Politics After Truth: Trump, Lies, Climate Change and Khashoggi with Prof. Paul Dumouchel – Full Video

Raven Foundation favorite, Prof. Paul Dumouchel, joined me on November 28 for a wide-ranging conversation about American politics following the midterm elections. Prof. Dumouchel is a respected scholar of political philosophy and an expert in mimetic theory. He applied Girard’s insights about rivalry and conflict to a variety of issues, including President Trump’s rejection of his own government’s reports on the impact of climate change and the involvement of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. We also discussed Trump’s accusations that court judgments against him are the result of political bias. The question that haunted our discussion was this: What happens to politics when skepticism dominates and we all suspect one another of ulterior motives and hidden agendas? The Raven Foundation is delighted to make Prof. Dumouchel’s illuminating perspective available to you.

Transcript of "Politics after Truth"

SUZANNE ROSS: Welcome to this special edition of the RavenCast. I’m Suzanne Ross your host for this conversation with Professor Paul Dumouchel. Professor Dumouchel is a Raven favorite and we are delighted to welcome him back to the RavenCast. Welcome back, Paul. 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Thank you, thank you for inviting me. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Well, it’s a delight. We really appreciate you being here. You are a Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate School of Core Ethics and Frontier Sciences at Ritz…

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Ritz, just like the Ritz hotel, Ritsumeikan.

SUZANNE ROSS: Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan. And you are joining us from Kyoto. You are one of the leading scholars working with mimetic theory and political theory today. and you gave a keynote address at the COV&R Conference this summer and which was really kind of launched the conference. The theme was ‘After Truth’ and you gave you a wonderful talk on self-deception and lying. I hope that will come up in our conversation today. I like to call my conversations with you reality checks, reality checks with Paul Dumouchel, because you tend to cut through all the static that surrounds a lot of these political issues today. You really take us to the heart of what’s important and what really matters the most. So, what I did was I invited you to come and talk about reactions to what’s going on in the United States since the midterm elections here, which were in November. It’s a month ago, I guess now.

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: I think it’s less than a month, isn’t it?

SUZANNE ROSS: It’s less than a month, yeah.

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: It’s been less than a month since the midterm took place.

SUZANNE ROSS: Since the midterms, President Trump wasn’t on the ballot, but he kept insisting that the election was all about him. So I thought we could take a look at what he’s been doing recently and some of your reactions to that. So let’s jump in with our discussion about truth and fake news, and how we can know whether something is true or false. Recently, a climate report that was commission by Congress, it was put together with scientists from, I think, from thirteen different federal agencies. The thrust of the report was this warning about the intensifying risk that are coming from global warming. And President Trump’s reaction was to say that he is not a believer in the report and in the risks that have been identified. He said something really interesting just this morning criticizing the Federal Reserve’s interest rate policy. He said about his own gut instincts:  ‘My gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.’ 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: That’s probably true, but it doesn’t prove anything about what it tells him. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Thank you, would you like to respond, to this very interesting issue about what we can know and how we know it? 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Well, I think in fact President Trump’s reaction to the report concerning global warming should be seen in relationship with his reaction to the report of the FBI concerning the Khashoggi murder, because in that case, also, he said he didn’t believe it. Now this is very interesting for another reason, this is very interesting because this is a government, of a very rich, very modern, well-organized country which has a lot of institutions, which has a lot of departments, which have a lot of services, and these services spend their time, a lot of their time, doing reports about important information in order for people govern who us to have relevant information to take the right decisions. Now here is somebody, who is the President of this country, and who says, of two reports, which were made by his own administration, that he doesn’t believe them. And this is I think to be put in relationship or, at least, very early on when Trump was elected, I remember a news conference where he said, well, you know presidents are supposed to receive a security briefing every day, but he was a very intelligent man so he didn’t need a security briefing every day. Once a week would be enough. 

So all of these works together I think. In other words, what I mean, of course, there is a question of  he does not agree with the whole theme of global warming, he thinks it’s not true, he is part of the people who contest that. This to the side, there is an attitude which is that he is not interested in what his administration is or the services of the country says. He is only interested in what he sees.  And that is a real problem. Because modern countries, there are millions, hundreds of millions of people living in the United States. You cannot govern a country like that without very specific information about what’s going on right and left. And if you think you going to consider that you are not going to take that into account, then it certainly is a major problem. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Yeah, well it does seem that he agrees with what already supports his position and…

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: He agrees with what suits him. 

