Kant, Trump, and Jury Service

Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Los Angeles, California


Kant, Trump, and Jury Service

Foolishly forgetting the option for jury service orientation online, I sit in the back of the jury service room at the Criminal Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.

I am bored to death.

In the past 45 minutes, a court clerk has repeated the same simple instructions five times. He has guided the 100 persons here how to complete an affidavit easily understandable by your average five-year-old. He explained what writing in blue or black ink means.

Nonetheless, what better place to explore concepts related to government and mind?

Immanuel Kant, the 18th century philosopher, believed lasting world peace could be created if individual states adhered to three requirements:

Democracy, open economies, and engagement with the international community.  

Recent actions by Trump threaten all three.

Before elaborating, I take you on a brief tangent regarding jury service. I now participate in the judicial branch of California government. If called to serve on a jury, I would be part of a group of citizens asked to judge or evaluate the evidence in a legal proceeding.

People often complain about jury service, but consider this fact:

You never know when you could be arrested, even falsely, say because you look like a suspect in a crime.

You’d want to be judged by your peers, not by retired, government employees.

Please do it if summoned.

It’s part of democracy.

That noted, I return to Kant and Trump.

Despite Monty Python’s hilariously calling him “a real pissant,” Kant was, in truth, quite the dude.

The three-thousand year history of western philosophy is split into pre- and post-Kantian categories. He’s the only philosopher since Plato to make such categorical change. He wrote a major book about moral philosophy — still pertinent today — when he was age 80.

Even more intense, dig this:

He never traveled more than 19 miles from his home in Konigsberg, Germany.

A hometown boy, Kant, changed the world for the better.

A New York, international boy, Trump, changes the world for the worse.

Let’s analyze Trump’s politics in terms of the Kantian triangle:

First, democracy. Trump’s apparent efforts to influence, and then fire, the FBI director are distinctly anti-democratic. His using the presidency to enrich himself is autocratic, even dictatorial. His promising to “drain the swamp” — only to fill his cabinet with a collection of white billionaires, mostly from Wall Street — betrays the very voters who supported him. Other examples abound.

Second, Kant’s idea of open economies is directly opposed by Trump’s actions. He has been unsupportive of NATO. He seeks to dismantle NAFTA. He plans to build a ridiculous wall between the US and Mexico. He supports Brexit. He puts “America First,” worrying other international states now accustomed to increasing — and peace enhancing — international commerce.

Kant’s third point, engagement with the international community, is obviously counter to Trump’s intentions. In addition to the examples just provided, he has also irritated longstanding allies — the PM of Australia, the President of Mexico, the PM of Germany and, just recently, the mayor of London. He recently withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord.

Kant’s triangle was part of a proposal for international peace; Trump’s behavior sets us on a path towards discord, isolation, perhaps even war.

Kant’s triad of democracy, open economies, and international engagement also offers a basic model of mind. We all have parts of self, in dynamic contact with each other. Psychoanalytic theorists have called them by various names: unconscious fantasies, dynamic structures, or selfobjects. These terms are simply different ways of labelling parts of self.

Further, as Shakespeare, the anthropologist George Herbert Mead, and others long-ago observed, we relate to ourselves just like we relate to others. Kind of a weird concept, but I imagine it makes sense to you. We love ourselves. We hate ourselves. We do a better or worse job of navigating our way through life.

Applying Kant’s ideas to individual psychology, democracy calls for fairly listening to the different parts of self. Using the tripartite Freudian model, an effective, mature person would feel the urges of instinctual drives from the Id, listen to guidance from the Superego, and follow the Ego’s recommendations for moving forward.

Kant’s idea of open economies can be likened to the contractual nature of interpersonal relations. Confucius first proposed the simple word reciprocity to describe mature interpersonal relating. You do a favor for friends; they return the favor. You make jewelry for sale; your customer pays you for it. It works out. It balances over time.

Kant’s third idea about engaging the international community applies equally well when writ small. Applied to individual persons, it equates with sound interpersonal relating. It means creating friendships. It means supporting communities. Empirical research validates that social support networks enhance physical and emotional health. Persons in intimate relationships live longer.

What’s the take away?

On a personal level, listen to and balance out the various parts of yourself. Practice reciprocity. Nurture your relationships with friends and family.

On a national governmental level… well…


Or, at least, hope for the best while you wait it out.

Immanuel Kant died in 1804.

His influence persists two centuries later.

Who will remember Trump in two centuries?

No one.

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