July 13, 2024

Trump Produces Collective National Trauma

Vladimir Putin (l), president of the Russian Federation, and Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil's chairman and Secretary of State nominee, will try to stabilize energy markets to aid oil prices.
Vladimir Putin (l), president of the Russian Federation, and Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil’s chairman and Secretary of State nominee, will try to stabilize energy markets to aid oil prices.

SOMERSET, KY — It’s been six weeks since Donald J. Trump’s surprise election. The final national count is in. He lost by almost 2.9 million votes. The electoral college votes this week to formalize his victory.

If this inspires personal vertigo you are not alone. Half the country is ecstatic. The other half has a headache and peptic distress. Ever brazen, and with scant control of his metaphorical filters, Trump bullies forward. One brash decision, purposely designed to gather support or prompt alarm, follows another instance of celebrity groping intended to calm the opposition. It’s like watching a magician perform in a school auditorium. The eyebrow and lip feints are as important as the arm waving.

Al Gore, among the planet’s prominent climate change activists, is invited to Trump’s New York transition office. The meeting comes at the same time as Scott Pruitt, the climate-denying energy-financed attorney general of Oklahoma, is nominated for EPA administrator. Rick Perry, former governor of Texas, is nominated to oversee the Energy Department.

The heads of Google, Amazon, and other tech companies are invited to New York. During the same time Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil chairman and longtime ally of Russian oil magnates and Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin, is nominated for Secretary of State.

The New York Times and the Washington Post said a few times after the election that “chaos” described the Trump transition planning. What a hoot. The president-elect looks like he knows exactly what he is doing.

One huge Trump goal is to rescue the fossil fuel industry from the powerful market, social, and ecological forces arrayed against it. With Perry, Tillerson, and Pruitt in the cabinet and Putin and the Koch brothers as aides-de-camp Trump has assembled a cross-continental development-investment-deregulatory oil sector brotherhood.

Jim Dulzo, my good friend and astute observer of the energy sector, reached this conclusion: “There seems to be something pretty fantastic emerging from the Putin/Trump thang…some incredibly dark cabal that runs along a fossil-fuel/Russian/Koch/climate-denial/Republican/Trump/Putin axis. Recall: Koch family’s historic business connection to USSR, Exxon’s Tillerson’s business with Russia. Trump wants him as secretary of state while ordering all employees who worked on climate science handing in their names to their new boss. This may well be a desperate and perhaps successful international criminal/industrial attempt to stop the move away from fossil fuel before it goes any further. I’m starting to think that this is actually going on.”

As a journalist, I look at global conditions, events that I’ve personally reported on and ask this: Can Trump’s fossil energy development gambit work? Is it possible for the Trump brotherhood to stave off stranding in the ground $trillions in unburnable assets? Based on what I’ve witnessed from around the nation and the world the last eight years, I don’t think so.

Opposing the wealth and influence of the fossil sector is a quartet of more powerful forces: Mother Earth pushing back hard now with storms, floods, droughts, quakes, and fire. Civic rebellions everywhere to stop mega energy projects. Market disruptions that are driving costs up and prices down. Cleaner, lower cost alternatives. Summed up, Trump and his brotherhood are standing against the gale of ecological, market, civic, and technological transition. The president-elect, Putin, and the Trump cabinet are sailing schooner captains desperate to survive in the age of steamships.

Trump and his allies also face another impediment. You remember Watergate? The bungled 1972 theft of documents from the Democratic National Committee to aid Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. The two seminal questions asked during that presidential scandal: What did Nixon know? When did he know it?

The Russians stole emails in 2016 from the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Vladimir Putin was involved. Over a month after the U.S. presidential election the sounds of portent and accountability are now heard on Capitol Hill, and in premier American newsrooms desperate to re-establish their credibility.

The details of a transcendent scandal are being moved around like pieces on a chess board. The daily disclosures. The breathless homepages. The ardent anchors. A foreign enemy’s election meddling. A free and fair election – the national sacred trust – violated. Intelligence agencies now in agreement. The furious petulance of the incoming president and his supporters. The bipartisan chorus confirming the early details and promising a thorough investigation.

Donald Trump told us what he knew. The election was rigged, he said. We thought it was bombast. We learned from Edward Snowden of the U.S. capacity to collect, monitor, track and assess virtually every digital and cell phone communication on the planet. Before too long we’ll have the two most salient new disclosures of the Russian hacking of the 2016 U.S. election. What did Trump know? When did he know it?

Half of America celebrates Trump’s indecorous behavior, his outrageous cabinet choices, his delight in challenging convention. The other half questions Trump’s legitimacy and grow sick anticipating the undisciplined and dangerous values he supports. But Trump’s radical pursuits, his vainglorious impatience and towering sensitivities, seem to me to be his biggest vulnerabilities. In these early days of the era of Trump my hunch is that he does not come close to succeeding.

— Keith Schneider

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