SUZANNE ROSS: With what suits him, yeah. This matter of his gut or his own opinion becomes much more real or more important than the scientific inquiry or the report. 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: And his opinion is often, I mean, his opinion is not a question of belief, I believe. I think his opinion is a question of objective. What I mean by that, it is clear, I mean one of the reason, for example, the GM has closed its plants in the United States or is going to close them, it’s going to put all these people out of work. One of the reasons they invoke and its certainly true is that they lost a billion dollar on the new tariffs. But, this is not in any way mentioned in anything he has to say about the issue. And that is important, right. And the same thing works with, I think, with global warming; to say that global warming is going to have a dire effect on the economy of the United States and certainly of the world, is to say something which is absolutely independent from the issue of what causes it. It doesn’t matter what causes it, we need a direct intervention of God or is it, the consequences of what we are doing, clearly there is going to be consequences and we have to prepare for those consequences. 

SUZANNE ROSS: One would think, one should, but it is this whole question of knowledge, Paul, which is really seems to call the question. Because, it isn’t just Trump’s that’s skeptical of scientific report, it is a pervasive mood or moment right now. Our people are just very skeptical and trust their own judgment more than the judgment of an expert. Experts have fallen into ill repute right now, which am sure you don’t take personally. No, it just seems to be an odd moment right now that Trump is taking advantage of really.

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Actually it’s a symptom of something which is bigger in a sense. Which might be the thing which he likes less in the world to imagine he is the symptom of something else rather than being himself. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Yeah, he is sort of the sign?

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: I mean, I think there are two dynamics, to put it like that, involved in skepticism concerning knowledge, especially concerning certain issues. One is a long-term transformation of politics in the United States, but not only in the United States, but in the United States in particular, since anyway, this is what we talking about. Which is that whatever people say is not to be understood as meaning what they say. It is to be understood as being taken position or inaction in view of the goal, which they are not telling us. So in other words, if you say, you believe in global warming, that’s not you mean. What you mean is you are looking for a second political objective. If you say you don’t believe in global warming. Again, you are understood as saying this is what you believe, you understood as taking up a political position and a working towards that goal. So in other words, whatever people say is not true. 

Because whatever people say, they don’t mean it. They always mean something else to what they say. And this is, of course, this I think from a Girardian point of view is very clear an effect of conflict. We only see the other person doesn’t say the truth, the other person is looking to win, to put it politely. In a less polite way, is looking to screw me up and that’s the point. So, once we look at the world like that, then there is no place for truth. And that, I think, it’s a fundamental problem. I mean, once we see whatever people say as moments in a conflict, in a rivalry, there is no place for such a thing as truth. In the sense that we cannot see it, we have no access to it. We destroy our access to truth.  

SUZANNE ROSS: Because what people say is just concealing an ulterior motive?

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: That’s what we think; I mean, that’s the problem. One of the reasons of skepticism is to always so to speak, double guess the other person. You always think the other person is not saying the truth. Oh you’re saying this, but actually, I know what you really mean. You mean something different. 

SUZANNE ROSS: And it seems to explain why our political conversations in the US right now aren’t conversations; they are just staking out a position and then defending it.

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Yes. I agree. And that’s why, you know, you referred to my keynote address last year, rather it was earlier this year, it’s not that long ago. I said terms like fake news, alternative facts, and so on are accusatory. They are not descriptive, they are accusatory. This is what we are doing. Which ever it is, whether it is Trump, whether it is Pelosi, it doesn’t matter, whatever people are saying such things as fake news, they are really saying, they are making an accusation on the other person. And then, of course, when all our discourse becomes accusatory then, of course, we are skeptical about everything. That’s just part of it. So that I think is one of the reasons why so many people are skeptical about so many things. And not necessary particularly about science but about so many things. And I think this is due to a long-term, well long term at least I don’t know, 10, 15 years, maybe less but, evolution of the American politics, political scene which has become much more confrontational. In other words, we are not people who disagree about political issues but are working together as members of the same country in other to make things better, we are enemies. And once the political scene takes that structure and of course, progressively it makes it that nobody knows what the truth is, and nobody is access to it. And that is the situation with which we all share because there comes a point where yes, we don’t know. 

