Not that this blog has been very active recently, but with Inauguration Day upon us, a little reflection on our situation seems warranted…
So, here’s where I see us.
If a Clinton-led Democratic administration would have brought to power a coalition of neoliberal plutocrats and social and environmental progressives (with the balance probably tilting towards the former group), a Trump administration is bringing us a coalition of neoliberal plutocrats, right-wing populists (like Trump himself), and social and environmental radical regressives, with the balance leaning towards the latter group. Those who fail to see the difference are a good part of the reason for how we got here.
To clarify terms a little: Plutocrats aren’t just wealthy; they believe in, practice, or promote rule-by-the-wealthy. Neoliberal plutocrats do that by shrinking government and the public sphere and by privatizing and/or marketizing everything that’s been squeezed out of it. The revolving door between government and corporate lobby groups is a large part of the problem here, and it’s one that has been symptomatic of Democratic and Republican administrations.
But, again, there’s the matter of coalitional balance, which, as Trump’s cabinet nominations have shown, accounts for the sharp difference between the two scenarios on offer last November. A skewed kind of electoral college democracy — atop months-long campaign machinations and the “infowar” strategies that we’ll need more time to all figure out (more on that below) — resulted in what we have.
Environmentally speaking, progress is out and regress is sliding in with trumpets and fanfare. That happened in the early Reagan years, but environmentalists survived it and recovered part-way through that decade. Things are different now: the issues are both much more acute and more complex — they are simultaneously ecological, social, economic, and very global, in a world where the institutions for global cooperation hardly exist and where we can imagine they won’t work very well for at least the next four years.
Bosnian-born novelist Aleksandar Hemon writes evocatively of the “ontological destruction” that characterizes this moment in history. To those of us still reeling in disbelief from it all, Hemon’s thoughts on how “a good writer should never let a good catastrophe go to waste” are helpful:
“The necessary thing to do is to transform shock into a high alertness that prevents anything from being taken for granted — to confront fear and to love the way it makes everything appear strange.
“Love the new frequencies; what is noise now will be music later. The disintegration of the known world provides a lot of pieces to play with and use in constructing alternatives while being aware that the simple modes of representation are tranquilizers at best, coercion at worst.”
Hemon calls for “a literature that craves the conflict and owns the destruction, a split-mind literature that features fear and handles shock, that keeps self-evident ‘reality’ safely within the quotation marks… To write in and of America, we must be ready to lose everything, to recognize we never had any of it in the first place, to abandon hope and embrace struggle, to fight in the streets and in our sentences. It will not be even close to comfortable.”
Indeed, it won’t.
I would add that reassuring ourselves that we are on the right side of history, whether that side will ever triumph or not, is not particularly helpful either. That “the arc of history bends toward justice” is helpful balm when balm is needed, but, in all reality, the arc of the moral universe is really so long that we humans can really only conjecture about it. At a time when the hardest-nosed scientists tell us that the world at large — given the state of the ecological and biogeochemical systems that support us — is precariously perched at the edge of disaster, that reassurance seems misguided.
The stronger source of reassurance, as I see it, is not any belief in our own future, but in what we feel in our own relations with the people and communities (human and larger) that we interact with daily. If there is goodness and empathy there, then there is goodness in the universe, and if we can cultivate and spread it, then it can grow. The is of that goodness suggests an ought that helps us direct our lives forward. That is enough for me.
Meanwhile, the CIA has just dumped some 13 million recently declassified documents online as part of the CREST Archive. They include many in the category unofficially known as “X-Files” and dealing with UFO sightings and psychic experiments in the Stargate Program. (X-Philes, go at them. I just searched for “mulder” and got 99 hits. 😉
The timing of their release, which coincides with the increasing revelations (yet to get widespread media coverage) of what Seth Abramson calls “The Domestic [yes, domestic, not Russian] Conspiracy that Gave Trump the Election,” lends a little more intrigue and resonance to tomorrow’s inauguration proceedings, no?
We are living in an X-File. But we do know, with reasonable assurance, that the sun will rise tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.
Images: Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison’s “Burn Season” (2003); today’s (January 19, 2017) New York Times cover