Trump and Moral Evil

Philosophy scholar and guest blogger, Thomas White, speaks to the Trump Phenomenon and the dangers of Moral Evil as the ‘Privatized Self.’

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This screenshot what taken from Donald Trump’s official Twitter account

 

I popped open my laptop after breakfast to catch up with the latest news. To no surprise, Donald Trump’s face was plastered all over Internet. This time Trump had posted a picture on social media, eating tacos from Trump Tower, wishing everyone a Happy Cinco de Mayo, and exclaiming that he loved “the Hispanics.” Seriously? How could someone so blatantly insensitive be a legitimate candidate for the office of the President of the United States?

Suppressing an overwhelming urge to post a nasty, personal comment on some website about this picture, I instead surfed over to a poetry site where I reread these profound lines from that most philosophical poet, T.S. Eliot, one of my favorites:

   

We are the hollow men/ We are the stuffed men/ Leaning together/ Headpiece filled with straw.  

    Alas! / Our dried voices, when/ We whisper together/ Are quiet and meaningless

Vowing to resist the mindless tide of angry Trump-related polemics, which has swamped any effort to restore even the most minimal rationality to the American political conversation, I decided to act appropriately (rationally), and begin this calm philosophical study of Donald Trump: What is his relationship to knowledge and language? What is the nature of his mind? What is his relationship to other persons qua moral agents?

Eliot’s verse certainly goes a long way to answering these questions: Trump is a Hollow Man, whose mind is filled with nothing but “meaningless”, dead clutter –no poetry, no wit, no knowledge, and no empathy for other persons. This taco stunt revealed not only his ignorance about Spanish culture—Spain and Latin America have a varied ,often European, non-Mexican cuisine—but a   blatant willingness to crudely stereotype others that has become his trademark— a failure of empathy, or emotional intelligence. Trump helps us answer the fascinating philosophical riddle posed by Eliot’s opening lines: a mind can be “hollow” yet “stuffed”– that is filled with emptiness (lack of moral feelings, absence of knowledge etc.). Donald Trump is the abyss Nietzsche warned us against.

The one apparent trait described in  Eliot’s profile of Hollow Men—they speak in “quiet” ”dried”  voices like the elderly—that Trump does not seem to fit actually is appropriate. His trademark bellicose, bullying style masks his hollowness. George Orwell in 1984 captured the emptiness of this demagogic mind. The Orwellian dystopian state mixes political rallies filled with rage and bullying directed at crude political stereotypes, with a political language –Newspeak—that  has been emptied  of any references to “freedom” or “human rights.” (Significantly, Trump never refers to the language in the Declaration of Independence, or any other key historical document that defends freedom, though he has advocated torture, which is Big Brother’s standard operating procedure).

When I mull over of all of these traits, as well as that cringe-worthy, taco-related photo-op, I think immediately of another philosophical concept: Solipsism.

British philosopher, A.E. Taylor defined Solipsism as the doctrine in “which I have no certain knowledge of any existence except my own, everything else being a mere state or modification of myself.”

Though philosophers long ago refuted this theory—how can I communicate the theory of Solipsism to other minds if the latter are problematic?—“Solipsism” actually serves another important goal, namely as a conceptual framework useful to profile the emerging privatization of the self as a culturally, politically, and socially significant trend.  What a  privatized self/ solipsistic self  is was described nicely in this blog about Donald Trump posted on Huffington Post—though the author does not use those terms:

[Donald Trump is an] “emptiness [filled] with a sound and fury meant to gratify his needs in the here and now,” … “others exist only as an extension of himself.”… [His] “behavior… “reflects the hollowness within… the humanity of others [being] of no concern.”

In this taco photo-op Trump is immersed only in his own consciousness; the independent humanity of his ‘Hispanic’ audience is problematic. In other words: a portrait of unsullied solipsism.

These are exactly the representative traits that I profile in my CrossCurrents essay as generally emblematic of the privatized Hollow Men, who lack empathy with the suffering of others, while dominating them for their own personal gratification and private ends. As I observe in this essay, such selves occupy every level of contemporary society. Donald Trump is not unique.