In a sense that is very hard to be able to, as much as you try, to be certain because you don’t know the value of the information is, because actually, once people start representing others like that they also start from a mimetic point of view of acting how they imagine the others are acting and therefore they also act for ulterior motives and do not do what they really believe in, they are saying other things. Which is why whenever somebody arrives now on the political scene, and clearly is saying what he or she thinks, we think “Wow, this is so great.” 

SUZANNE ROSS: So refreshing for someone to be authentic and say what they are really thinking, we are very, very suspicious. I find myself doing that, it’s interesting now, am thinking about how I react when I am hearing someone making a political statement, I am always trying to figure out, where is it going, what why is he making that statement. So I can’t ever really address what’s right in front of me, conversation wise. 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: I agree, and it becomes extremely difficult also to do something else, which I think we need to do, which is to say right, well, yes, this person is doing this, because this person does have an ulterior motive what I can see because I know what is a long-term project is. But, what immediately will be the consequences of this, that, will be positive and I should support it. But that requires that we take distance from our own commitments, in a sense. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Absolutely, absolutely. I know, I often say that about our political persuasion here at Raven is very much liberal, and I like to say just because Donald Trump says it, doesn’t mean, it isn’t true. I mean every once in a while, he says something very revealing that’s quite true. The example most recently when he on the CIA report on Jamal Khashoggi, he says: “Look that maybe true, it may not be true, that the Saudi crown prince was involved, whatever, but you know what’s more important is arms sales; and the strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia and Israel. You know, it doesn’t matter that one guy got killed.”

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: I mean, he was really truthful there, I think, I as far as his own opinion is concerned. 

SUZANNE ROSS: And about historical relationship of our country with Saudi Arabia. It’s always been strategic. Saudi Arabia doesn’t have clean hands. I mean look at the war in Yemen that’s been going on for so long. These things don’t matter and for Trump to come out and say it, I thought, bully for him, there you go. Now he is being very truthful but, we call him a liar, I don’t know, if he is, is he a liar, is he a… I mean you’re talk at the COV&R Conference this summer was all about self-deception. That’s one of the things we like to debate about is Trump clever as a fox, or does he believe what he says, or is he manipulating us, or he just self-deceived on all these issues, trying to psychologize him.

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: My opinion is that all of these are not exclusive alternatives. In other words, I think he is all of those things.  

SUZANNE ROSS: Depending on the topic, the issue at the time?

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Well depending on the topic, on the issue, I mean this is, there is a thing from Aristotle which I like very much, which is that “a liar is not a person who never says the truth.” Of course, he very often says the truth, and nor as an evil person somebody who will never does any good. And one other thing, and especially about lying it is important because one other thing about lying is that if you lie all the time, nobody will believe you. Therefore you will not lie. Because lying is not just saying something which is false, lying is actually an action which has consequences in the world. And it is… but if you lie all the time, then you can’t do that action because you cannot have those consequences in the world. You will say something and nobody is going to be interested in it. So lying successfully, which is what lying is really is requires not lying all the time. Otherwise, it’s not going to work. So, I think of course, you know Trump says a lot of things which are true.

SUZANNE ROSS: Yeah, he really does. 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: And then true also means, true is an ambiguous term because, interestingly enough, because it can either mean well, you know, to your left, there is a book shelf, that is true, or to your right, behind you there are book shelf and two chairs, I can see, that is true. But, then, when we start talking about, for example, what we were talking about just a few minutes ago, relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia and that it is true that it has always been strategic and so on. We are sliding into a different conception of truth, in which the truth is more like, well, this is the way, it is, and in the sense that, it has to be, or should be. It’s very ambiguous. So, we use the word truth in two different sense, or meaning, and they are not entirely identical, even though, of course, they are related.  

