In 1920’s Vienna, a belief in Logical Positivism assumed the stature of a philosophical movement. Though largely discredited, today, one of its components consisted of interpretation of language. In a great many cases, language was construed as meaningless. This view gave speakers free license to say whatever they wanted because truth is incapable of empirical verification and, thus, largely, irrelevant.
Though the role of language in human discourse was in dispute between the liberal and conservative sectors of the Vienna Circle, as this belief system’s adherents were known, there is a constant. Language and logic are untrustworthy and, thus, meaningless. Unfortunately, this means, by extension, that the great notions on which Western civilization was built are meaningless, too. A recognition of things “higher,” or greater than man, even God, because they are incapable of precise, provable, definition, are nothing more than “inferences” that can be ignored. The group believed in the truth of mathematics, a favorable nod to Ptolemy. Science was useful, too, mainly when it suited the group’s goals and purposes. Everything else, for the most part, including all theory, was inferential and, therefore, capable of being manipulated according to personal needs.
Donald Trump shows how this works when he says outrageous things to promote a decidedly dystopian worldview and, then, posits himself as a Nietzschean superman, or ubermensch, who is a besotted society’s only answer. It’s nothing less than a latter-day form of nihilism.
The words, “I alone can…” betray his true intent, and that is an absolute control antithetical to generally accepted American notions of “We the People.” Wars, throughout history, have been fought because of Trump styled mendacious slight of words. Dictators have ridden them to power. All it takes is for a bamboozled citizenry to believe reckless statements that are crafted with the knowledge of their falsity, in the service of power.
Trump’s verbal war on Mexicans, refugees, Muslims, and dissenters, in general, demonstrate his totalitarian tendencies. Advocating killing terrorists’ families, reinstituting torture as intelligence gathering, no matter the dubiousness of its results, and “bombing the hell of them,” whomsoever “them” may mean at any given moment, is so rancorous, frightful, and dangerous, that it undermines America’s claim to be a nation “Under God.” Promising internment, that is concentration camps, established via a massive expansion of private and public prisons to contain our internal enemies, absent any 4th, 6th, and 14th, Amendment due process guarantees, should frighten every American.
The Republican candidate’s appeal is based on the fantasy of American weakness, rampant lawlessness, and the, presumed, failures of democracy, as we know it. Trump’s pitch is based, also, on the purported virtue of his own monetary success and ignores how that success was achieved.
If voters supporting him listened, closely, to the gospel of Trump, and its unbelievable message of intolerance and hate, they might remember that goodness and decency, as we know them, are still virtues worthy of cultivation, that the world is not flat, that man came from apes and that the industrial revolution is over. Let us pray, because Donald Trump is willing to consort with the enemy, advocates assassination as a political tool, marginalizes millions, many of whom he would imprison, and encourages physically harm to those he considers to be his opponents. The man sings the praises of Saddam Hussein and Vladimir Putin, traditional enemies, and is willing to parlay with Kim Yong Jim, himself. How can this be moral?
In the service of enhancing his brand, Trump will tell any lie, utter any foolishness, and will brook no opposition as he seeks powers that can only be considered dictatorial, when compared to those any president has exercised before. This election is, surely, one of the most consequential this country has ever seen. It is a choice between light and dark; truth and falsity; and, will define, perhaps for generations, whether our dedication to democracy is real or just some meaningless language on an old parchment that is capable of being twisted to serve the ethics of the moment.
Mike Malak is a columnist, attorney, and photographer. He lives in California.