We know that Donald Trump is not an avid reader. We know that he spends most of his free time watching television or playing golf. We know that he has little background in literature or culture in general and that his oral pronouncements and written statements via Twitter are primitive if not often vulgar. We assume that he has little interest in anything intellectual that is not directly related to business.
But Donald Trump the philosopher?
Trump defended Donald Jr. by saying “My son is a wonderful young man,” when asked during a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris about the Russian meeting.
The previous evening, the president had also referred to his son as “a good boy.” He said: “Don is, as many of you know, Don, he’s a good boy. He’s a good kid.”
But what does that mean? For Trump, it would mean that “a good boy” would do no harm. “A good boy” would do nothing wrong. His quality of goodness overrides (or “trumps”) any potential negative activity. (That he is the president’s son would also mean that he is beyond reproach, giving the young man a double defense.)
The distinction between the essential nature of Donald Jr. as “a good boy” and his potential cooperation with Russians to undermine the campaign of Hillary Clinton is not an obvious distinction and should not go unexamined.
The German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) wrote about the ways we understand “Being” as both an existential state in this world and something more transcendental. With Heidegger, we must start with practice in this world (phenomenon) to understand the relationship between a person’s activities and his essence.
Practically speaking, we should look at what Trump Jr. did to determine whether he is “a good boy.” President Trump has inverted Heidegger’s logic and created a philosophical justification that does not stand up to scrutiny, either in logic or potentially a court of law.
By saying that the essence of Donald Jr, the “good boy,” exonerates him from any possible guilty action, Trump has postulated that because his son is good, he can do no harm. Heidegger would teach us that we should look at what Jr. did before determining whether he is good or not. We cannot separate the two, nor should we begin from some otherworldly extraction.
How many parents have tried to defend their children’s actions by the same reasoning only to have a court rule on the actions, not the goodness of the child? The judgment of the essential goodness of someone is in the least subjective, at most otherworldly.
Summertime is a time for reflection. Whether bantering with friends and family on the beach, relaxing in a lounge chair or hiking in the mountains, the months of July and August are ideal for letting the mind wander from the ordinary of the day-to-day. Donald Trump’s mind often wanders. But, in this case, he has wandered too far. His philosophical justification will not stand up. While he continues to fail politically, his very brief foray in philosophy fails as well. Let’s hope, it will also fail legally.