What am saying is that even though it is true in the sense that it is a good description of the past policy of the United States with Saudi Arabia, that it has been very strategic, that it has closed its eyes or overlooked many of the bad things which Saudi Arabia said, that it has overlooked is a good thing in other words. It has been therefore extremely selective in its accusation of transgression of human rights, for example, that has always been the case. This is true. Now is it true, but does that mean this is the way we United States should be running its policy? That’s a different issue. That’s a completely different issue. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Yeah, it’s reminding me, this connection between what true and what might be just or right or good. A lot of times we equate truth and goodness and so forth, but that’s not always the case. 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: But clearly, they are related. They are related in at least in the following sense, they are related in the sense that, you can only take a just position concerning the American or whatever policy toward Saudi Arabia to the extent that you are aware of the truth. I mean whether or not you want to continue having a certain type of relationship with Saudi Arabia is something which is a meaningful decision only if you know these people are transgressing human rights on a regular basis, and either you say, okay we going to slow that snake, so to speak and we going to move in a certain way, or we not going to do it. But certainly, if you just say, oh no, it’s only the Iranians who are transgressing human rights, then we are in a completely different figure. It’s something to put it differently, we cannot take decisions the right way. In a relationship between truth and just is certainly fundamental. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Yeah, it is very important and certainly the reputation that the United States has had, or it’s trying to cultivate is a nation in which justice is very important, in which human rights are very important. I wanted to ask you about the issue with Saudi Arabia and how that sort of played out internationally. And how America’s reputation is being affected and also I think what’s coming to mind on this issue too is the migrant caravan from Central America. Now these refugees are now at our border with Mexico and the way the Trump  administration responding to this. At the very least there are very bad objects, you know, of women and children being tear-gassed and at the border. So, again America’s reputation, we like to think of ourselves as a land of refugee, of human rights, justice. So I am just wondering, from your perspective, what difference does America’s reputation make in the world and is it changing, is it being damaged in some way right now?

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: I think the American reputation in the world changed dramatically quite a while ago. I think it changed dramatically when the United States decided to invade Iraq. I think that’s when it changed dramatically. Many people in the world saw the Americans not the same as the people who were a country which was defending human rights, which was defending freedom, which was… suddenly it appears as a country of lies in international policy. Because whatever  you want to say about the invasion of Iraq, since the Second World War, and invasion is an illegal action. And the United States went out of their ways to convince the international community they were not invading Iraq that they were actually protecting themselves. 

It turned out there was no weapons of mass destruction, and in that case, something also important happened, which is related to what is happening now. Is that, at that point, there was a government agency which presented these humungous report about weapons of mass destruction, nobody found them. So we were already working, so this is a long-term process, this is not something which happened yesterday. That’s why I said, It is a symptom of something, much more than it is; of course, it’s an actor in this, also a symptom of a long-term process. And I think what is happening now as far as the American international reputation is concerned, you said earlier, “Wow, you know he said the truth”. You know what, I think a lot of people are thinking exactly the same thing. “Well you know, he said the truth, he said look we don’t care about human rights, we care about weapons sales. That’s what we care about. That’s what my administration, that’s what I care about.” And people say, yes, this is always been the case with the Americans care about and nothing else. So therefore for the reputation, it simply kind of confirms I think the international collapse – at least the way I will describe it- of the American reputation as being upholders of certain moral values. 

I think that’s what it does. I don’t think it changes it, I think that change started quite a while ago. I think what it does is that it confirms, what people have been thinking for the last five or six or more years. The Obama administration was seen as in attempt, not entirely successful, but an attempt to move away from that and to re-give to the American this kind of international prestige and to some extent, it succeeded. But to some extent, only because it also had its own share of dubious decisions, in terms of intentional politics, there is no problem with that. But none the less, the feeling was that we are not moving in the right direction. Now the feeling is that we were not moving in the right direction, that it was just a little bump in actually what is the truth, what is the long-term evolution. But again, people don’t see it as an evolution, maybe that’s the thing about the reputation of the United States that would be important to bring this up. People don’t really see it as an evolution, they rather see it as actually just a confirmation of what a lot of people believe. Because if the American reputation was to some issue, I mean, from the point of view of Europe, we have seen, with Canada with a good reputation; a lot of countries have very negative point of view of the Americans.  

