Overcoming the Trumping of Democracy to Restore the Commonwealth

Trump is not merely rolling back countless federal programs that attempt to protect society from the ravages of unrestrained extractive corporate capital and industrial consumerism. He is going one worse. Think of the premise of his actions and the way he frames those actions in claiming to “make America great again.” That premise is that The Great Leader knows best. Ignore and deny facts; abandon democratic process; submit to his will alone. Just have faith in The Great Leader.

EPA programs and operations Suppressed; Military energy-star efficiency trashed; national parks plundered for mining and drilling; safety, pollution, and worker protections in industry rolled back; plunder the nation’s public lands. These are some of the president’s ‘practical’ goals. We must ask, “Who benefits?” Certainly not the public.

In all of these actions and more, especially withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords, the premise is that the maximal leader is the only legitimate source of power and correct action.

As Thomas Snyder, Yale historian has so powerfully explained in his recent small eloquent book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the twentieth Century, “the president” has embarked on actions that parallel those used by various demagogues to destroy democracies in Europe. Every American should read this brief but powerful essay on how fascism overcomes democracy. We tend to think our democratic institutions are inviable, but they are not. They are now at high and growing risk.

Every executive order by this president is an attack on some public value, from due process to environmental protection, from plunder of the nation’s natural resources to escalating military adventurism. Corruption of public values in service to private plunder is elevated to the status of an unassailable new normal. The greatest danger now is that it is easier to acquiesce than to resist.

Underlying it all is the triumph of the ego over the human instinct for civility, altruism, reason, confirmed fact, and the public good. Lies are elevated to the status of faith in the decisions of a real estate swindler indebted to Russian oligarchs, whose misogynistic narcissism and corrupt business practices we must not question.

In all this, the stock market provides an interesting indicator of the ‘state of mind’ of the investor class, including institutional investors and wealthy individuals. Shiller’s indexes of stock market confidence are now at remarkably high levels. One interpretation is that investors believe the Trumping of democracy will offer expanded opportunity for plunder capital to ravage the social and natural environments for fun and profit, even though market valuations appear much higher than underlying fundamental business value. The U.S. One-Year Stock Market Confidence Index numbers have shot up since Trump’s inauguration, reaching well beyond those seen just before historical “corrections” in market valuation preceding recessions.

Schiller one-year investor confidence index

Source: http://som.yale.edu/faculty-research/centers-initiatives/international-center-for-finance/data/stock-market-confidence-indices/stock-market-confidence-indices

As one ‘contrarian,’ Eric Parnell, a registered investment advisor, put it, “All of this implies a toxic combination. Nearly everyone is bullish, thus leaving nobody new to join the game to take on the hot potato of already expensive stock prices.” But in today’s environment, greed knows no bounds, from the offices of predatory purchasers of bad debt to the oval office, plunder is the new normal – well, not so new, but radically more normal than ever.

During the Katrina catastrophe, minor looting got all the media attention; cooperative behavior, was not sensational enough to garner media attention. However, many made personal efforts to help others. Around the world, communities are rising to protect the land, water, air, and ecosystems upon which they depend for survival. The enemy of living Earth systems, including humanity, is the endless economic growth machine that Dmitri Orlov calls the “technosphere.” The new president is the most ‘visible hand’ in perpetuating the plunder of the biosphere by the technosphere.

Resist the oppression. Replace the destruction. Restore the Earth. These choices we the people must make by learning the lessons of failed democracies of the twentieth century. These difficult actions are the only choices left to achieve the societal resilience necessary for survival. Overcoming Trumpery is a necessity in that process.

Dangerous Transitions in the New Great Transformation

Humanity is entering a New Great Transformation like no other. This transformation is not the first, but it may be the last. That will depend on human action and whether we act quickly, both globally and locally.

Perhaps the first great transformation was the discovery and control of fire, according to renowned biological anthropologist, Richard Wrangham (2009). Controlling fire allowed the habilines (Homo Habilis) to evolve into the small jawed, small toothed Homo Erectus, because eating cooked food released far more energy with much less work than hunting, gathering, and eating raw foods. Cooking provided the extra low-cost energy the brain needed to grow and produce Homo sapiens – us. Then, of course, the agricultural revolution was a transformation that produced surplus food, allowing the specialization of skills. That resulted in complex forms of social organization, such as kingdoms and empires.

The New Great Transition

The industrial revolution was described by Karl Polanyi as The Great Transformation (1944), largely because it turned society on its head as a result of the new economic organization industrial capital forced upon it. In pre-industrial societies, culture had always embedded economic activity within societal norms and values. Now, society became an appendage and subservient to the new economic order. We are now at the end of the industrial era, entering a planetary New Great Transformation, caused by the global excesses of extractive capital and the “technosphere” it has created.

mass_extinctions_Annenberg.Learner

Five Mass Extinctions. Credit: Annenberg Learning

Unbridled economic growth and profligate waste have destabilized the climate and most of the Earth’s ecosystems, precipitating The New Great Transformation. The vast disturbances of ecosystems around the world due to global industrialization has triggered the sixth great extinction of species around the world. The converging global crises of humanity now force us to choose between rapid ecological harmonization and restoration or societal collapse, and possibly our own extinction.

