is that a democratically elected person thinks that election success gives him or her a divine right to whatever they want.

Palaver traces the origins of the “Temptation” from political philosopher Carl Schmitt, via Plato and Kierkegaard, to Simone Weil and Hannah Arendt. Of significance to Palaver is that Schmitt was aware of this phenomenon but went on to become a National Socialist nonetheless. More, his leader, Adolph Hitler, was the ultimate personification of the Pantheistic Temptation.

As Rabbi Harold Kushner points out, it was not just what Hitler did, it was how he did it. Hitler passed laws, one after the other, that made all his actions legal (1989). One example is the Nuremberg Laws, passed in 1933, that made discrimination against the Jews not only legal, but mandatory.

Listening carefully to the Inaugural Address of President Trump, one can hear a litany of “vox populi” rhetoric. He promises the crowd that power is flowing to “the people.” “The people” will be in charge. Laws will be made to benefit “the people.” Listening carefully, there was one instance in which he started a sentence with what he, himself, would be doing, but after the first phrase, he corrected himself to use the phrase, “The people.”

As Palaver traces the idea, vox populi is linked to crowds. And crowds as Girard informs us, and as Palaver reiterates, are subject to mimetic contagion—runaway imitation of ideas, slogans, and behaviours. It is through the crowds that Trump got the idea that he was one with the voice of the people. His crowds were homogeneous followers of his—dissenters were thrown out. As he threw out his memorable lines, he consistently got thunderous applause, letting him know that the crowds resonated with his voice. The ideas were expressed as promises—“I will build a wall”—that got reinforced by cheers. If Trump supporters were all that constituted the United States, his voice would have come close to being the voice of the people. And homogeneity, Palaver argues, is what the Leader, subject to the Temptation, desires.

The Leader, who succumbs to the Temptation and thinks he is the voice of God, becomes in Plato’s terms, a “Beast.” This is a metaphorical comparison to be sure; but listen to what Plato says about him:

. . . his keeper learns to know his angers and desires, how best to approach him, from which side to touch him, at what moments and for what reasons he becomes irritable or gentle, what calls he customarily makes in such and such a humour, which words are apt to soothe or excite him.

Suppose, having learned all such by practice over a period of time, the keeper calls that wisdom, and he makes a method of it, and uses it as subject-matter for his teaching. He knows nothing in reality of what among those opinions and desires is beautiful or ugly, good or evil, just or unjust.

He uses those terms as they apply to the opinions of the great beast. Whatever pleases the animal he calls good, whatever annoys whom he calls bad, and he has no other criterion. (as quoted by Palaver 2013, 151, referring to Plato, Republic 431a–d)

Trump appears to surrounding himself with “keepers” who will follow his every whim; if not, they are fired. They even go to great length to frame the Leader’s “truth” as “alternate facts” even though all evidence points to the contrary.

There is something quasi-religious in the adoration of the Leader by his followers. Palaver, now drawing on Weil notes that for her, “it is the religious longings of the human beings that lead to the adoration of the great beast, if these longings are not directed to a transcendent God” (ibid.)  Note that some Christian leaders interpret his election as an answer to prayer, suggesting that God has “called him” to lead at this time.

If we put Trump’s inaugural words into a frame of reference that includes all Americans, we could ask, How exactly will “the people” have a say in what happens over the next four years? Will it be through their representatives in Congress? Will President Trump be all ears to listen to what “all the people” say through their representatives? Will it be through “extra-congressional democratic action,” another way to talk about protest crowds? (cf. “Beyond Control: A Mutual Respect Approach to Protest Crowd-Police Relations“, Redekop and Paré 2010) Or will President Trump do whatever he wants, framing his will as the will of “the people.” It is only a small step from this, to re-framing his own will as being congruent with the will of God, making the Pantheistic Temptation complete.

Hannah Arendt, who was negatively affected by Hitler and the National Socialists, makes an appeal to follow exemplars who live out a truth that is a blessing to humankind (my words). Though Jewish, she “refers to Socrates who decided to stake his life on his truth ‘that it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong’ and also to Jesus of Nazareth who gave us an example for goodness” (Palaver 2013, 155 referring to Arendt 2003, 145-146).

Current crowds protesting Trump, risk becoming scapegoating crowds. They can become another vox populi that can mistake itself for vox Dei. Drawing on Palaver and Arendt, their challenge is follow those, like Jesus, who demonstrate in their response to the Beast, a path of vulnerability and love. This is not to suggest for a minute that Trump should not be held accountable for unjust actions nor that harmful policies not be vigorously protested; perhaps a good example these days would be Gandhi, who motivated millions to protest the injustice of British colonial policies without engendering a hatred of the British.

  1. [1]Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
    The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below.
  2. [2]It continued:
    ‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”   The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed.  It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.  He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions.
  3. [3]Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
    Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).
    What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.
  4. [5]
  5. [4] The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". [5]He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
    Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.
  6. [6]A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
    In June [2017], the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
    It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.
    Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
    The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.
    To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.
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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

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