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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
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:
- increased global literacy
- sharp decline in extreme poverty globally
- increased access to birth control and family planning (though the U.S. lags)
- increased political awareness/access to global information
- energy getting cheaper
- sharp decrease in population growth
- continued rapid technological innovation
- social experimentation (alternative methods of food production, peer-to-peer sharing, education, basic income, etc.)
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.