J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Three Things Trump Can’t Do

I promise this blog won’t become a 100% Trump-rant, but there are big geopolitical events afoot. I’ll be chewing the Trump cud for a little longer.

This essay from science fiction author Charles Stross gave me some big-picture perspective. Reactionary populism is a global problem, and the Russia-as-puppeteer theory may have legs. The “U.S. won the cold war” narrative is looking laughable at this point. The Kremlin has a long memory, and plays a ruthless international chess game with decade-long turns.

Now we have an administration that is not only politically conservative (in an extreme way, with the intention to roll back women’s rights and civil rights) but also potentially incompetent, led by a president with a history of criminality and corruption. Trump’s corruption and impulsiveness worry me just as much as his ideology (which, like Bannon’s, is flexible and opportunistic). Reckless decision making, cynicism, cronyism, corruption, and a failure of leadership could lead to economic collapse and systemic breakdown. Could it be as bad as what we’re seeing now in Venezuela? I think our checks-and-balances will probably save us from that fate, but the same forces are at work.

Across the pond we have Brexit in the UK, and anti-immigration sentiments all across Europe. Global reactionary populism. Terrorism is also a massive problem. What’s happening to our planetary society? I think we’re seeing the convergence of at least six macrotrends:

  • climate change and environmental destruction
  • overpopulation
  • globally integrated economics
  • automation/replication economy
  • increased income inequality
  • geopolitical instability and proxy wars

Things are heating up. Back in 2011 I wrote about how some of these trends might converge, and though I got one thing completely wrong (energy getting more expensive), I still think we’re in a new Dark Age characterized by food insecurity, environmental destruction and collapsing ecosystems, violent weather, climate change, mass migration, and xenophobic nationalism.

So, time to curl up in a ball, or escape into virtual reality?

Maybe temporarily, but there are important countertrends and reasons to remain hopeful.

What Trump Can’t Do

With control of all three branches of government, there’s a lot of damage the Trump administration can do. But some things are out of his control.

  1. Trump can’t hide his past or silence his critics. His first four years will be plagued with lawsuits, more lurid revelations about his past, leaked details regarding his massive debts and ties with the Russian oligarchy, and so on. Will this hamper his ability to implement his agenda? I hope so.
  2. Trump can’t roll back expanded consciousness. Once you’re woke, you don’t get unwoke. Once you start perceiving all humans as deserving of equal rights and protection under the law, it’s impossible to go back to the old way of thinking. It’s terrifying that Trump is assembling an administration of white nationalists, but this doesn’t change the fact that a majority of Americans don’t think this way. Voter suppression + the electoral college means progressives and centrists might need a 60%+ majority to win back power, but that’s actually doable if we can come up with a compelling alternative to the Alt-Right “keep the women and brown folks down” plan.
  3. Trump can’t stop technological and social innovation. It doesn’t matter if Trump lifts all regulations on coal mining and fracking if nobody wants to buy oil and coal. Of course fossil fuel demand isn’t going away overnight. Or is it? Look at this chart of the cost of solar power:

solar-price-installation-chart
I’m not saying there’s any kind of silver lining to Trump being elected. It’s a really terrible event in U.S. history. But there are other forces at work in the world. Zooming out even further, here are some global macrotrends I’m liking:

So, both the pessimistic and optimistic outlooks are reasonable and rational, depending on the time frame one is considering. Personally I’ll be trying to avoid both doomsday apocalyptic thinking and panglossian techno-utopianism.

Just some big-picture thoughts … feel free to share your own.

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9 Comments

  1. Tips from a Berlusconi survivor — don’t fight Trump by focussing on his character:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/18/opinion/the-right-way-to-resist-trump.html

  2. Sheila

    I love you’re blog JD, but what about the big picture for the silent minority who is tired of paying over 40 percent (soon to be 50 percent if HRC was elected) of their hard earned money in taxes? This is primarily why Trump won. What tax bracket are you in? A lot of the out of touch limousine libs have trust funds or additional sources of income so monies earned and taxed doesn’t seem to enter into their viewpoint of the crisis situation here in this country.

    • Hi Sheila — glad you’re enjoying the blog, and thanks for commenting.

      The maximum federal U.S. income tax rate is currently just under 40%, for households making over $400K/year. My own tax rate, like most middle-class Americans, tops off at 25% (28% if I have a really great year).

