Monday, April 10, 2017

A Tyranny Larger than Trump

If you have had the opportunity to read even one of the recent editorials by the LA Times, you have likely found yourself re-enchanted with their thoughtful critique of Donald Trump. And if you are like many others around this state, you are even more thrilled with their tone. Without mincing words, the Times calls our newly elected President narcissistic, impulsive, untruthful, and both ignorant about political power and how to wield it effectively.

The Los Angeles Timesʻ attack is unrelenting, reflecting what the editorial writers sense is a surge of popular outrage and opposition by a vast number of Californians. Refreshingly, the Times is unequivocal not simply as a venting of frustrations, but noting that it is time to challenge the new President before things get even worse. The Editorial Board argues that rather than awaiting more 'alternative facts' and the further erosion of democratic institutions, their responsibility is to "lay out our concerns." These are expansive, ranging from the draconian use of federal police forces to deport and worsened livelihoods for millions of our fellow Californians, to the dismantling of health care policies, and an array of policies opposed to many of our most celebrated laws.

As noted by the Timesʻ editors, many Californians feel "uniquely threatened" and harbor a widespread sense of dread for being complicit in creating a place that is now targeted by the Trump regime, his partisans in Congress, and powerful private sector allies. But this is the juncture at which the marvelous editorial series gives too little attention to a much deeper and longer conflict. It may be fair to call Trump a tyrant, but the sources of his tyranny are more than merely his weird persona.

In recent decades many of the same themes of racist, xenophobic, elitist, sexist, and similarly egregious traits have been displayed by other presidents. Even if we can all readily agree that Donald Trump personifies the worst of these qualities, the threats posed by the current regime are much broader. Trump does bring new meaning to the rise of an authoritarian, if not fascistic, state. It is no small matter that his use of power in such a personal way threatens democratic practice in a fashion perhaps unprecedented in our nationʻs history.

I find it difficult to argue with any of the Timesʻ courageous one, not-so-minor point: the origins of problems we confront are much larger than the man now occupying the Oval Office. The case can be made most persuasively by examining what is arguably one of the greatest existential threats to humankind: the distinct prospect that civilization and global ecology will severely damaged by the end of this century. Yet, the approaching cataclysm has a complex history predating 2016 and the current President. Which is not to say that Donald Trump will not make things spectacularly worse. But a more careful scrutiny of our predicament points out that focusing exclusively on Trumpʻs failures as a leader is largely a distraction.

Trumpʻs distractions move our collective scrutiny away from an enduring coalition of private interests, including some of the nationʻs wealthiest families and largest corporations. For one over-arching problem - fossil-fueled damages - the activities of the oil industry, its lobbyists and corporate allies have been documented for pursuing policies that have undermined clean alternative fuels while discounting the threats to surrounding communities, workers, and the environment. As if these negative features were not enough, the record of destruction extends to the systematic erosion of democratic institutions and practices as evinced by their out-sized role in the political process.

As reflected in the stories of public interest advocates contained in The War on California, the abhorrent and disastrous policies personified by President Trump have many linkages to earlier regimes and powerful political forces. We may discover, too late, that ʻsolvingʻ for the Donald does too little to address the other threats to democracy, society, and the environment. California, in this regard, holds an especially vital, some might say pivotal, role in preparing a political campaign aimed not simply at the small man seeking a balcony, but the many sympathetic officials who have been hard at work for many decades to defeat the works of public interest activists across the nation. 

The record of these conflicts are recorded in dozens of legislative measures stretching across decades. While covering a range of topics, there is one especially intriguing common theme bridging many of these struggles: the battle between private and public interests to control both politics and the economy in the Golden State. These are themes I will continue to explore in the coming weeks.

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