Trump is not the problem but he could be an opportunity

by Michelle Golder

As a lefty, environmentalist, half-Jewish woman, Trump epitomises everything I’ve always hated about western neo-liberal capitalist culture. But I comforted myself that an iconoclast like Trump, toppling the refrigerator of denial to let the cockroaches of racism, exploitation, and hypocrisy into the light, might have a positive effect. We can’t stamp out those pests until they are revealed for what they are, right?

And yeah, that’s happening. The pitiable people infected by the latent disease of open racism are revealing themselves in their hundreds. But Trump is so much smarter than I thought. Like a street huckster with all the skills, he couches his rhetoric in terms that rightfully captivate far more than the infected. Immigration. Drug abuse. Jobs. And we on the other side are left sputtering useless insults which accomplish nothing. Because we’ve known about these problems for years. In fact, we caused them.

When I was a kid, one of the things that put me off Christianity was this idea of sin. I was no angel, but I didn’t think I’d ever done, or would ever be likely to do, anything that merited hellacious punishment. Disrespecting my parents? God cared so much about that? Or that one time I’d shoplifted some flip-flops and then never wore them because I felt so guilty? It was insane. And yet it was the petty self-indulgences of me and millions of intelligent, well-intentioned people like me that have catapulted our planet into environmental catastrophe. We bought cheap. We bought on-line. We bought imported. We embraced new trends, replaced our devices, upgraded our cars, took road trips, flew round the world. We rejected fur but said hell yes to cotton – the most pesticide intensive crop in the world. We moved house to make sure our kids were in good school zones rather than make sure all schools were good for all children. We guzzled coffee from disposable cups, smoothies from plastic straws and “purified” water from single-serving, single-use bottles. We watched The Apprentice, or read Cosmo, or luxuriated in four-star hotels that exalted the culture of greed and consumption.

The less well-educated, and less well-heeled, did less of those things. And suffered most from their results.

And now we have a problem of immigration. A problem caused by a number of factors we contributed to, including destruction of local economies by resource depletion and/or labour exploitation; corruption - modelled by American plutocracy and given celebratory detail by American films;  and, increasingly, climate change, which is beginning to render regions uninhabitable.

No matter how much you care about all humanity – and I do – this problem is real, folks. We are not prepared to deal with the huge influx of people who are going to need new homes in the coming decades. We have given little thought to how we will maintain our values in the face of massive waves of immigrants who do not always share them. We are not coping even close to adequately with these problems now, with the people we already have onboard.

Don’t misunderstand, I agree with none of Trump’s rhetoric or proposed solutions to this issue and I am not saying immigration is a problem of race. But what I see happening from my side is an onslaught of derision and contempt for the “stupid” “bigoted” “ignorant” minority that supports Trump, and almost zero acknowledgement that the problems that have allowed this infection to spread are real and only going to get worse and we are currently doing next to nothing about them. The bitter tang of mass violence is in the air and if we ignore it the fire to come will be unstoppable.

Here’s what I believe needs to be done.

Instead of judging, labelling and belittling our fellow citizens, we need to seek common ground with them. If we can find a first standing place, we can start to move forward again in a constructive way. Do I believe the Nazis were horrific? Yes. Do I believe that every single person who fell in with the Nazi agenda was irredeemably evil? No.

We need to repudiate violence. It amazes me how the most successful populist humanitarian movements in modern history – those of Ghandi, Martin Luther King and and Nelson Mandela – repeatedly get forgotten or side-lined in favour of destructive tactics with a much less successful historical track record. If you believe you are on the side of good, you do not have the excuse to indulge yourself in the failed strategies of hate and violence. By the way, do I think the Holocaust might have been prevented by an organised peaceful resistance, even in the face of extreme violence? Maybe. It was certainly worth a try.

We need to acknowledge our wrongs and seek to redeem them. Germany has shown us the way here. Until the shame of American slave economics and Native American genocide are taught in schools in depth, until the UK and Japan and Belgium teach the full stories of their historical imperialism and racial prejudice, we can’t and won’t move past them. These national “sins” are quite different from petty individual ones. They do deserve the harshest censure and the punishment of gigantic investment into the societies and nations still suffering from their repercussions.

We need to proceed radically against further carbon pollution and make public plans [1] to deal with the problems caused by global climate change, including protecting regions threated by rising oceans or catastrophic drought, or if they are to be irretrievably lost, making plans to rehome and support their residents.

We need to reduce consumption and move as quickly as possible to a waste free, renewables based, circular economy which acknowledges the value of all work, including care, home economics and education.

We need to come together over which values are non-negotiable for us, and put effort into making sure that all citizens, existing and newcomers, have the opportunity to receive an education in those values. And to do that we need to separate overarching values, like equality and human and animal rights, from divisive single-issue battles. These issues, i.e. abortion, or, in the UK, Brexit, are of course important. But they need to be fought on their own merits under the umbrella of a shared set of values. If a single issue becomes the reason we cannot work together, we have no nation.

We need to be humble. There is no one solution to the problems we face now and will face in the future.  Our favourites, including the ones I’ve listed above, may not succeed.  We need to follow the example of the biosystem and try many strategies – and we need to be open to the fact that those strategies will come from many places.  One of the best pieces on the current troubles I saw recently was Jake Tapper’s interview with former white supremacist Arno Michaelis, of the Forgiveness Project.  Contrasting his life now with his previous life as a violent white supremacist, he said, “I travel around the world working with the most beautifully diverse group of people…and everywhere I go I see family. I’m not afraid, I’m grateful, I’m joyful, and it’s just a much better way to live your life.”

 

 

[1] Defence departments worldwide are already making secret ones. See Gwynne Dyer’s excellent book Climate Wars - The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats for more information.