So, Donald Trump will be president of the United States and both Congress and Senate will be dominated by Republicans. Environmentalists and social justice activists, almost universally, find this idea horrifying. But there are silver linings to be found amidst the wreckage. Let’s explore a few of them.
1. You can’t elect a Donald Trump for president and not get many, many opportunities for deep, dark comedy. There will be laughter.
2. For a case in point, let’s turn to Garrison Keillor:
“The Trumpers never expected their guy to actually win the thing, and that’s their problem now… It was pleasure enough for them just to know that they were driving us wild with dismay — by “us,” I mean librarians, children’s authors, yoga practitioners, Unitarians, birdwatchers, people who make their own pasta, opera goers, the grammar police, people who keep books on their shelves, that bunch. The Trumpers exulted in knowing we were tearing our hair out…
“Alas for the Trump voters, the disasters he will bring on this country will fall more heavily on them than anyone else. The uneducated white males who elected him are the vulnerable ones and they will not like what happens next.
“We liberal elitists are now completely in the clear. The government is in Republican hands. Let them deal with him. Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids and we Democrats can go for a long brisk walk and smell the roses.”
3. Getting a little more serious: when I moved to the United States in 2000, I did not know the election would be handed to a president so ill equipped for international diplomacy, a president who would start a war on a false pretext with a country that had nothing to do with the attack that, ostensibly, necessitated the “war on terror.” But despite the wars and the economic crash of the George W. Bush years, we (most of us) survived.
This election can be seen as a precipitation of more of the same — a descent, probably further and deeper, into the darkness of ignorance, bigotry, scaremongering, scapegoating, and international bellicosity (not against Russia, but likely against China, Iran, Mexico, and whoever else becomes convenient). It may seem as if the inmates have taken over the asylum, turning reality-TV into reality itself.
And this time there is even more at stake. As a lawyer friend, Phyllis Curott, has written:
“It’s not just about Trump, it’s about control of all three branches of government by the right, make that “alt right.” We’re looking at the complete unmaking of the last of the New Deal and the social safety net/the Great Society, abandonment of any health care reforms, privatization of social security, deregulation of the already unregulated financial markets which could quickly lead to a major economic depression, sell-outs to the oil/gas/coal interests that already run the show, abandonment of the Paris treaty and what little efforts have been made to move towards sustainable energy, deregulation of environmental protection, and then of course there are all the neo-fascist impulses that have been stoked and empowered by Trump, global politics, terrorism, and the Patriot Act; I could go on, but we all know what’s coming.
“And we all know what we need to do now: build a progressive base, fight against environmental, social, economic devastation, and articulate and embody spiritual values rooted in the wisdom of a sacred planet because someone has to hold that moral compass, and the practices that go with it, and get it on with the life boats — the Titanic hit an iceberg named Trump.”
Yes, there will be casualties, and emergencies that need our attention. But arguably, it’s the Earth that’s at stake now. The silver lining here is that it presses forward-looking Americans to develop closer links with like-minded groups abroad to find solutions to inequality — including the inequalities that mark vulnerability to environmental calamities — that are globally sustainable.
Those of us who follow environmental news know very well that things will get much worse before they get better. We just didn’t know how quickly the worst would come. This election is an impetus for us to get our priorities in order and to move on them both locally and globally. (I guess that means the heirloom tomatoes and the readings of Jane Austen might get a little, well, sidelined.)
4. More specifically: this election is a wake-up call to all of us who knew that neoliberalism destroys communities and disempowers people but who failed to connect with those communities and those people. This is the Tom Frank argument (which he usually makes to the liberal readers of papers like The Guardian rather than to the folks in Kansas), or at least the Tom Frank side of the Naomi Klein argument — an argument that ought to be reiterated until it sinks in.
Consider it an opportunity. For universities, for instance (and other institutions like them), it’s an opportunity to reinvent ourselves as places that actually facilitate the transition toward a more economically resilient, socially just, and ecologically sustainable world. That means working not only within our own global networks of expertise, but working from, and in relation to, the communities and landscapes that surround us. Land grant universities like mine already try to do some of that; but there’s room for much more.
That’s a huge task that won’t be helped by the policies of a Trump/Republican administration; but we should be starting on it now while we still have the capacity to envision things differently. We’ve been too timid and restrained within our own institutional loops. It’s time to break out.
5. Further, a Trump presidency will give us that much more opportunity to figure out what is going on in the transformation of global mediascapes, which are rapidly evolving all around us. For instance, it will give us plenty of work on what Justin Smith calls “meme magic” — that mix of concerted internet trolling and informational and memetic warfare that has been honed by the alt-right in the context of this election. But it can also be found on the alt-left, or at least in the Putinist conjunctures where the two meet and mix. And it is actively being cultivated by geopolitical interest groups around the world, from Moscow to Beijing to Tehran to Wyoming.
There is a prehistory to this memetic warfare that bears study. For just one interesting starting point, Ioan Couliano’s Eros and Magic in the Renaissance makes the case that both consumer capitalism, with all its advertising and branding, and contemporary totalitarianism, with its reality-engineering, are both rooted in the innovative use of image and sound made by Renaissance magicians like Marsilio Ficino and Giordano Bruno. That may seem a little esoteric, but it leads fairly directly into the moving image innovations of the last 125 years, and in turn to the post-cinematic new media worlds within which our own reality-engineering occurs more and more.
Somewhere in there, amidst this rethinking of how images, sounds, and powerful combinations of them work together to produce our realities, we will find tools to resist the nativist, wall-building, and divide-and-conquer strategies by which the Earth will be not defended but, rather, parsed out for easier destruction. Alter-globalities will only be built by understanding, using, and further developing the tools at our disposal. In a globally mediated world, those tools are the tools of digital communication, new media, and the post-cinematic arts.
6. There are other silver linings available for the plucking. As my five-year-old son says, “Don’t say it’s bad news — it’s good news, because it means the Trump people won’t want to fight so much.” Let them have their time at the controls. Let the UK leave the EU. Let Marine LePen win. These people will not be able to work together, no matter how much they try, because they don’t really have a global project to work toward. (And those among them who do — like the Dugins, de Benoits, and other ideologists of the fledgling global new right — are too elitist and old-school themselves to have any real sway with people on the ground. They simply won’t reach Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the rest of the world without some serious reinvention of what they stand for.)
The global project will be up to us, and finally we can do that independently from the project of the neoliberals — which is failing and being actively voted out the window all around. Perhaps that’s the real silver lining. The solution is all wrong, but the impulse behind it provides us with an important turning point. This is that from now on there is no excuse: free-market economics should not be given free rein over globalism. There are other, better ways to build a world together. Let’s move on them.
The above image comes from Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison’s tremendous series The Architect’s Brother.