Published on November 16th, 2016 | by Zachary Shahan0
Throwing Fireworks Into A Fast-Burning Fire — Don The Con Keeps Going
November 16th, 2016 by Zachary Shahan
This is not a foreign policy blog, but it’s worth highlighting that cleantech is indeed the critical solution to two of the largest foreign policy issues in the history of the United States — oil dependency and climate change.
The linkages are not always obvious black lines. Geopolitics is an intricate web in which it is hard to identify what is influencing what, and what the actual effects are. It is not a 5th grader’s game of “connect the dots.” Interestingly, the US presidency is shifting from a geopolitics genius to someone who seemingly wants to throw fireworks into a fast-burning fire.
Recall that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize very early in his presidency. Much of the US public (and I presume the world), including some conservative “experts” in foreign policy, thought he won the prize for superficial reasons that a naive Nobel prize committee prematurely praised. No, Obama really is a geopolitics genius, and the fruits of his work are much more obvious now than back then. (Yes, I linked to the same article twice.) But they are still only clear to people who can see that the rules of the game are different than the masses presume, and it is easy to miss his positive influence even if you are a thoughtful person with decent knowledge of foreign affairs.
Derek Sivers — a brilliant original thinker — made a point a couple of years ago that stuck with me and just popped into my head again: We have a tendency to discount things we are exceptionally good at when they seem unnaturally easy to us. Some things seem so obvious to us, that we don’t see them as worth sharing, not realizing that they are not obvious to everyone.
I don’t think Obama himself has recognized the genius in his geopolitical approach, even if it seemed obvious to him. Here’s a short summary from Wikipedia regarding his Nobel Peace Prize win: “Obama said he was ‘surprised’ and ‘deeply humbled’ by the award. He stated that he does not feel he deserved the award, and that he did not feel worthy of the company the award would place him in.”
Ironically, despite more explicitly recognizing why Obama deserved the Nobel Peace Prize, and despite Obama’s humble response reflecting why his humble approach to international affairs has been so powerful, the committee itself seemed to make the same mistake Obama made — assuming more people understood the value of the “obvious” benefits of Obama’s approach to international relations, the “obvious” reasons Obama deserved the prize. Expecting to strengthen Obama, negative reactions to giving him the prize so early had the opposite effect. (“Oh, those naive Nobel Peace Prize committee members — how could they so shallowly award Obama so soon!” That’s the kind of response you get from a “conservative” establishment that doesn’t understand the depth of understanding the committee has, or why Obama’s approach to diplomacy is so important. Yes, I just linked to that article for a third time.)
That brings us to today.
Our next president has a gift of persuasion that most political experts haven’t been able to recognize despite its blatant and prominent display for the past year or so. But he doesn’t seem to have the nuance necessary for international progress on peace. Persuading the common person and navigating the intricacies of geopolitics are not the same thing. In fact, Donald’s tendencies lie on the opposite end of the spectrum from what is needed to become a peace-producing international leader. I have a feeling Donald won’t be winning the Nobel Peace Prize, sadly.
While the media may not have identified Trump’s tools of persuasion, it’s obvious to anyone with a few brain cells behind their eyes that Trump has stimulated more hate, anger, and division than probably any US presidential candidate in modern history. Some people think Trump will all of a sudden be a different kind of human as president. It seems much more likely he’s going to throw a huge basket of fireworks into a burning fire.
But let’s bring this back to how it relates to cleantech — and that’s specifically related to three critical problems cleantech is trying to solve, as well as the economic story Trump has been telling us (some of which, of course, is actually quite honest — in a way that no other presidential candidate would previously say).
But let’s just get one thing straight first: Donald Trump is not some fringe representation of the United States of America. He is an embodiment of some of the country’s core history, “heroes,” and values — both a USA of ages past and the USA that is so “now” we have a hard time seeing it. And that is not a reference to his use of Twitter, but I imagine it is somehow deeply connected to that as well.
Donald Trump represents the salesmanship, bravado, arrogance, barrier-breaking, boundary-pushing, risk-taking, straight-talking (on certain things), lying, often destructive historical identity of the United States that we sometimes love to embrace and sometimes shudder to think about. He represents the deep irony in the historical culture and cultural history that is the United States.
