The Deception Behind the Existential Threats to American Democracy

Trump was tolerated by Republican elites in the belief that “norms” were corrupt and needed to be destroyed. Trump supposedly failed because he lacked the discipline to target his creative/destructive tendencies effectively. In addition, he lacked advisors with the insight to discern and explain what needs to be destroyed and why. On the other hand, the Claremont Institute provides the missing argument in the battle to win public sentiment by teaching and promoting the philosophical reasoning that is the foundation of limited government and the statesmanship required to bring that reasoning into practice. This work supports a complex concept of self-deception, including self-serving lies and manipulation. Rather than concentrate on policy like many other think tanks, the Claremont Institute teaches the principles and ideas that shape policy over time to the few that will go on to positions of leadership in media, politics, law, speechwriting, and academia.1

Leo Strauss (1899-1973) was a classical political philosopher who read Nietzsche and had considerable influence on the neocons. From 1949 to 1967 Strauss served as a professor in the University of Chicago political science department, and became the source of the inspiration of the neoconservative ideology of the Republican Party. He developed a political philosophy based on deception, the power of religion, and aggressive nationalism. This was a system in which the people are told no more than they need to know as deception is a norm in political life. He recommended the use of religion for the morals of the masses, but not applying to the leaders. If the masses really knew what was going on it would lead to nihilism. The void was to be filled with religious values. Also, Strauss proposed the use of aggressive foreign policy to unite the masses.

Trump draws fervent support from conservatives who believe the president is willing to restore the country to its moral and constitutional foundations. Conservatives accepted Trump because he appointed their judges, and rolled back regulations they hate. These conservatives claim liberals pose “an existential threat” to the country, and the response includes need to turn to Natural law which is the foundation upon which the spirit of the US Constitution is built. Today followers are reverse-engineering an intellectual doctrine to match Trump’s basic instincts. The movement has two disciples from California: Tucker Carlson advances a form of victim-politics populism and has learned to translate the New Right’s most interesting ideas into Fox-worthy bombast. Stephen Miller is credited with shaping the racist and draconian immigration policies of President Trump, which include the zero-tolerance policy, that includes family separation, the Muslim ban and ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Both support Trump’s politics of white fear.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) discovered the natural laws of motion which provided the final piece to the puzzle to explain why the Earth revolves around the sun. Newton was aware of specific problems in the solar system that his laws did not explain which included the fact that Saturn was moving away from the sun while Jupiter was moving closer. To account for movements not able to be explained by his formula, Newton proposed the hand of God to guide the planets in various circumstances – providing long-term stability to the universe. Adam Smith’s claim about the ‘invisible hand’ in Wealth, first published in 1776, pertains to a scheme consisting of all the voluntary actions of people who engage in buying, hiring, producing, consuming, and selling, typically mediating these actions by exchanges involving money. Smith’s point is that, if certain conditions are met, these actions will collectively produce a result that a benevolent God would wish for us.

Just as Isaac Newton explained the laws of motion and gravitation, Adam Smith analyzed the laws of motion of the economic categories of civil society as if they were the laws of nature. Smith’s work was popular because it provided an ‘ethical’ rationale for the capitalist system that explained how, when one acted in their own interest, it actually helped someone he did not even know. The early positivists like Comte attempted to equate the study of society with the study of nature and tried to discover laws of societal development on a par with the structural principles of human anatomy in biology. This leads to positivism, the term used to describe an approach to the study of society that relies specifically on scientific evidence, such as experiments and statistics, to reveal a true nature of how society operates. Although the positivists set out to explain and control the social world, they actually take a back seat to the people who control the social wealth and the social relations of production – the monopoly capitalist class in league with the elected officials beholding to the oligarchs – a structure which comprises ‘the power elite’.

The philosophical approach of Soren Kierkegaard has for many years been recognized as one of the outstanding attempts within the Lutheran Church to construct and formulate a Christian philosophy. Kierkegaard describes Hegel’s philosophy as representing a speculative mode of thinking. Hegel describes truth as a continuous world-historical process, and as the becoming of an absolute reality. Kierkegaard describes truth as a leap of faith, and as the becoming of the individual’s subjectivity. While speculative thinking reflects on concrete things abstractly, subjective thinking reflects on abstract things concretely. According to Kierkegaard, a person becomes a committed, responsible human being by making difficult decisions and sacrifices. The force of Kierkegaard’s philosophy rests in the notion that human life is paradoxical and absurd and that to confront this absurdity is to become truly human. Kierkegaard observes, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

Max Weber noted by loosening the hold of custom and tradition, rationalization led to new practices that were chosen because they were efficient and predictable, rather than customary. A rational society is one built around logic and efficiency rather than morality or tradition. Rationalization of the economy during the 1980s created the mindset that the economy requires less and less engineering (regulations), and would be capable of fixing itself. This, in turn, created the notion that there exists an inherent natural law unaffected by human endeavor and weakness that drives the economy. So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.

According to the natural law tradition, we must sometimes consult our understanding of morality before we can know what the law actually is. So on this view, judges may have to appeal to their own beliefs about morality to decide on a case. In other words, morality acts as a sort of legislative failsafe: When legislatures write horrible laws, morality steps in to rewrite them. And so when a judge strikes down a deeply unjust law by invoking a moral principle, the moral filter view allows him/her to say that she’s merely enforcing a more basic law that is, so to speak, already on the books. Trump’s SCOTUS nominee, Judge Gorsuch is a natural law thinker. The Republican deception is to use the existential threat of socialism to ensure that they can win elections. This allows control of court nominations who tend to support the tradition of natural law of a market.

There is a special role here for judges, whose ability to check abusive bureaucratic discretion is often constrained, or so it seems, by contemporary canons of positive law. The struggle that Hegel envisioned is the great tension between ‘is’ and ‘ought,’ between the way things are and the way they ought to be. The world of fact was chaotic and evil – an affront to man’s senses of order and good. The necessary ingredient for Hegel’s philosophy was freedom of action, not just freedom of thought. Kierkegaard believed that a human being’s relationship with God must be hard-won, a matter of devotion and suffering. According to Kierkegaard, a person becomes a committed, responsible human being by making difficult decisions and sacrifices. Kierkegaard rejects naturalism. It isn’t the idea that there are laws of nature that Kierkegaard rejects, but the idea that these laws necessarily determine human behavior.

An existential threat, put simply, is a threat to society – a veritable threat to existence does not have to be present for someone to experience a sense of existential threat. If Trump could earn more votes than any sitting president ever, the thinking goes, then clearly his movement is real. Think tanks will use the political utility of white fear, replacing whites and endangering civilization to organize a coalition from Trump supporters to win the next election. It will be organized around natural law – natural rights of life, liberty, and property protected implicitly in the original Constitution. This includes adjudicate disputes about the nature of rights by simply leaving the decision up to whoever happens to hold power at any given moment. Stephen Miller and Tucker Carlson have a role in the necessary deception to promote this existential threat. However, the removal of Liz Cheney actually poses an existential threat to the future of the Republican Party, for the war to come within the Republican Party.

1 Jean Guerrrero. Donald Trump’s Politics of White Fear Have Roots in Southern California (20 Sept 2020)

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