Sunday, November 20, 2016

Denial is Definitely Not a River in Egypt

One of the most fascinating aspects of the election of Donald Trump is the massive spread of denial across virtually every segment, every constituency, both main political parties and every step of the economic ladder across the land. Red or blue, so many Americans, seemingly including the President himself, are awash in passionate beliefs of false hopes. Even the stock market voted “hey, this won’t be so bad.”
In a clear effort towards graciousness and a belief that there is a near-term path to unity, President Obama has tried to paint a picture of a non-idealog-pragmatist who will address our nation’s challenges logically, methodically, like any good businessman. But as you look at president-elect Donald Trump’s political appointments, like a rather clearly right-wing anti-Semite like Steve O’Bannon as chief strategist and listen to the words of Trump and his inner circle, you know that ain’t happenin’. This is the beginning of a tsunami of change, one that can linger for decades (if the nation lasts that long) with the likely Supreme Court appointments.
I think Washington Post columnist (November 15th, in his Daily 202 presentation), James Hohmann sums it up well: “Barack Obama has deluded himself with the misguided hope that Donald Trump will not even try to follow through on many of his biggest campaign promises. He is consoling himself with the hope that, if he does, the new president will be measured, self-restrained and respectful of custom. That he will ‘study … deeply’ and ‘look at the facts.’ That logic and reason, not emotion or ideology, will drive him above all else.
“The lame-duck president has convinced himself that Republicans probably won’t go through with repealing Obamacare when they realize just how hard it will be. Ditto with the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord. ‘Reality has a way of asserting itself,’ Obama reasoned. ‘I also think that he is coming to this office with fewer set hard-and-fast policy prescriptions than a lot of other presidents might be arriving with. I don't think he is ideological. I think ultimately he’s pragmatic in that way.’
“Is Obama really that na├»ve? Probably not. He is just wallowing in a state of denial and has resorted to wishful thinking as a coping mechanism. It is a natural psychological condition that afflicts most human beings grieving a major loss, at least for a time. Presidents are not immune.
“For a little over an hour yesterday afternoon (5/14), Americans saw a 55-year-old who has not come to grips with just how big a blow Trump’s victory is to his legacy and his party. He rationalized. He downplayed. He justified. He minimized. With all the trappings of the presidency still his, it hasn’t fully sunk in yet. And it might not for 66 more days, when Trump gets sworn in on the West Front of the Capitol – and Obama begins living as a civilian in Kalorama [a DC neighborhood].”
But the denial is hardly a Democratic malignancy; it is the backbone supporting most of Trump’s platform. With the potential appointment of a climate-change-denier to the Environmental Protection Agency to threats to shut down the Department of Education, an immediate focus on deporting three million undocumented residents, a willingness to keep out of international issues that could topple a regime or interfere with a “local” prerogative and a deep commitment to doing anything necessary to “protect American jobs” even if trade barriers are the proposed solution, Trump’s view of his ability to deliver an America-first policy that creates jobs and returns the nation to a rather awkward 1950s-60s “greatness” (a time when whites ruled and blacks knew their place) is equally misguided. But “his people” still believe.
That increasingly disenfranchised white working class constituency, under-skilled, often working in obsolete sectors and no-longer globally competitive, expects to get their old jobs back at their old pay scales. Really? How many coal miners will get work even if every environmental regulation and every worker safety rule is eliminated? Not only is coal way too expensive, most of the planet is busy trying to wean itself from the most polluting form of fossil fuel. “Clean coal,” mostly a cute phrase without meaning, generally means shoving the pollutants underground for a later generation to deal with the problem.
Bring back manufacturing jobs to the United States? Maybe in construction, if Trump can convince his own party to embrace his infrastructure goals (which party leaders will fight), but any real return of manufacturing will almost certainly be based on robotics and artificial intelligence. The folks who own the machines are smiling, but the workers whose jobs will not return have no clue what they are in for. They will still breathe the polluted air, drink water of questionable quality and watch the ravages of climate change – from droughts to floods and storm surges – redefine their lot in life. They just won’t have those lovely high-paying jobs they expect.
For the rest of us, the inevitable result of trade barriers and reducing a workforce of low-paid labor (who have been deported) means higher prices and, for the vast majority of us not at the top of economic ladder, lower real wages (measured in terms of buying power). Those trickle down tax breaks will mostly go to those at the top of the food chain, making income inequality worse.
And do you really feel that America is going to come together under the litany of Trump’s law-and-order/anti-Muslim policies? As federal agents round up Latinos for deportation? Seriously? As he removes federal support for education to “allow the states to control education” again, do you really believe that our schools and universities will get better and produce more globally competitive workers?
Even Trump’s commitment to get rid of ISIS and its ilk quickly has absolutely no chance of implementation in the whack-a-mole world of Middle Eastern realities, with the jihadism issue that began back in WWI with the fall of the Ottoman Empire. I spent four and half years in the Middle East, and “it” also ain’t happenin’, “believe me.”
China and Russia are smacking their lips at the prospect of Trump’s pledge to move his nation into an increasingly isolationist mode. They expect some economic discomfort – even a trigger for a global recession – but as America withdraws, tells countries to “protect yourselves and don’t look to the U.S. anymore,” and engages in international antagonism, Russia, but mostly China, will happily step into the void. Increasingly, it will be China that calls the shots… as American prestige and influence spiral downwards.
The biggest questions are how a deeply divided nation can survive in this foul broth of mythology, denial and exceptionally deep polarization. Perhaps it might not. The country may well break apart sooner than even the most pessimistic historians and political scientists might expect. For those who think breakaway states can merge with Canada – peacefully (yeah, right) – they need to keep in mind that Canada’s entire population is less than that of California, and it is not likely that even if it were possible, Canada would admit a level of new citizens that would overwhelm their existing citizenry.
But we will have some time to think about all that after the economy begins to exhibit non-denial numbers reflecting the impossibility of implementing most of the expectations of each segment of our country. Brace! Brace! Brace! Is America’s time over? Can we ever undo the damage we are inflicting on ourselves? Is Europe following in our footsteps? Are Germany’s Angela Merkel, unlikely to stay in power, and Canada’s Justin Trudeau the last great Western liberal leaders?
I’m Peter Dekom, and I hope those damned Millennials rise to the fore and hold this great nation together, because their parents and grandparents have simply made a mess of it all.

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