We must now seek a just transition from the converging crises of economy, ecology, and climate to survive the New Great Transformation. We must transform the global political economy of industrial-consumerism and its vast injustices into located ecological communities. We must restore living Earth systems if we are to survive as a species.  The most difficult obstacle to a just ecological society may be in our own minds. We must overcome the many vestiges of the fossil-fueled industrial-consumer culture that remain, especially in our everyday thinking.

We need to shape new visions about issues like adaptation versus mitigation of global warming. Only by transforming society itself can we create sufficient food security, green jobs, clean technology, and low-carbon transportation. At the same time, we must resist the Trumpist resistance to societal and ecological transformation. To achieve a viable just transition requires us to transform in unprecedented ways how we live in our environments and relate to each other.

Dangerous Transitions: Creativity or Collapse

To avoid the greatest dangers of the New Great Transformation of Earth’s ecosystems and climate (their collapse), we must transform our economy and society to achieve ecological communities where we live. Only a rapid massive societal transformation will avoid societal collapse. Our transformation must reach much deeper than simply transitioning to lower-carbon consumerism within the existing global political economy. Waiting for the next election cycle is entirely inadequate.

While resisting the political resistance to energy and ecological transition, we must transform our own residential enclaves, including “sacrifice zones,” into self-sustaining ecological communities. They still depend heavily on the fossil-fueled corporate state, but must become autonomous yet interdependent ecological communities, in part by replacing fossil fuel and radically reducing energy consumption and waste. Two key factors are involved.

First, we must get over our illusions of techno-industrial invincibility. Documented cases of societal collapse due to disrupting the ecosystems upon which they depended, consistently resulted from societal failure to respond to the destabilized ecosystems those societies caused. (See, for example, Jared Diamond, Collapse (2005), and Joseph Tainter, Collapse of Complex Societies (1988).) We are not immune, but this time the danger we face is global and local.

Second, diverse sources of evidence of an emerging New Great Transformation, even more profound than the industrial revolution and its aftermath, reflect great danger yet offer great hope. The hope resides in new forms of community action such as those reported in Sarah van Gelden, The Revolution Where You Live (2017) and the “50 Solutions” described in the 20th anniversary edition of Yes! Magazine. Movements for economic justice described by Gar Alperovitz in What Then Must We Do? (2013) and the mutual-interest grounded left-right coalitions Ralph Nader describes and advocates in Unstoppable (2014) also give hope for change. We must act in our common interests by transforming the way we live, where we live.

Assertions of community and municipal sovereignty such as those described by Thomas Linzey and Anneke Campbell in We the People (2016), provide a viable model for action. These local movements involve some form of what John Brown Childs calls Transcommunality (2003). Such working together in respectful yet autonomous interdependence embodies the principles of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) Longhouse, the L.A. gang-peace movement, and other indigenous examples of cooperation in diversity such as the gathering of Earth protectors at Standing Rock. Mutual aid in establishing ecological communities must replace dominance by the technosphere (Orlov, 2017), thereby increasing human autonomy, self-sufficiency, and freedom from societal and ecological chaos.

As we face the power of growing Trumpist political resistance to climate and justice action, we must find ways to make the urgently needed human ecological realignments now. We must transform society where we live to avoid societal collapse. The creation of ecological communities where we live has become the most viable form of resistance to the dark money and the out-of-control plutocracy if feeds. It is the most difficult for state violence to control. Resist tyranny by replacing the corporate state with ecological communities that restore living Earth systems and humanity itself.

REFERENCES

Alperovitz, Gar. 2013. What Then Must We Do?: Straight Talk about the Next American Revolution. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Childs, John Brown. Transcommunality: From the Politics of Conversion to the Ethics of Respect. 2003. Philadelphia, Temple University Press.

Diamond, Jared. 2005. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Penguin Books.

Gelden, Sarah van. 2017. The Revolution Where You Live: Stories from a 12,000-Mile Journey Through a New America. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Linzey, Thomas, and Anneke Campbell. 2016. We the People: Stories from the Community Rights Movement in the United States. 2016. Oakland, PM Press

Nader, Ralph. 2014. Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. New York: Nation Books.

Orlov, Dmitry. 2017. Shrinking the Technophere: Getting a Grip on the Technologies that Limit Our Autonomy, Self-sufficiency and freedom. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

Tainter, Joseph. 1988. Collapse of Complex Societies (New Studies in Archeology). Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press.

Wrangham, Richard. (2009) Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. New York: Basic Books.