And if you look at it, historically since the end of the Second World War the Americans have been engaged in some extremely, extremely controversial to say the least, if not unacceptable international activities. I mean they did support and we know they not only support, but they furnished the Indonesian government a list of people to eliminate, when what was called the killing field, which was a major genocide which took place in the 1960’s in Indonesia and with the support of the Americans and the Australians also. So, yeah, a lot of people know the American politics has been extremely centered on our own interest for a long time, but none the less, to a large part of the world, you know a real question of, there was the issue that they were defenders, of human rights  And to some extent it was true in certain areas, they just did that. There were different areas of the world and you know, everybody is equal but some people are more equal than others, but saying… 

SUZANNE ROSS: It certainly does seem that the concern for human rights is just a playing card in a bigger, down the road, in the way we been talking about it. 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: I think that’s the case. I think also and that is why as a lot of people has said, not all human lives are worth the same. I should add that this is not proper to the American government or anything, in other words like there is a very famous sentence by Mitterand many, many years ago which was actually, there is an article of Le Monde, which reports it where he said about the Rwandan genocide was taking place he said to journalists, “You know, there are genocide, it is not something that’s as important everywhere”. That’s pretty strong. He was saying the truth, also one could say.

SUZANNE ROSS: Very true, but not just absolutely. So, the American self-image is not eroding as fast as our reputation abroad, I would say. 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: I think you are right, it is not. I was going to say even though many, many people are aware of the division of the country and how acrimonious political discussion has become. That’s important. 

SUZANNE ROSS: So the loss of maybe the veneer of America being the beacon of truth and justice and human rights, the loss of that veneer over… and I do thing your assessment of the Iraq that was a turning spot, the Iraq war pretty spot on. Does it matter? What impact does this have now, or is it having on America’s ability to act internationally, to effect other countries decisions on things? Should we care about that? I don’t know.

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Well, what effect does the American reputation have is the question in a sense. I think it has an effect ,but I don’t think it has a short-term effect, in that sense. I mean, as far as the short term is concerned, what is involved is more than the immediate decisions of moving troops here or there, and so on. But I think it has a long-term decision or a medium-term decision in terms of trust, especially in the relationship with the Europeans which is very, very, getting extremely difficult. And there is a question of trust there which is really important like people say, you can’t trust United States. And again this is something which is longer term than this administration. It goes as far back as the beginning of 20th century, right after the First World War when actually the Society  of Nations was an American initiative and then they decided not to sign it. That’s interesting. And that’s related to the structure of the American government, which is that, even though the president may commit himself that to say, yes we got to do this, it has to be voted by Congress. And Congress can say no, we are not going to do this. So that has always created a certain… 

It put the American in a tricky or different position as far as international commitments were concerned. But the particularity of this administration is that it says we have a commitment, not anymore, we going to change our minds. That was it for Iraq, that was it for the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) All these things, well yeah fine but, people think rightly or wrong, people think there are moral reasons to this. Like Canada, let me give you an example related to Canada. The Harper government before the Trudeau which is was the government which was a conservative government, Harper was described as the last political survivor of the Bush era, at some point. And he had signed a very large arms contract with Saudi Arabia. Look at that, how strange! Those guys have a lot of money to buy weapons. The Trudeau government honored it even though people in support of the Trudeau government were against it. Now here I think there is, and I mean of course, one can say all it was for money blah, blah, blah, and things like that but am not quite sure about that. I think there was on part of this government, the idea that if you have international commitments you honor them, period. 

And it’s not because, even though you may not like it, because that’s is part of this stability of the recognition of the country in terms of international agreements. And it is clear now that what is happening is apart of from the reputation in terms of are they good or are they bad, the idea that the United States cannot be trusted because they will renege, come back on their agreement tomorrow because somebody else is going to be elected President or because this one changes his mind from one day to the next. Right? So that is the real issue. That really changes the ability of the United States to act in the world to have allies, to have helpers to do things. That is clear. That is fundamental. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Not to throw in another big issue, but the whole competition that’s going on right now with China and the tariffs and the trade war, such as it is. There seems to be a lot of gamesmanship going on. Here it is hard to know what the end game is, what does Trump want. Again, we are coming back this, how do you trust what someone is saying, when you know, first oh my gosh, talking about trade, you were saying he is going to close the border with Mexico and disrupt trade that way. And disrupting trade with China. I feel like part of being world power is that  you have to project this invincibility on the world space so people don’t challenge you in a way. And China is I think right now, a big challenger for domination… certainly economically, militarily too. I don’t even know, what do you even see about this damn thing going on right now between the US and China?