Some of the USA’s most treasured foundations include freedom of religion and freedom of governance — yet we decimated dozens of Native American religions and societies to create it. Ironic, eh?
Freedom of speech is another core tenet — yet black slaves who spoke up in an undesired way surely weren’t treated as thoughtful humans by most of the ruling class.
Today, how does that deep irony express itself? More magnificently than a Hollywood writer could invent, through Donald Trump. I covered some of the drastic ironies of his campaign a few days before he won the election, but I didn’t touch on several of the ironies that will now become more and more apparent as his presidency plays out.
Call me cynical, but I don’t think Donald Trump is going to bring peace to the world (and certainly not the United States) by attacking illogical terrorism and hate with illogical terrorism and hate.
He is likely to stimulate more terrorism through his hate-focused talk. Just as that approach to winning the election has also led to a country that largely despises him, is angry as hell, is depressed, and is protesting.
Furthermore, his approach to global warming is likely to lead to much less stability in countries around the world, and thus more war.
Call me an idealistic treehugger, but I don’t think Donald Trump is going to bring long-term economic prosperity by pulling the US out of the cleantech race as much as possible, a race to lead the world in the fastest-growing sector of the global economy (clean energy).
He is not going to “make us great again” by propping up some of the quickest-dying industries — oil, gas, and coal — and hurting the US energy industries of the future. Bringing us backward is not going to bring us forward.
Call me a hater, but I agree with Joe Romm that conspiracy theories about the greatest societal threat we’ve ever faced are more likely to lead to the USA becoming a pariah nation than a respected world power.
I’ll try to get a little more linear for people who don’t like connecting dots in a spider web:
By doing everything he can think of to dismantle US climate action, The Donald is going to increase the largest migration challenges in the history of modern society.
By prioritizing a war on ISIS over a cold blanket for global warming, The Donald is going to trigger wars like we have never seen — wars that stem from severe natural disasters, droughts, crop shortages, rising food prices, lack of water, rising sea levels, and unprecedented migration.
By trying to protect gigantic but cancerous and dying energy industries, The Donald is slowing US growth of a completely different kind of energy and weakening our global economic competitiveness. (You’re welcome, China & India & Europe.)
By working to drain US oil resources faster than ever, The Donald is in the long term further exposing the country to the preferences of OPEC and oil price volatility.
By threatening more war and destruction in countries we harmed for imperialistic reasons and because of oil dependency, The Donald will stimulate more hate for America in the Middle East and will bring more of the casualties of those wars to US shores.
By pumping a great deal more money into the US military again, The Donald will continue the decades-long pattern of neglecting the US economy in order to focus on a thousand battlefields abroad. (Anti-neocons who were conned into thinking hate-mongering Donald would be a dove rather than a hawk, and who convinced yourselves Nobel Peace Prize winner was a hawk in disguise, what do you think of The Donald now?)
Many Americans are angry that our house is on fire — but they think throwing fireworks into the house is a better solution than calling in local firefighters. I should rephrase: they think it’s better to cheer on our crazy uncle as he throws fireworks into the house and at our housemates. That is apparently more fun than calling in the local firefighters and containing our crazy uncle in the meantime.
We have some slim hope. The divisive and extremist nature of Trump’s campaign and team — which was enabled and fueled by a divisive and extremist strategy that had come to dominate the Republican Party — has already been severely undermining Trump’s transition, which is being portrayed as the most chaotic such transition in modern history — and probably all of American history. (See this conservative international policy expert’s tweets for much more.) Republican policy experts don’t want to work on the team as they discover what that actually means, and the remaining options are extreme and hugely unqualified (if not freakishly freakin’ dangerous). We could see a division within the Republican Party grow so strong that Trump can do very little. I don’t think the Republican Party as we know it can survive. It’s not even January 1, so we’ll have to wait to see, but the early signs imply that we will just keep getting divisive chaos from the Trump team, not a sudden shift in the atmosphere.
The question is, even if that is the case, will it be enough to stop Trump from implementing some of his most destructive proposals? I’m not hopeful. Once the fireworks are thrown in, we can more or less say goodbye to our home and most of what’s in it. Maybe some of you can offer a more optimistic forecast.