Educating The Donald

by Ray Grigg

The American voters understood the question, they just didn’t like their choice of answers. Neither of the two presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump, represented the change they wanted and needed.

Their disquietude is justified. To the growing vertical division between right and left has been added the horizontal division between rich and poor. This is creating a palpable social tension. The increasing dominance of the corporate agenda is too often contrary to the public interest. The uncontrolled flow of money into politics has adulterated the democratic process. Irritants such as racial tension, changing demographics, foreign policy miscalculations, trade deficits, energy transition and weather extremes have all contributed to their demoralization.

Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party represented the intolerable status quo. Donald Trump and the Republican Party offered confusing choices between unpredictable change, extremism, bigotry, racism, misogyny and the vague promise of making America great again. Voters chose the riskier option.

Donald Trump is an outlier in almost every respect. But, at least, he is change. He has never held political office, he doesn’t belong to the Republican establishment, he is an individualist who offends, provokes, polarizes, bullies, and seems to possess a logic that defies reality. This is the risk Americans have decided to take. Unfortunately, these are the risks that also must be shared by the rest of the world.

From an environmental perspective, it seems preposterous that Trump would deny the evidence of anthropogenic climate change, believe it is a hoax propagated by the Chinese, and promise to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions — the only international strategy available to mitigate the disastrous environmental, social, economic and political effects that are now beginning to traumatize humanity.

As a sign of hope, President Donald Trump will encounter a new reality. Politics is a different world than business. He will be briefed by experts on many subjects. He will meet powerful leaders from other countries. He will be exposed to perspectives that will challenge his own. His opinions will be questioned by those with very persuasive views. Unless he is absolutely incapable of learning, he will be changed by these experiences. And his position on many issues remains unpredictable. Were they actually parts of his contradictory political intentions or just theatrical elements of his campaigning persona?

Like every politician before him, A President Trump will discover that every issue is more complicated than it seems. If this is an insight he does not grasp quickly, his pledge to “Make America Great Again” will have the opposite effect. His country will be ostracized and marginalized by the new world order changing around it — “Welcome to the United States of America. Please set your clocks back to 1950” is not an option.

Trump’s campaign was composed of a litany of outrageous claims, outright stupidities, incessant contradictions, blatant lies and impossible conclusions. He has demonstrated narcissistic egotism interspersed with flashes of diplomacy and caring. The American voter decided to trust that the grandiose bravado was a front for a personality that could adapt to the demanding responsibilities of being their President. Let’s hope they were right.

As the world waits to discover what America has done, the laws of nature remain intact, climate change continues, species go extinct, oceans are acidifying, and record numbers of refugees — many fleeing turmoil linked to environmental causes — are stressing political and cultural structures. The Donald has some fast learning to do, and we must trust his experience won’t be too difficult for the rest of us.