Final Backlash: what to do against the Trump (d)effect?
By Mauricio Rivera
In an article I published prior to the last US presidential election, I concluded that a Trump victory would be an unmistakable sign that the world is going down a spiral of decadence. The first actions of the 45th president of the most powerful nation in the planet seem to confirm the profound crisis that is coming. In the local stage, in less than a week the US citizens saw their access to healthcare compromised; and despite (or rather because) of the march of countless women against his administration, in a matter of hours, the magnate-president responded with the revival of the so-called gag-rule: originally instituted by Ronald Reagan in 1984, which forbids international organisations to distribute information within the United States, about women’s reproductive rights.
Speaking about 1984, Trump’s belligerent attitude has skyrocketed the sales of George Orwell’s famous dystopia. This happens while Steve Bannon, the former editor in chief of the infamous Breitbart News -the favourite media of the so-called ‘alt-right’ movement- officially declares the media as the ‘opposition party’; and his counsellor and former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway refers to her president’s lies as ‘alternative facts.’
Besides Bannon, Trump’s sympathy towards the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is reflected on the appointment of Jeff Sessions -senator from the State of Alabama- as Attorney General. He once joked that he used to like the KKK until he found out some of its members smoked marijuana. However, who in my opinion is the most problematic member of a cabinet that the legendary comedian John Cleese compared to the crew of a pirate ship, is the former CEO of the oil corporation Exxon Mobil: Mr. Rex Tillerson. He has been appointed as Secretary of State. The friendship between Tillerson and Vladimir Putin, together with the obscure Russian participation in Trump’s election (at this point it is important to take into account that Russia is a nation which economy depends on fossil fuels), forecast a new cycle of exploration, drilling and extraction at a grand scale. This, despite virtually the entire scientific community has been warning, for decades, about the crisis that will be caused by the progressive increase of the planet’s average temperature.
This is not the first time that the US executive branch tampers with the efforts of scientists and environmentalists. Within the symbolic, one can mention the episode when in 1986 Ronald Reagan removed the solar panels that his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, had installed on the roof of the White House in 1979. Between the decades of the 1990s and the 2000s, the two Bush presidents (who come from an oiling Texan family): with their wars in the Persian Gulf and the appointment of Dick Cheney as vice-president -former CEO of Halliburton: another oil multinational- continued to delay the change on the global system of energy generation. An ever growing number of scientist fear that wasting another decade in this effort could lead to a chain reaction -similar to the one that, approximately 250 million years ago, led to what is known as the ‘Great Dying’, which marked the end of the Permian period of the Paleozoic era, when it is estimated that around 95% of marine species and 70% of terrestrial species became extinct. If the poles melt: (a) they would stop reflecting the solar rays that hit the earth and (b) tons of greenhouse gases, like methane, which for millions of years have been trapped under the polar ice caps (particularly in the Arctic) will be released into the atmosphere.
To this comedy of horrors, one may add the name of Scott Pruitt, a renowned denier of climate change and promoter of the practice of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), which in his own State of Oklahoma has caused hundreds of earthquakes in the last years. He has been appointed as the new director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), despite he has filed fourteen lawsuits against this agency. One may also add the name of another reality TV celebrity: the former Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry (whom, thanks to his participation in Dancing with the stars and the extensive repertoire of gaffes he has said in numerous interviews and political debates has become some sort of walking meme). Now, in his new role as Secretary of Energy, he will be in charge of the United States’ nuclear arsenal.
Against such a disheartening panorama, it is difficult to think about something that could be done from the seemingly insignificant geopolitical stand of Latin America. However, at the risk of falling into a common place, it is important to remember that there is an opportunity behind every crisis. The first thing we should do is to learn from the example of the women’s march, which took place in various cities all over the world on the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. Therefore, it is necessary to coordinate the struggle against the construction of the Keystone and North Dakota pipelines, with the efforts that should (and hopefully will) arise to stop the systematic destruction of our ecosystems. It is necessary for our societies to understand the effects of the so-called ‘Dutch disease’ and learn about the tragic stories lived by countries like Iraq, Nigeria or Venezuela because of the oil industry.
It is important that Latin American societies begin to conceive a new ideal of progress for the 21st century, based on the conservation of the environment, scientific research and ecological tourism. We must also take advantage of the fact the so-called ‘exceptionalism’ on which the US nationalist propaganda is founded is more devalued than ever before, and finally take the decision to legalise the coca plant. This way, it would be possible to create and regulate and industry around this plant and limit the expansion of the crops that, due to illegality, has led to the destruction of thousands of hectares of native vegetation. Regarding this matter, the other day I read, with a mix of horror and indignation, a column by the former vice-minister of Justice and dean of the School of Politics and International Relations of the Sergio Arboleda University (in Bogota, Colombia) -published on the digital edition of Semana Magazine and titled ‘Con coca no hay paraíso‘ (With coke there’s no paradise). This article is basically a call to appease the Trump administration, and particularly Secretary Tillerson -who in the first, and to the date only, mention made by the new US government about Colombia, warned that they will revise whether they will continue to support the ongoing peace process. He also demanded, with an authoritarian tone, the fulfillment of the commitments to stop the production and traffic of drugs.
The arguments exposed by the former vice-minister Ceballos remind us that the development of a new ideal of progress (and the promulgation of policies that lead to it), will not be promoted by the current political establishment, nor by chiefs of state like Juan Manuel Santos or Enrique Peña Nieto. This is why it is necessary for the Latin American people to join the wave of social movements that seems to have arisen after the election of Donald Trump. We must constantly pressure our given governments to prioritise, for the first time in over two centuries of republican existence, the interests of the region over those of the major political and economic powers (like the US government or Exxon Mobil), which are progressively pushing us towards the collapse of the human species.
* This article was originally published in Palabras al Margen: a opinion media outlet edited by the Faculty of Law and Political Science of the National University of Colombia on 15/02/2017 (to read the Spanish version click here).