by Anders Sjöstrand
Upon checking the election results early Tuesday morning, my disbelief was replaced by agony rather quickly. In fact, the next hour seemed to be a schizophrenic oscillation between the various symptoms one experiences after trauma. Later, all I really wanted to do was sit on the toilet and stare at my feet, which ironically felt like the place most sanitized of the looming bigotry and ignorance that seems to be overwhelming contemporary politics.
Having grown up in rural North Carolina, I am no stranger to the archetypal Trump voter. Nor am I unfamiliar with Trumpisms, which, euphemistically, can now refer to any political commentary laced with nativist, racist, or hyper-parochial undertones that have fueled Trump's ascendancy. In that sense, it was less that I was surprised by the results, but rather profoundly disheartened and confused that the hero of the rural, low-income voters typical of Appalachia could be a business tycoon that calls home a golden tower on 5th avenue. But it seems that his base found a false disillusionment with this political outsider. A hope that a political outsider could somehow mend the disenfranchisement that many in America feel is the fault of the establishment on Capitol Hill.
What's frustrating is that, for me, Donald J. Trump is the exemplar, the grandiose personification, of all the forces that are leading to mass feelings of disenfranchisement in not only America but the World-over. The siphoning of wealth to the upper one percent, the suppression of wages, the increasing influence of multinational corporations, the privatization of public services, the opening of free markets, and the weakening of nation-states and the corresponding crumbling welfare systems of old. Trump's election was the Neoliberal Crossing of the Rubicon. Trump's nationalistic populism served to fill the void of confusion and emptiness of the average American citizen, largely the result of the power abstractions of the post-political and the meteoric rise of the Neoliberal economic ideology. As my friend quipped on Wednesday morning, 'Democracy is for the birds, as we've just proven'. The reason I am writing the post, however, is to point out that birds might have a more grim future than our Sacred Democracy.
I, as with seemingly everybody else in my social network, am disgusted by the proposals and the rhetoric buttressing them of the Trump campaign, mostly for the disregard of any progress we've made over the past 50 years towards social equality. Indeed, they are reprehensible and deserve media attention, but focus on the countless racist, misogynistic, and altogether xenophobic comments that Trump extolled over the course of the campaign took attention away from what is largely considered to be the crisis of our time, that of global warming. This week, a group of climatologists released an article in the journal Science Advances, warning that most estimates of global warming may be overly modest, arguing that the atmosphere will in fact warm faster than many previously estimated. Last week, Leonardo DeCaprio released his documentary film Before the Flood in an attempt to bring attention to climate change. It seems that every week new science is disclosed that outlines the dire state of our global ecosystem, to the extent to which they almost seem banal. But their banality is unfortunately the recognition of our more and more hopeless political status quo that refuses to take drastic measures to counter what the science is so clearly and consensually telling us. So much for those birds.
And now there is Trump. Now the business-as-usual projections must take into account the inevitably unhinged environmental politics of business-as-president. As Naomi Klein argued in This Changes Everything, the global dissemination of neoliberalism has spelt disaster for the environment, and continues to do so. But you can't help but wonder how Klein's prognosis would be if the subject of the title was Trump's presidency. It feels that this does change everything.
Today, rumors began circulating that Myron Ebell, a known climate skeptic, is the person most likely to head the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump. Is that an improvement of his previous comments on disbanding the EPA? I don't know. Trump's government will also lift restrictions on shale, oil, natural gas, and coal, expanding development throughout the country. He plans to nullify all of Obama's work with the international Paris climate accord. His 'outsider' status has been a bit compromised by the Washington insiders that are lobbyists for fossil fuel companies, all of which are allegedly climate change deniers. Furthermore, and not so surprisingly, he is promising to dismantle Obama's proposal of a Clean Power Plan, which aimed to reduce carbon emissions of industrial activity to lower levels by 2050.
As I'm writing this I feel that I'm writing some dystopian doomsday novel outline. Reading climate science and Trump's environmental platforms are about a good of a pairing as Cheerios and horse manure. But these proposals are also very personal. I start thinking of other paradoxes. Are not the rural environments where the majority of the Trump base resides also the ones most likely to be affected by damaging, pro-industrial environmental negligence? Trump says that good development enhances the environment. I think of the golf courses being built on my favorite mountain ridges in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Trump says coal mine development needs to be expanded. I think of the coal trains that bump along the sides of the Nolichucky River, defecating lumps of coal from their stomachs like little pieces of noxious popcorn down to the riverbanks. Trump says he will bring back coal mining jobs to West Virginia. I think of driving through The Mountain State and seeing how that nickname might be compromised by the systematic removal of mountaintops throughout the state. And Trump says he thinks climate change is a conspired by the Chinese for economic purposes. And I don't know what to think.
One can only guess that Trump's promises are only the tip of the (melting) iceberg of his inevitable destruction of America going green. Insofar as America serving as an example for the rest of the world, this not only has dire implications for domestic environmental politics, but for everywhere else. Many argue that this is the critical historical moment when global, top-down policies must be enforced in order to avoid environmental catastrophe. But political catastrophe has already struck domestically. Few would rely on somebody who has lost money developing golf courses around the world as a beacon of hope in the face of oncoming climate change.
The wicked complexity of climate change would be hard to explain using the 15 words in Trump's lexicon. In asking my friend David about his impressions on Trump and the environment, he had these thoughts that are better quoted than summarized:
"Climate change is a scientific fact but not to the many voters that feel the warming of the planet is a euphemism representing liberal power and progressive ideals. Climate change appears to be just abstract enough to not resonate with voters despite the urgency of its consequences. Feelings trump facts. What happens when a paradox is exposed that forces the electorate to cross examine their most visceral feelings with glaring scientific reality? Trump and his retrograde cabal purport to defend unborn life yet deny the life-changing consequences of climate change. There is a perverse fallacy in the logic of such a position. Making America Great Again in the future by harkening back to a simpler time, a time that is lost due to the reality of climate change. Trump hopes to bullishly power through the present with his moral compass oriented towards the past, a paradox that is untenable and will inevitably expose the weakness at the core of his vision for the future."
So what, then, is there left to do? Can we rely on our state governments that retained Democratic governors to pursue aggressive climate-friendly policies? Can we somehow resist Trump's onslaught on the global environment through solidarity and grassroots movements? Drive hybrids? Screw in better lightbulbs? At what point will the reality of climate change be immediate enough to evoke an emotional reaction from the Trump base? And therefore a recognition that science isn't a conspiracy? Will it be too late?
At this point, I feel utterly defeated. But maybe we can somehow find a way to bypass Trump's power-hungry ignorance, and finally flush him down the toilet of irrelevance. And hopefully still hear the birds singing outside the window for a long time to come.
By Anders Sjöstrand