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Honestly, I feel just a little late to the party. As I write this Donald Trump is apparently coasting into the nomination, able and more than willing to aim all his guns on Hillary Clinton, who is still trying to bat away “Crazy Bernie,” as Trump lovingly refers to Bernie Sanders.
For going on a year now writers, pundits and prognosticators have explained Donald Trump, then again upon each successive, head-scratching victory.
Throughout that time I’ve felt no inclination to add my voice to the confusion. But I was called to duty by a personal request from a Vietnamese journalist colleague asking me to explain the phenomenon sweeping the United States. He wanted a view from “inside”.
Since I have gone on the record, I offer here my explanation of Donald Trump, written in early 2016.
Explaining Donald Trump
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to try to explain the phenomenon of Donald Trump and what’s going on here in the U.S.
For full disclosure, I want to say upfront that 1) though I follow politics and try to stay current on issues (especially those concerning the environment) I am not an expert in politics and 2) my political leaning is liberal and I am a registered Democrat, so I admit a certain bias in what follows.
That being said, even the political experts are baffled by the “rise of The Donald” and, as you know, even mainstream Republican operatives are alarmed by what is happening to their political party.
My gut feeling, and what I have heard from those more knowledgeable than me, is that Trump’s current popularity among GOP primary and caucus voters stems from a splitting-off of the most extreme conservative base – the Tea Party – from the mainstream GOP machine.
Many commentators here in the US say that the Republican party is now reaping what it has sown. With the election of Barack Obama, GOP party leaders have employed a strategy of unequivocal obstruction of Obama’s policies, essentially gridlocking the federal government. That Obama’s health care plan passed is something of a miracle.
Part of this obstructionist strategy has played to the fear, bias and ignorance of “tea partiers” and in the process the political narrative has devolved into character assassination, a dubious relationship with the truth and a remarkable disrespect toward the presidency (at least as long as Obama occupies the White House) and government in general.
Of course, all this isn’t the exclusive domain of Republicans and tea-partiers, there is plenty of fear-mongering, intolerance and hatred to go around in any political faction, but Obama’s presidency appears to have taken it to heightened levels.
Before Donald Trump, the Republican party assumed their candidate would likely be Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or one of the other more “mainstream” Republicans. There was a time when Ted Cruz was considered the “wing nut” of the GOP, even by many Republicans.
As we’ve seen, Bush fizzled, along with it the $130 million spent on his campaign. Rubio struggles to hang on and Cruz, once the extremist (still the extremist to many), now appears the only chance to stop Trump.
To my mind, Trump appeals to the fringe element that the Republican party agitated in their quest to sabotage Obama’s presidency, particularly as it represents the changing American demographic and culture. And now this fringe element is beyond their control.
Trump plays to fear and ignorance. He puts on a good show. Sadly, many Americans are mesmerized by the cult of personality and Trump knows exactly how to play it. He’s a businessman and marketer, and he’s simply marketing his brand “Trump” in the political arena.
Other than the ridiculous rhetoric of building a wall along the Mexican border (and making the Mexicans pay for it), or banning Muslim immigration into the US, or that China “created” global warming, I have heard no attempt from Trump to offer any policy ideas. Certainly nothing substantial. He says he’ll make America great again and that we’ll start “winning” – at what I’m not sure.
So Trump plays into the frustration of white, perhaps less educated voters that can’t stand Obama and now distrust their own party.
The Republican party never expected this to happen. At first we all thought Trump’s candidacy was a joke, that Trump’s hateful and adolescent speech would eventually deflate his narcissistic balloon. But it turns out, apparently, that this is has ignited a large block of the American psych. A nasty, self-regarding demagogue that “has the best words” is just what these people want.
But this isn’t what the Republican party wants at all. They are suspicious of Trump’s conservative credentials. He has held opposing views on many dearly-held Republican ideals, even unable, at least at first, to disavow support from a former Grand Dragon of the Ku-Klux-Klan, the very symbol of American bigotry and racism.
Most especially, the Republicans don’t want Clinton in the White House. That might be almost as bad as Obama for them I suspect. They fear the nomination of Trump will open the way for Clinton.
