Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Shock and Awe

Like most of you, I am absolutely stunned by Donald Trump's shock and awe campaign. He wields the executive pen like a kid in a candy shop. Not only is he delivering on his abominable campaign promises, he's added nasty surprises like proposing to sell off public lands. Congress has already changed the rules to make it easier for him to do so. These lands are the foundation of the modest beginning for EO Wilson's audacious, noble proposal to set aside half the earth for wildlife to recover from the ravages of human-driven extinction. One quickly realizes that it's not only the efforts to combat climate change that his actions put at risk, but the protection of habitat against the assault on wildlife. And he includes the National Parks, our national treasures, in his inventory of real estate on the block. Park Rangers (my son Jesse is one at Yosemite) have courageously resisted his gag order, and the NPS chief has issued a magnificent rejoinder to our demagogue president.

It is hard to imagine a worse set of cabinet picks, and the Senate is not showing the backbone on either side of the aisle to stand up to him. He bullied and lied his way – and worse – to election, and now he's using the same tactics as President, relentlessly tweeting his “alternative facts.” More subtle tactics are being employed by the true masters of propaganda, the Russians, to convince the majority of it's citizens to acquiesce to a totally false narrative about the historical and current realities in their country, but Trump's moves in the same direction are chilling. We must resist, and never tire of it.

Trump's narcissistic lying means that nobody, friend or foe,can trust his word. This has potentially catastrophic consequences. By continuing to belittle NATO, he threatens the future of peace in Europe, with NATO members Latvia and Lithuania looking like easy pickings for an emboldened Vladimir Putin. If NATO does not resist their takeover, it is not only obsolete, but dead. Meanwhile, Trump and Rex Tillerson are rattling sabers over China's claims in the South China Sea, risking war between major nuclear powers. John F Kennedy, a seasoned politician with diplomatic skills, similarly risked nuclear war with the Soviet Union over their Cuban missiles. But Kennedy was reasserting the longstanding policy of control of our neighboring waters declared in the Monroe Doctrine. Can our leaders not see that China, as an established world power, has similar interests in their own backyard pond? It is important that the World Court in the Hague has ruled against their claim, but the Philippines, whose territorial waters have been violated, has absolved China. We cannot afford to police the world indefinitely. Are the South China atolls and fortified reefs in our “core interests,” as China claims for itself?

But can we count on President Trump even knowing what the Monroe Doctrine is? Perhaps, since he has delegated national security briefings to his vice-president, he can have Pence do the research for him on our own geopolitical history. After all, we shouldn't expect knowledge of political science or policy matters from a real estate mogul and reality tv host with the emotional intelligence of a six year-old (by his own admission ).

From my perspective as a climate journalist and activist, the ascension of an outright climate denialist, with cabinet choices of a half-dozen more, completes the campaign of disinformation mounted by the fossil fuel industry, aided and abetted by virtually the entire Republican Party. The rest of the world stands in absolute disbelief that the world's leading power, with a strong postwar history of helping the recovery of defeated nations and development of the Third World, has turned its back on the future of civilized order on this planet. The tragic irony is that this is occurring after a reluctant US finally was party to a successful climate accord in Paris in December 2015, the culmination of decades of agonizing diplomacy, attempting to reconcile the competing interests of 197 signatory countries.

Trump appears to be preparing the way for pulling out of the Paris Accord. Legal experts point out that doing so formally would require almost an entire presidential term. But prominent in the executive orders from his Gatling-pen are a wholesale attack on government scientists, with gag orders issued for all agencies. His leaked memo about dismantling the EPA may simply be rumination, but he has fulfilled virtually every promise, a feat even the best of politicians could not match. The US has the best tools for data collection and analysis in the world (NOAA, NASA, DOE, EPA), and these tools are being mothballed by executive order. As one government scientist put it with respect to climate data, “We are flying blind.”

So what can we do? The purpose of shock and awe is to make such a gargantuan show of force that the opposition is overwhelmed and collapses. That has not happened, and I don't think it will. The women's march was one of the largest marches ever, with simultaneous marches all over the country, in Canada and abroad. From the women I have talked to, they were so crammed that marching was not possible, everyone was smushed together, inching along, or marching in place. This means the usual guidelines for crowd estimates did not apply. The estimate of 500,000 seems low, lower than the 750,000 estimated in LA. Nevertheless, the overall estimate of 3 to 4 million marchers across the country definitely sends a message. But the Trump Resistance involves much more than a one-off day of marching, as I will explore in my next post. Courage!

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