Thursday, January 19, 2017

Trump-era Politics and the Audacity of Continuing to Hope

By Ed Jewell

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Tomorrow, January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. What his election means for society at large is hard to guess, but objective signifiers—such as his cabinet nominations, his First 100 Days Plan, his written request to the Department of Energy to identify employees who had worked on climate initiatives, and the tenor of his campaign—foretell trouble ahead for social and environmental progress. But the ending of this story has not yet been written, and we as citizens have a major part to play in how the drama unfolds.

What makes this moment so particularly harrowing—from a climate perspective—is the limited amount of time left to make the necessary and significant course correction in regards to how our economy is powered. The science is telling, the politics are bleak, and the window of opportunity to act is narrow.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump has claimed that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to make American manufacturing less competitive. He has appointed a man to head the E.P.A. who has been a wildly effective advocate for the oil and gas industry and who has suedthe Obama administration over its promulgation of Clean Air Act regulations more than a dozen times in his role as the attorney general of Oklahoma. He has appointed a career-long oilman with ExxonMobil—a company under investigation for misleading investors for decades on the science of climate change—with no diplomatic or public service experience to be the Secretary of State. He has appointed Rick Perry to head the Department of Energy, the same department that Rick Perry wanted to cut during his 2012 presidential campaign, but just couldn’t quite remember the name of. At the present point in time, the outlook for the natural systems that support our human civilization is a dreary outlook.

In addition to Donald Trump in the White House, the Republicans—a solid bloc of climate skeptics and deniers—will control the House and the Senate as well. And through obstinate refusal to carry out their constitutionally mandated duty to advise and consent on President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination, Republicans will have the ability to name at least one Supreme Court justice as well. Additionally, the map does not look particularly promising for Democrats to regain control of either the House or Senate in 2018. There don’t seem to be many checks and balances left for the Democrats, though the Senate filibuster and perhaps other parliamentarian maneuvers remain.

The last great check in our democratic system is the people. Donald Trump may have won the electoral college, but he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. The approval rating for his transition is at 40%. President Obama’s was more than double that at this point in 2008. Donald Trump and the Republicans do not have as strong of a mandate to enact their vision for America as they might portray, and the tension between President-elect Trump and establishment Republicans continues to simmer. There are fissures in the Republican edifice that can be seized upon by cognizant citizens to ensure that the integrity of our political and natural systems is maintained through the Trump presidency.

The urge to turn away from the American political system is strong right now. The long, contentious, devoid-of-fact election cycle we just went through was disillusioning. Our politics, and especially our elections, have become more spectacle than democracy. This “reality-tv-showification” of American politics offends basic sensibilities, and can be disheartening to those of us interested in the issues. But now is the time to lean in to the problem. To think more critically, write more persuasively, organize more effectively, and ask what we can each do to be a better citizen and ensure that we get a government that we deserve.

Through vigilance, persistence, and level headed yet vocal advocacy, it remains possible to avert the worst potential consequences of the 2016 election. It is possible that we will emerge from the coming years as a stronger society for the tribulations endured, a more compassionate society because of the lessons learned, and a society more thankful and cognizant of the opportunities in front of us to make a more perfect union. That is up to us.

President Obama has taken to quoting Justice Louis Brandeis recently in saying that “the most important political office is that of the private citizen.” At a time like this, when our ecological systems as well as our fundamental democratic institutions are threatened, the office of citizen takes on an even more exalted position. We the people got ourselves into this mess. We the people must get ourselves out of it.

We must ask ourselves, what are the redeeming qualities of our nation, and how do we accentuate those qualities? How do we each individually and collectively ensure that we take the actions necessary to maintain the functioning of our institutions and systems? How do we ensure that this episode in history does not define us, but instead that we are defined by our response to this episode?

This is a test of our society, of our political institutions, of our design of government, and of our people. We need to hold our representatives accountable and let them know that we are paying attention. We need to find common ground with those that disagree with us and ensure that reason and facts prevail.

Throughout the coming weeks and months, my blog posts will mostly focus on reasons to look on the bright side in regards to maintaining a stable climate and achieving a clean energy economy (because who needs more bad news, and additionally, there is a lot to be excited about) while not turning a blind eye to the challenges of Trump’s presidency.  But for now, it is important to simply take stock of what the election of Donald Trump means. It is a challenge, it is a test, and it is an opportunity. We the people must be ready to answer the bell.

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