      Historically, the maximum tax rate has been 70% or above from the mid-1930’s to the early 1980’s. Take a second to look at this chart:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_tax_in_the_United_States#History_of_top_rates

      So historically 40% is on the low side. And that’s maximum — most people are paying 25% or less.

      Here is a conservative analysis of Hillary Clinton’s tax plan:

      http://taxfoundation.org/sites/default/files/docs/TaxFoundation-FF496.pdf

      She would have created a new tax bracket for those earning $5M a year or more. Those rich folks would have paid 43.6%. My own tax rate would have stayed the same at 25%.

      Would your own tax rate have gone up or down under Hillary’s proposed plan?

  3. Andrew Reeder

    Hi J.D. I have always loved your blog and just your thought process in general. On this one however I wanted to ask you a question: Have you ever considered a more moderate (maybe I am using the word wrong) view on politics? For example when I am listening to my extreme right wing friends talk I keep a sharp ear out for what I call “extreme right wing rhetoric.” Usually this is something about how Hillary should be in jail, and in the past it had to do with accusations of such and such being a communist. I would have to gently encourage them to respect that person. Right now I am hearing quite a bit from you of what I would call “extreme left wing rhetoric.” And in my experience its usually based on not seeing the value of the other persons side. Also I think it signifies sometimes (definitely not in your case) a lesser intelligence. On behalf of all Republicans I want to apologize for the name calling and not listening to you. Honestly it was awful, I honestly do believe you and your political party have some great ideas and great things that you emphasize, for example: A heart for the poor and the downtrodden. This is very admirable and I love how you love that. I love your work and everything you stand for. Now on the other hand I do believe some republicans have some great emphases too and if you dont respect them its only because you havnt really heard their heart or had great republicans friends with great ideas who you could pick their brain. I think even Donald Trump is quite a bit better than alot of these racist, pull yourself up by your bootstrap empathy lacking individuals ranting on facebook. All in all I hope you can believe that at least 1 or 2 good things can still happen with this government!! Ok take care.

    • Thanks for your comment Andrew. I appreciate that not all of my readers are liberal or even centrist, but I’m not sure which of my points or statements might be perceived as extreme left-wing rhetoric. My criticisms of Trump may be pointed, but I don’t think the idea that Russia attempted to interfere with the U.S. election is an extreme view. Nor that Trump has a background of criminality — he just settled a lawsuit for $25M. Trump has also failed to distance himself from the racist elements of the Alt-Right movement.

      In terms of positive things happening with this administration, the official Republican Platform does call for reinstating the Glass-Steagall act separating commercial and investment banking. If Trump can make that happen, that would be great. I’m skeptical he’ll follow through, but if he does I’ll give him full props.

      https://prod-static-ngop-pbl.s3.amazonaws.com/media/documents/DRAFT_12_FINAL%5b1%5d-ben_1468872234.pdf

      What I consider to be radical left wing would be the abolition of private property and the other nine planks of Karl Marx’s communist manifesto. Of those ten, I support only two (progressive income taxation, and the abolition of child labor in factories in favor of public education). I think most Americans are with me on at least the latter. So I do consider myself a moderate, not an extreme left-winger.

      • Andrew Reeder

        Hmmm. Well said. Ill have to look at this.

        • EM

          I think Andrew is arguing in good faith, but he may need to be reminded (and you have done well here) that what is broadly characterized as “extreme left” in America is… basically centerist and moderate every where else. Even Bernie Sanders would not be considered an extreme leftist in my husbands home country of Greece.

          • Exactly. I think some of my readers might think I’m joking when I describe myself as a centrist. In the U.S. my capitalism-tolerant, pro-small-business, personal freedom promoting views somehow end up as leftist.

  4. Ed

    Indeed, in the UK we have Brexit (kind of). In the 5 months since the vote we still haven’t kicked off Article 50 which makes it official. I voted to leave. I’ve almost fallen out with friends over it. In fact, I’ve not met up with one of them since then (not my choice, hers). She’s even moved because of the (perceived) pro-Brexit, anti-immigration vibe where she was.

    In Holland, France, Germany and other European countries, the right are doing well. There are elections in those countries next year.

    Now we’ll soon have President Trump running the US.

    It’s all a reaction. People have had enough of the establishment, being lied to and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. They have no voice except for a ballot paper every 4 or 5 years.

    My politics are fairly centre-ist. I think most people are. However, immigration is the major issue. I think that’s the main reason the right are doing so well. Certainly in Europe.

    2017 will be quite a year, whatever your political leaning.

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