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: There are two aspects to this, right, again, at least two aspects. One is the tariff war, the other one is the political situation of China. As far as the tariff war is concerned, again to go back to an earlier part of our discussion, I think, this might be a place where the answer to the question is it ideological or what Trump really believes. Yes, I think that’s ideological and that is what he really believes. He is really is economically a person of 30 years ago. He believes in closing borders, he doesn’t believe in globalization, he believes in tariff, he thinks that will protect the Americans. I mean I think he does think that. That’s one of the reasons why he is acting like that and he is finding other people who think, yeah, that’s not such a bad idea. So, of course, then, because of this tariff, they don’t only concern the Chinese, they concern Europe, they concern Canada, they concern everybody. There are few exceptions, but overall the concern everybody. So, that’s one thing, 

The other thing is the relationship of China with the United States and with the growth of China as a world power. So, the growth of China as a world power, in a sense, is clear. I mean the Chinese are getting richer, more powerful. They have a very large army, they have a lot of people, how good they are, we don’t know. They lost, I don’t know but that was a while, but they did lose a war against Vietnam, which is bit of getting sensitive. But, I don’t think they are… I mean, its hard to know, its really hard to know. Because to some extent, what the Chinese are doing is they are doing especially in the area of the world, where I am living, especially the seas surrounding us, they are doing what the Americans did in the 19th century and the early 20th century, but mostly the 19th century, with Latin America. Which is to say, I mean the Americans around the end of the 19th century, pretty much said to the Europeans look, “Latin America is our backyard, keep off.” And the Chinese are saying, “Look, Taiwan, Korea, Philippines, eastern Asia, that’s our backyard leave it alone. Keep off.” So, I think there is part of that, which is going on, so the Chinese are just, kind of like showing everybody else that they are the central power in this part of the world. 

They are also being active on the more international scene, particularly in Africa, where they are very active economically. But, yeah, they are also taking advantage of the loss of power of the Americans. That is really, in other words, they are… One way of putting it is that they are world had one hegemon, which was the United States, but now that’s not the case anymore. There is at least two. There is at least the Chinese and now it’s getting a much more complex world. A world where they are now international actors, more than only one, so to speak all these little guys around. There was a period after the end of the Soviet Union, after its collapse, then the only real-world power was the United States. Then this was a very simple world, in a way, in which there was the United States and all these other guys who were not powerful enough. But now we are going back to a situation of international relations where you have sources of power which are quite important and more than one. And the United States is really its own power is being reduced among other things, because it is, how can I say it, it extended it self a lot. 

There was a report recently that the United States might have problems winning a war against China. But the scenario is can the United States successfully win a war simultaneously against the Chinese, the Russians and be involved in the Middle East? Well, my feeling is why would they want to do that? Why would they want to do that? In other words, what is so terrible that they wouldn’t be able to do that? Many, many aspects of our conversation are linked together. It is true that for a long time the United States did think of themselves, and were thought by a lot of people as the, in French we say –gendarme du monde– as the policeman of the world. That is certainly disappearing or has disappeared. 

SUZANNE ROSS: For sure. Well, certainly President Trump said we are not doing that anymore. Yeah. Well I am conscious of the time and I want to just get your thoughts on one more subject, though we  keep going on this one for a while. And that is the relationship between the Trump administration and the judiciary here in the United States. There is been a lot of cases brought against the administration, he has won some, he has lost a lot. And recently, after the decision by the 9th Circuit Court that went against the administration in their efforts to keep migrants from entering the US while they were applying for asylum, the court ruled against President Trump. He just dismissed it and said, well, that’s an Obama judge. There are Obama judges, there are Trump judges. And Chief Justice Roberts, in a rare move, made a public statement and said, there is no such thing as Obama judges and Trump judges, we are just interpreting the law, which is an interesting statement in itself. But I wonder if you could talk a little bit about this way he has of attacking judges and really personal attacks on judges that render decisions against him, and what’s the effect of that, sort of weakening if you will, the reputation of the courts?

