J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, 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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16 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.

  5. G

    JD, after reading several of your blogposts on this, I can safely tell you that you have almost no idea why you keep losing. Like every other hard-leftist that’s been scratching their heads in how things went so wrongly for them, the only thing I can effectively tell you that you were right on is that yes, it WAS reactionary. That is NOT a bad thing, however.

    I’m twenty-one years old and come from a very traditionally working class London background. I don’t disrespect people based on sex, or literal skin colour, it’s pointless to do those things. I disrespect people on how they act, and I disrespect people because of how they talk about ME and how they treat ME. And when I notice certain patterns enough times, I then start to have my own little “big-picture perspective” on things. “Hmm, why does this group act this way? Why do these people do what these people do? I’d like to look into this!” And so like any decent human being that at least tries to seek knowledge, I educate myself, EVEN if the things I’m educating myself on don’t necessarily sit right with me.

    And JD, you talk like every other hard-left English simp (I say this as an Englishman myself), most likely from the better parts of London, that I’ve literally become accustomed to listening to as I’ve been growing up. If you don’t think children aren’t affected by your “le white male” nonsense, I can tell you that THEY ARE.

    I know you and people like Owen Jones think they’re helping. You so desperately want to find this legitimately marginalised class, to the point where you’re outright willing to slight your own kind without ever actually understanding why they think the way they do, vote the way they vote or talk the way they talk. Let me ask you, have you ever actually gone out of your way to REALLY delve into the nitty gritties with a modern conservative or “alt-righter” and try and at least UNDERSTAND, not postulate, but UNDERSTAND why they do the things they do, whilst withholding judgement or backtalk? You haven’t, have you? It legitimately floors you as to why things are going the way they are.

    “W-why did Renzi lose power? W-w-w-w-why did Trump get in? W-why did Brexit happen?” Gotta be those Muslim haters, right? The people that just irrationally hate Muslims for absolutely no reason? Or if they DO have a reason, it’s the wrong kind of reason, right? You need to tell ’em how they should really be thinking, of course. If La Pen gets into power in France and a Frexit happens, you guys can officially consider the culture war lost, on your end.

    Do you wanna know what’s really saddening, too? It’s because of people like you, that genuine liberalism is dying. It’s actually very sad. I have a lot of sympathy for liberalism at its core, I definitely don’t dislike a lot of liberal tenents and I don’t disavow someone for calling themselves a liberal. I was never a big Trump guy, I was all for Rand Paul, but of course, the chances of him winning were slim to begin with. But I was also very sympathetic for a lot of Bernie Sanders’ beliefs and I had respect for his grassroots attempts at a presidential campaign. Sadly, the Clinton Foundation stuck the knife in and (to paraphrase the leaked Podesta e-mails, maybe look them up if you want more of an understanding as to why Trump won, btw), “ground him to a pulp.” The democrats were willing to CANNIBALISE the weak, JD. Let it be remembered, also, that Trump was NOT popular with Republicans at all, he wasn’t even considered a traditional conservative by most of them. Not mant of the American elite were actually that fond of him, the foreign elite CERTAINLY didn’t like him. But even the Republicans didn’t treat Trump how Hillary treated Bernie Sanders. At least Trump was insulting his opponents to their faces.

    I don’t know if you’ll ever read this, but I’m gonna reiterate, JD. Until the left stops talking the way it talks, until people like you stop literally insinuating that people who are pro-Trump are potentially KKK (an organisation filled with FBI informants that gets its modern kicks out of bakesales), until you stop delegitimatising “angry white men”, until you stop LISTENING, GENUINELY. LISTENING to why your opposition feels the way it feels… People like you are gonna kill liberalism. Until you learn to stop dehumanising your opponents, you’ve lost. And quite frankly, if THIS is how you’re all going to continue acting? Maybe it’s better, that way. Real liberals don’t need people like you tarnishing the accomplishments of the past.

    • Hi G — thanks for your comment. I read the whole thing. I’ll respond to a few of your points.

      I *am* an angry white male. I’m angry that the United States is devolving into an authoritarian kleptocracy. Though I’m not angry at immigrants — in the U.S. most immigrants create wealth.

      When I hear “my own kind” — I think human beings. Including people who I don’t agree with politically. Everyone. People just aren’t that different. Most people want pretty much the same things. I’m not sure who you mean by “my own kind.” Are you talking ethnicity? Politics? Nationality?

      I’m no longer scratching my head, as you say. Democrats won the popular vote by a wide margin. We lost because of the electoral college, voter suppression, and disenfranchisement. Not ideology.

      I’m not a hard leftist. Not once have I advocated for anything approaching communism. I’m a centrist U.S. Democrat, conservative by most global standards.

      But hey, stick around, always happy to have more readers and commenters, even if we don’t agree.

  6. cjef

    I would add the end of globalisation to your list of macro-trends, although this is likely to be a result of the rise of the right.

    It’s funny that the future for the left is pretty clear. It involves renewable energy and better healthcare, education and ways of dealing with inequality. This is really the only political program on the table. It is hard to argue with and even Republicans like Schwarzenegger agree with this program. When the left talks about these type of things they win. When they try to shame people for a lack of education and deplorable views then they lose.

    What is scaring me is the conservative reaction against the educated classes and their projects because although as a society we don’t need the shaming rhetoric we are in a bind and need these projects and a sense of social justice to succeed.

    I think conservatism is in a crisis with no political program beyond anti-immigration. They no longer believe in free trade. The risk is that they destroy the ability of the educated classes to solve the problems we need to solve.

    • I agree — there’s a lack of a conservative vision for the future. I don’t think there’s any real intention anywhere to end globalism — that strikes me as mostly a populist talking point. Trump hiring Goldman Sachs people points to maintaining the status quo, including existing international trade agreements. We’ll see.

      What would a sci-fi non-dystopian conservative future look like? That’s an interesting thought experiment. I may give it a go.

      • cjef

        I’m in Berlin at the moment so the forces marshalling against Globalism and the EU seem significant including Brexit, the recent lost referendum in Italy and Le Pen in France.

        I also think that automation of production, whether it is by robots or 3D printing naturally dovetails into local production and declining trade. The statistics are starting to suggest this is happening. I’m starting to collect examples of this trend because it has big implications including greater capacity for governments to level taxes on increasingly profitable but non-distributive (not many wages to pay) production and invest it into research, hospitals, education etc.

  7. Lots of comments on here (I got tired of reading them), but many are critical of you in tge same way that I often wonder if I should be critical of myself. I have tried (and I mean hard and at great length) to empathize with the right and less specifically with ideas that contradict my own, unfortunately without much success. Still, I truly believe that I am at least a little biased to my detriment, and that I am missing something that is obvious to my opposition. Also, I wonder sometimes if idealists like myself would in fact be cannon fodder for hard liners today as they have in the past.

    Interesting read, comments and all. Still, I would urge you to you to keep your (our) trump disgust out of your blog. Even in agreement I don’t enjoy reading it, and there are so many other things to write about (even regime change without ad homine).

    • Thanks for your comment Marc. Good to know what my readers find interesting and engaging. I will probably keep writing about the topics that interest me (sometimes politics, more often not) without too much second-guessing. I don’t mind some conflict in the comments. Blogs, FB, etc. are one way for people to debate and modulate their views without any chance of a fistfight, and hopefully there’s some value in that.

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