If Trump does remain the frontrunner into the Republican convention this summer, it may lead to a severe splintering, even disintegration, of the GOP as we’ve known it – what the Republicans like to call “the party of Lincoln and Reagan.”
If Trump does gets the nomination, it will be an ugly fight, even by American political standards, centered more on personal destruction than policy.
Does Trump have a chance in the general election? I am much more worried about that than I was when this whole circus began, but I still think that voters in the general election will understand what is at stake. I think many Republicans may choose to sit out the election, which will only help Clinton.
It is my fervent hope that Trump is an anomaly. An expression of the underbelly of American culture, and that our better side, both Republican and Democrat, will prevail.
Featured image credit: DonkeyHotey, courtesy flickr
Arguably one of the most important things to come out of the COP21 climate talks in Paris last December, aside from the Paris Agreement itself, is the signal sent solidifying the growing shift in the global consciousness. We seek a transformative path forward into the new century. But any desired transformational change requires both the vision for a long term outcome and a mechanism to achieve that outcome in the ongoing grind of our day-to-day reality.
In a globalized economy powered by fossil fuels embedded in that reality is the expectation of ceaseless energy to drive nearly every aspect of our lives, at least for some of us. The rest must live either in the shadow of the waste and destruction brought as a consequence of a fossil fuel energy economy or start out on their own quest to catch up. Many suffer. Some resort to violence and anarchy in their desperation.
The Paris Agreement sets in motion a renewed sense of urgency in our aspiration for climate action specifically and a more equitable and sustainable society in general. The more cynical among us might suggest we’ve heard all this before, half-hearted calls to action that bear little change, leaving the rhetoric in the dustbin of broken promises and hardened souls. It’s easy to be cynical.
What is harder is to accept the failures of the past, the circumstances of the present and challenges of the future, and determine that change is not only inevitable, but that we can shape it toward a desired outcome. This is the promise of the Paris Agreement.
Choosing our future scenario
In an essay entitled Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead, three classes of future scenarios are outlined, each with two variants. First is the Conventional Worlds scenario, then Barbarization and finally Great Transitions. Each scenario is characterized respectively by essential continuity, fundamental yet undesirable change and fundamentally favorable social transformation.
The two variants to Conventional Worlds are “market forces” and “policy reform.” Market forces assumes no real deviation from business-as-usual, suggesting an eventual deterioration into one of the two variants of Barbarization, either “fortress world” or complete “breakdown.” On the other hand, the policy reform variant of the Conventional Forces scenario, working in the spirit of Keynes and Bruntland, offers the possibility of progress toward a Great Transition scenario. Here we have an “eco-communalism” or “new sustainability paradigm” worldview.
Some may pine after a world of eco-communalism rooted in “pastoral romance, human goodness and the evil of industrialism,” but the authors suggest the more likely and desirable possibility, given our present situation, is a new sustainability paradigm. This is a world built out of a philosophy of sustainability as progressive global social evolution organized around human solidarity, new values and “the art of living.”
Whether we end up in a scenario of Barbarization or Great Transformation, I argue that one thing is apparent: from our current perspective of Conventional Worlds, we have a choice, even if that choice is making no choice at all – or muddling through, as the authors in the essay define as the last option; simply turning a blind eye to the whole issue of future development. By default that will almost certainly lead to a fortress world or complete breakdown.
Our best choice from here is one of policy reform, defined by growth and environmental equity achieved through stewardship, better technology and management. The framework set in place through the Paris Agreement, as well as the Sustainable Development goals, is the first step toward policy reform in a Conventional World that might lead to the Great Transition of a new sustainability paradigm.
World Bank Group Climate Action Plan: policy reform for favorable transformation?
Earlier this month the World Bank Group announced its Climate Action Plan. The plan builds on the foundation of the Paris Agreement, reinforcing the ambitions of individual countries and the global community toward new policies for every sector of society.
Through capacity building, leveraging resources and creating a framework of transparency, the World Bank’s Climate Action Plan is an example of how we can get from here – a conventional world committed to policy reform – to there – a Great Transformation rooted in human solidarity and global social evolution.
Of course, it can be difficult to hold in our mind’s eye what this transformation will look like, and this is only a small step on the road to get there. But we must look at each step as part of the whole and keep in our hearts and minds the ambition and vision set forth in Paris.
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