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: The United States or modern democracies, not just the United States, countries which have the rule of law, have three powers: the judiciary, the executive and the legislative. What we were saying before concerning truth and concerning conflict was what everybody says is part of a conflict with my political enemy. People are not saying the truth. Now, when Trump’s says, this is an Obama judge, he saying exactly that. He is saying this judge is simply my political enemy. Therefore, he is saying, there are no three powers. There is no judiciary which is independent and separate from the executive and the legislative, there are only political power and political conflicts. And when Justice came in to say no, there are no Obama judge, there are only judges, he was reasserting which is why he came really, which is why he intervene, to reassert the independence of the judiciary in relationship with the rest of the political situation. I think that is very clear. So, but, I think its part of the same evolution in which there is no possibility to speak a language or to say anything which is not immediately interpreted as being part of a political conflict. That is because, so instead of saying the judge are said, well the law does not allow me to do that, then the law does not allow me to do that, period. He is just saying, no, this person is part of the Democrats and actually he has a political agenda. So it is, in the sense, the same dynamics as we were talking before, it’s just another example of that same dynamics.

SUZANNE ROSS: Right, and sort of a frightening one where it is this… Girard talks about the escalation of a mimetic crisis and rivalries, and it begins to consume all aspects of the community. It’s an example of that am guessing? 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: I agree with you 100%, this is a perfect example of what Girard says, when he says conflicts destroy differences. Because instead of having differences between the executive, the legislative and the judiciary, you have only a conflict between us and them. That’s all that’s left, that’s all that’s left. I mean that’s not true that this is what has happened because United States institutions survive and so on, so there is no problem. What I mean is that this is the frame of mind which this President gives and it’s exactly that frame of mind. And that is what is so dangerous. It’s not dangerous because Trump is an evil person who will do terrible things, it is dangerous because people start to think like that. Everybody starts to think like that. And once everybody thinks like that, then it does become the crisis, then there is no way out. That’s the problem, that’s the real issue. I think that’s the real danger. The danger is that it is contagious, it is contagious. So that’s why when the Chief Justice comes out and says we don’t want to play this game, he is right. That’s the important thing to say. We are not playing this game, no body is playing this game, he did not only say there is no Obama judge, he says there is no Bush judge, there is no Clinton judge, which I think he is right. In other words, we don’t care. You can report that to the election of what’s his name in the Supreme Court? 

SUZANNE ROSS: Kavanaugh? The Kavanaugh hearings, yeah. 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Yes, that’s exactly what happened again was that. But, of course, there is an old tradition there going on, but what happened again was that, the idea that it was all a political decision. It’s really of that structure. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Well it that’s been the gradual trajectory of the court appointments, for the last couple of administrations, they been so highly politicized that there is no, it’s all Republicans vote one way, Democrats vote another. There is no consensus on the judges which then again sets up this…

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Goes into the direction of saying there is Obama judge in there. You can see that’s it is a dynamic, it’s not just what one person is doing. It’s a reoccurring process which leads to bad consequences I think. 

SUZANNE ROSS: No its true and I think that we need to be really be conscious of how important it is to really maintain those differences between the branches of government and this kind of things that we can’t just laugh them off really. You are right, right now they say we are in pretty good shape, but a sustained movement in this direction, were the impartiality of the judiciary gets… that we cant trust them anymore, just saying. If Europe can’t trust us to keep agreements with the rest of the world, it is in a sense a lot of about trust.

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: It is a lot of about trust. And trust is well, it’s fundamental in this issue. It is about being able to hear what other people are saying. Not just to take what they are saying as I said, as an action which has an ulterior motive. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Yeah, I think my hope is that, I mean I don’t know how we pull ourselves back from this sort of suspicion and skepticism about each other’s motives and so forth, so that we can begin to have conversations again about issues and about things that matter. How do you pull back from these sorts of things, dynamics? This is where I bring in James Alison for some spiritual advice, right?

