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Trump and Putin: What's Really Going On?

JURIST Guest Columnist Louis René Beres of Purdue University discusses the true nature of President Donald Trump's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin...

"I like chaos." — United States President Donald Trump, March 4, 2018

Credo quia absurdum. "I believe because it is absurd." In the very best case scenario, President Donald Trump is "merely" incompetent, fundamentally incapable of meeting minimal intellectual and emotional expectations of the American presidency. In the worst case, he is acting consciously on behalf of his Russian counterpart, expressly driven by Vladimir Putin to sow chaos and eventual capitulation in the United States.

Significantly, however, even the second case explanation need not imply any hatred or disloyalty toward Mr. Trump's own country. It suggests only that Mr. Putin has such overwhelmingly damaging personal information at his disposal that Donald Trump no longer maintains any "rational" alternative to collaborating against core American national interests. Following such more-or-less plausible extrapolations from ordinary logic, the people of the United States can now choose to examine all pertinent evidence with appropriate care and attention, or they can continue to assume that even an outrageously objectionable US president may nonetheless be sane and/or uncorrupted.

If they should choose the latter, they could commit a very familiar human error in reasoning, a fallacy, siding lazily with blind faith over science and truth. Undoubtedly, Sigmund Freud would have called this behavior a textbook example of "wish fulfillment," the very same term he used to explain religion. All the more so, perhaps, because Mr. Trump now continues to express his fierce admiration for foreign dictators and "strongmen" in general, and to impose selective tariffs that would specifically undermine the US aerospace and defense industry.

If, however, the American People should opt instead for a properly systematic assessment, they might then offer their imperiled country a seemingly last chance to be taken seriously, and also to remain recognizably decent before the wider community of nations.

In the very early years of German National Socialism, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, speaking proudly against science and truth, intoned ominously: "Intellect rots the brain." From the beginning, US President Donald Trump has deliberately surrounded himself with subordinates who routinely oppose any capable iterations of measured analytic thought. Even when his highest-level appointments have become downright caricatural or cartoonish - e.g., when his appointees are selected precisely because they oppose the objectives and interests of the federal department to which they are being directed - the public reaction somehow stops palpably short of any needed incredulity.

Certain other fundamental questions ought now arise. Exactly what kind of American democracy stands solidly against human rights both inside and outside of its own borders, rights expressly guaranteed to all by the "sacred" founding documents of the United States?

(By their definition, the rights assured by the Declaration of Independence and Constitution can never be confined to only the people of the United States. This is because both documents were conceived by their authors as the indisputable codification of a pre-existing Natural Law. Although generally unrecognized, the United States was expressly founded upon the Natural Rights philosophies of the 18th century Enlightenment, especially Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu and Rousseau. Thomas Jefferson, an American president before Donald Trump, was well acquainted with the classic writings of political philosophy, from Plato to Diderot. In those early days of the Republic, it is presently worth recalling, an American president could not only read serious books, but could also write them.)

The only correct answer, in this case, is a nation that is willing to violate not only relevant international law, but also its own domestic or municipal legal rules. This is because international law, whether customary or codified, has long been unambiguously incorporated into the "supreme law" of the United States.

When President Trump's executive orders direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to expand his coercive program of "expedited removal" (of selected immigrants, to their inhospitable countries of origin), he is frequently in violation of the legal principle known as non-refoulement, as codified (inter alia) at Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Automatically, owing to the prior incorporation of international human rights law into US law, these very serious violations extend as well to the authoritative immigration laws of the United States.

Similar and intersecting legal issues must now be raised with regard to this president's explicit country preferences concerning future immigration to the United States. When Mr. Trump openly urges reduced immigration from "shithole countries," which just happen to be in Africa and Latin America or the Caribbean, and calls instead for refugees from "places like Norway," it is a thinly disguised retrogression to Third Reich-type criteria. In essence, and without any conspicuous subtlety, President Trump has been nudging America toward an immigration posture of "pure blood," an inherently egregious stance that would openly prefer "pure" (read "Aryan" type) immigrants to all others.

The fact that such crude and inhumane presidential thinking is allowed to pass as merely "coarse," "prejudiced," "foolish" or "narrow minded" misses a very key antecedent point. It is that determinedly racist stereotypes are integral to President Trump's core persona, and thus help fashion his actual policies. In this connection, one need now be reminded that despite America's codified and customary legal obligations to oppose genocide-like crimes in Syria - obligations discoverable, among other sources, at the 1948 Genocide Convention - Mr. Trump chooses to stand silently by the overtly murderous Syria policy of his never-criticized counterpart ("master"?) in Moscow.

Under absolutely no circumstances, it should be obvious, would this American president ever stand up against crimes of war and crimes against humanity where they have first been "authorized" by Vladimir Putin. For the United States, this stunningly unique presidential unwillingness means opposing our interests and our ideals at the same time. For us, moreover, this can signify nothing less than abandoning our indispensable rights and corresponding privileges for the sake of maintaining a contemptible and potentially catastrophic American presidency.

Going forward, when we should sometime look back at what we had once allowed, what will be the excuse for our de facto complicity with such plainly defiled American governance? Will it be that the apparent facts of Mr. Trump's "cooperation" with Vladimir Putin were just never sufficiently clear or compelling? If so, then we may all soon have to learn to "love chaos."

Louis René Beres, an Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue University, received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1971. Dr. Beres is a widely published author on the topics of philosophy and jurisprudence, and his writings have appeared in books, monographs, and law reviews. Dr. Beres is an international expert on nuclear weapons and has also served as a security consultant for the US and Israeli governments.

Suggested citation:Louis René Beres, Trump and Putin: What's Really Going On?, JURIST — Academic Commentary, Mar. 14, 2018, http://jurist.org/forum/2018/03/Trump-Putin-Benes.php



This article was prepared for publication by Sean Merritt, an Assistant Editor for JURIST Commentary. Please direct any questions or comments to him at commentary@jurist.org

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.
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About Academic Commentary

Academic Commentary is JURIST's platform for legal academics, offering perspectives by law professors on national and international legal developments. JURIST Forum welcomes submissions (about 1000 words in length - no footnotes, please), inquiries and comments at academiccommentary@jurist.org

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