About the Author

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Thomas White is an independent scholar, who has published essays, poetry and fiction , both in print and online journals, in Canada, United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. White is also the founder of the Takoma Park (MD) Socrates Cafe discussion group, facilitating from 2008 to 2013. He loves the Socratic adventure, and specializes in demonstrating the perennial relevance of philosophy to every aspect of  the human condition.

Enjoy White’s CrossCurrents article, The Hollow Men: Moral Evil as ‘Privatized Self’ freely through June 30.



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A Special Collection on Holocaust Distortion and Muslim-Jewish Relations

In light of the most recent World Zionist Congress meeting and the on-going Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East, we have curated a special collection focusing on the significance of Muslim-Jewish relations as they pertain to Holocaust Distortion and Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

muslim jewish relations

By freeing the content now through November 30, we hope to facilitate an impactful conversation on religion, culture, ethics, and history to better relations and build effective policy.

Update

To further the conversation on Muslim-Jewish relations, we’ve created a book giveaway! To enter to win Peacemaking and the Challenge of Violence in World Religions, follow the instructions below. Retweet any of tweets with the contest graphic from the following Wiley accounts: @WileyReligion, @PhilosophersEye, and @WileyHistory. The contest ends Friday, Nov 6.

Twitter Contest Graphic

Click here for more information on the book.


Journal of Religious Ethics on Holocaust Distortion

Journal of Religious Ethics
Volume 43, Issue 4, December 2015

Holocaust Abuse: The Case of Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husayni

Michael A. Sells

Abstract: This essay reconsiders the category of “Holocaust denial” as the marked indicator of ethical transgression in Holocaust historiography within American civil religion. It maintains that the present category excludes and thereby enables other violations of responsible Holocaust historiography. To demonstrate the nature and gravity of such violations, the essay engages the widespread claim that Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husayni, the former mufti of Jerusalem, was an instigator, promoter, or “driving spirit” of the Nazi genocide against Jews, and the associated suggestions of wider Arab and Muslim complicity. The essay uncovers the history of the Husayni narrative in question, the dramatic circumstances in which it emerged, its role in the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, and its rediscovery and misuse within American popular and political circles over the past two decades. Such misuse, it concludes, corrodes Holocaust recognition within American civil religion and demonstrates the need for a revision of the socially accepted ethical boundary for responsible Holocaust historiography.

Response to Michael Sells

Ronald M. Green

Abstract: In an era when lies and misrepresentations about historical events easily become firmly rooted, Michael Sells’s discussion illustrates the importance of careful historical research as a moral enterprise. In addition to the skills of the historian, however, there is also room in this enterprise for those of the ethicist. In particular, I warn against confusing the truth or falsity of claims about one narrow historical period with larger questions about the moral meaning and significance of those claims. Illustrating this, I argue one cannot assess the legitimacy of competing nationhood claims solely on the basis of the deeds of specific actors. Nor should the actions of a single individual like the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem be converted into a totalizing claim about the rights of the Palestinian people.

CrossCurrents Special Issue on Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: Probing the History and Dynamics of Hate

CrossCurrents
Special Issue on Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia Volume 65, Issue 3, September 2015

Introduction: Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia—Twins or Category Mistake?

Guest Editor: Björn Krondorfer

 

Sticks and Stones: The Role of Law in the Dynamics of Hate

David Kader

Renewed Hate: The Place of Jews and Muslims in Contemporary White Power Thought

Richard King

Making Enemies: The Uses and Abuses of Tainted Identities

Alex Alvarez

Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism: Shared Prejudice or Singular Social Pathologies

Michael Dobkowski

Classifying Muslims

Mohamed Mosaad Abdelaziz Mohamed

Nostalgia and Memory in Jewish–Muslim Encounters

Mehnaz M. Afridi

Shifting Hierarchies of Exclusion: Colonialism, Anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia in European History

Ethan B. Katz

Outlawing the Veil, Banning the Muslim? Restricting Religious Freedom in France

Melanie Adrian

When the Victims are not so Innocent: Extremist Muslim Activity in Western Bloc Countries

Khaleel Mohammed

The Nexus of Enmity: Ideology, Global Politics, and Identity in the Twenty-First Century

Eyal Bar