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: I mean one of the evident answers is just stop doing it. I mean it sounds ridiculous, in a way, but I think actually it is really fundamental. It’s really fundamental to stop playing that game and therefore take a chance. Because you see, this we said it’s a question of trust. But, what is trust? So, we tend to think that trust is belief in other person. In other words, I trust you. In other words, I believe you will do this or that, I believe what you say and that I trust you. Well, I personally don’t think that’s a very good way of saying trust actually. I think trust is an action and you trust somebody when you take an action which is such in your relationship with that person, which is such that, it makes you vulnerable to that other person. That’s when you trust. And therefore, when you say, I am going to trust them it means you offer yourself in a sense to be vulnerable. And you don’t offer yourself to be vulnerable because you want to be hurt, you offer yourself to be vulnerable because there is something to be gained from doing that. And you also offer yourself to be vulnerable because in a different way or a different sense of the term, you trust yourself. 

Which means you are not afraid, you don’t think you will die from this, you don’t think you will be destroyed entirely by this, you are ready to swallow, if it doesn’t work. You know, the idea that we are brave, we don’t trust is ridiculous to me. No, you are brave when you trust. In other word when you are ready to take a chance because that’s what’s involved. ot just take a chance, I mean, you trust as I said when you make yourself vulnerable through your action, in a way in which it will not be otherwise. This is very clear like when you trust somebody with one of your secrets, what does it mean? It means precisely that, you may make yourself vulnerable to that person which you didn’t have to. But that’s what trusting is, I think. So I think trust is important, but trust has to be understood not just like I can’t believe in him, therefore, I won’t trust him. It has to be, I will trust, it’s an action, it’s not just a question of belief.

SUZANNE ROSS: It’s a way to think about it as a willingness to lose, where winning isn’t the most important thing.

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: No, it’s not necessarily a willingness to lose, although it depend on what  willingness mean, maybe I am upset by the will aspect there, because I don’t want to lose.

SUZANNE ROSS: No, I don’t want to. 

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: I don’t want to lose, but in fact, not only I don’t want to lose, but actually, if there is any belief concern, I believe that in a sense, I will gain more, if even if I lose this. Because when you trust, you step back to jump further, so to speak. You are ready to step back to jump further. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Exactly, I was just at a conference on people who engage in unarmed civilian protection, protecting civilians, they are unarmed and they use nonviolent methods. And this one line has been sticking out at me, that’s when you practice non-violence, “you have to lose before you win.” You will suffer humiliation, people will call you names because you are engaging in a culture that practices dominance. These are normal conflicts zone where we are just trying to beat one another and you are entering into it in a way that’s… I care more about our relationship than I do more about winning and you going to look like a loser, you know. And your reputation will suffer may be that’s a good thing, in the long run. I think that it just takes a bit of …

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: Well you just said, your reputation might suffer, maybe that’s a good thing, in the long run, maybe it is also for the United States. 

SUZANNE ROSS: Yeah, I wonder, it could be… that’s a book. No, you’re going to write it. Thank you very much, I really appreciate this very, very, useful conversation. We covered a lot of topics and my hope meter went up and down, up and down through the whole thing. I am ending on a hopeful note and mostly hoping that you will come back and do this with us again real soon. Thank you so much, Paul.  I really appreciate it.

PAUL DUMOUCHEL: You are welcome.


Paul Dumouchel is Professor of philosophy at the Graduate School of Core Ethics and Frontier Sciences, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan. He is co-author with Jean-Pierre Dupuy of L’Enfer des choses, René Girard et la logique de l’économie (Paris: Seuil, 1979) and author of Emotions essai sur le corps et le social (Paris: Les Empêcheurs de Penser en rond, 1999). He co-edited with Jean-Pierre Dupuy L’auto-organisation de la physique au politique (Paris: Seuil, 1983), edited Violence and Truth  (Stanford University Press, 1988), Nationalisme et multiculturalisme en Asie (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2010) and with Rieko Gotoh he co-edited Against Injustice: The New Economics of Amartya Sen (Cambridge University Press, 2009). His more recent books are Economia dell’invidia (Massa: Transeuropa, 2011), The Ambivalence of Scarcity and Other Essays (Michigan State University Press), and, with Reiko Gotoh, Social Bonds as Freedom (Berghahn Books). His recent book, The Barren Sacrifice: An Essay on Political Violence (Michigan State University Press)was first published as Le sacrifice inutile essai sur la violence politique (Paris: Flammarion, 2011). His latest book, published by Harvard University Press, is titled Living with Robots: Artificial Empathy and Philosophy of Mind was released in November 2017.

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