I have swung between being worried, terrified, and laugh-out-loud amused by the spectacle of Donald Trump as President of the United States. I suspect many others have had a similar range of reactions.
My biggest worry when he was elected was that he would take people’s eyes off the issues that really mattered. And he has certainly done a great job as “Distractor-in-Chief”, with his rants and personal attacks via social media, and the ongoing circus of “You’re fired” at the White House. Mainstream media have primarily focussed on his distractions, rather than the substantive changes made since his election.
The general tenor of reaction is that he is a misfit, someone who doesn’t belong as President. And the natural consequence of this is to think that, the sooner he goes, the sooner things can return to (a much better) normal.
But Trump is not an aberration. Things will not “go back to normal” once he goes, even if he goes early, being rejected by the institutions of the US Government (through impeachment for example), or through his own eventual discovery that he will never be loved by most of the people whose respect and love he craves.
Or Grand Slam?
Trump simply represents the far end of the world of laissez-faire, rent-seeking capitalism that has exploded on us over the last 30-40 years. He has added no measureable value to the world, while seeking his own profit, either financial or reputational (or financial profit through reputation – read Naomi Klein’s “No Is Not Enough” on Trump as brand).
His election is a natural result of a culture which celebrates personality and the acquisition or appearance of wealth. I will explore his election some more in my next blog. For now, it is enough to say that his populist appeal to white racists and sexists is being followed through by continuing to pander to their prejudices, while his appeal to those struggling economically is being followed through by continuing to strip them of support systems and benefits (ie he is promoting corporate welfare at the expense of personal welfare).
Both Republicans and large business initially appeared horrified at the prospect of Trump as President. They have since come to realise that he is at worst a Pawn, and at best a champion (a Queen perhaps? – perish the thought) in their neo-liberal game of wealth- and power- acquisition.
The rest of this blog, and the next, explore some of what has actually been happening beneath the cloak of the “Distractor-in-Chief”. Some of this is being reported in mainstream media in New Zealand, but a lot of it isn’t.
“7 No Trumps”
For those not in the know, when playing bridge, a bid of “7” is a bid to win all the tricks in the hand. This is known as a “grand slam”, and 7 No Trumps is the highest possible grand slam bid.
Coincidentally, in “A New Place to Stand”, I identified 7 areas where we in the affluent world needed to radically rethink our actions and processes if we as a species are to survive and thrive on the beautiful planet we are currently degrading.
So, in the rest of this blog and the next, I look at Trump’s actions, and events surrounding him, in relation to these 7 areas since 1 January this year. My main source is a progressive American thinktank, “ThinkProgress”.
This is what came out for the first 3 (I will report on the other 4 in my next blog).
3 No Trumps
1 No Trump: “Working with nature: Our immediate challenge is survival as a species, and we need to reduce the affluent world’s footprint on the planet now. The first step toward this is relearning to work with Nature, rather than against it.”
On 2 January, Think Progress reported late 2017 removal of fracking safeguards, weakening offshore drilling rules, and renewed mining leases, while Trump once again cast doubt on climate change. Then, radical expansion of offshore drilling was proposed, under these weakened rules. Later, Trump celebrated the removal of the ‘Clean Water Rule”, opening streams and wetlands to pollution. The Environmental Protection Authority (now run by an anti-environmentalist appointed by Trump) announced its priorities for 2018, which, on a careful read, included “silencing accepted science, tearing down vital health protections, and rolling back regulations that keep our air and water clean and safe”. At the end of the month, Trump announced he had ended the “war on clean coal”, through his actions to protect the coal industry.
Our carbon use is the single biggest element of our footprint on the planet, and the one which needs to be slashed to avoid runaway global warming. But Trump and the Republicans are doing their best to accelerate the use of fossil fuels, so that oil corporations and their owners can profit as the planet burns. And, to them, general environmental protection just gets in the way of developers. Definitely, 1 No Trump.
2 No Trumps: “A new economics of thrift: The second step is to replace our consumption-based economy with a thrift-based one, where sharing, saving, sustainability, restoration and regeneration are practised and rewarded, rather than ownership, spending, extraction, consumption, and waste.”
Trump’s lifestyle – and indeed his very existence – are a fundamental affront to this need.
A report revealed that most of Trump’s real estate sales since election have been to anonymous shell companies (used by bad people to stash ill-gotten gains). As ThinkProgress put it, “If we lived in a functioning democracy, this would be a major scandal”. Companies who are to benefit from their massive tax windfalls from the recently passed budget started to reveal how they would spend their new income – a tiny fraction on staff salaries and bonuses, and the rest on enriching stockholders. A draft of Trump’s infrastructure plan shows it is designed to roll back safeguards, including environmental laws, and basically ease the way for corporate developers. And the month ended with the Senate considering repealing major portions of the Dodd-Frank Act – in effect, re-deregulating most of the banks which gave us the Global Financial Crisis.
This is a significant expansion of corporate welfare, underpinned by planning to “free” the banks to do as they wish in creating money-as-debt to enrich the already wealthy and impoverish the rest. It is based on, and supports, a “growth at any cost” agenda. 2 No Trumps.
3 No Trumps: “Better ways of thinking: We need to educate ourselves in “systems thinking”, and practise the “precautionary principle”, to avoid the worst excesses of our tendency to do what we can, rather than what we should.”
One way of framing these two better ways of thinking is to say that they equip us to deal with the long term. Systems thinking by working through the reality of actions, impacts and consequences, and the precautionary principle by keeping us from acting too rashly.
Again, Trump is a walking affront to these needs. Short-termism and local profiteering (in political terms, the “growth imperative”) have dominated political behaviours in the affluent world for decades now. Trump is a simply one of many with political power who exhibit these behaviours.
The main things reported in the media in relation to these better ways of thinking tend to be how not to do them. For example, grandiose innovation ideas (how to save the planet by seeding or painting clouds, or with lots of mirrors), or just plain bad thinking.
Trump’s innovative ideas include the Mexican wall, and keeping immigrants out. And he continually exhibits plain bad thinking. But in this period there were only a couple of examples worth highlighting.
Trump, in his usual and inimitable style, took credit for the lack of deaths due to airline travel in the US in 2017 – “I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation…”. Nothing has actually changed with respect to air safety since Trump was elected, and there have been no air deaths in the US since February 2009.
And later in the month he finally mentioned the “deep state” (a favourite of conspiracy theorists, including he himself) in one of his tweets. For those of you who don’t see many of these, I can’t think of a better way to end this blog, and the third “No Trump”, with the full, exact, tweet:
“Crooked Hillary Clinton’s top aid, Huma Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols. She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents. Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must finally act? Also on Comey & others”
Trump is an avatar of bad ways of thinking, promoting stupid and dangerous innovations, and shooting his mouth off in incoherent tweets, all based on his own paranoia and prejudices. The aim is to destabilise, to define and humiliate “enemies”, to pit “us” against “them”, in pursuit of his own brand and wealth.
More fun in next week’s 4 No Trumps!