Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/2/2017 (1204 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The first casualty of the Donald Trump administration was not truth. It was civility.
The crude and rude taunts of the campaign trail have been mainstreamed into American political discourse.
However distressing "alternative facts" might be, at some point, truth (like murder) will out. But civility, once lost, is hard to regain, and that does not bode well for anyone affected by American politics.
Civility requires me not to call you a doofus even if that is what I think you are. It also requires me to consider, even for a moment, the possibility (however slim) you might have a valid point and I might be wrong.
Descend to name-calling, and you are not likely to learn anything from me, either.
The lack of civility means positions harden, battle lines are drawn, conflict is perpetual — and compromise or reconciliation means defeat.
None of this seems like a good idea south of the border or closer to home, unless this conflict is precisely the intention of the instigators.
The recent barrage of Trump’s executive orders resembled fishing with dynamite to see what floats to the surface. Or perhaps firing shots into the air to frighten the ducks into the sights of the hunters lying in wait on the other side of the marsh.
They flushed out the opposition — on both sides of the aisle — and disclosed the tactics the Trump administration will face for the rest of his term. The furor also served to disguise the more dangerous, longer-term threats posed by rearranging the power structures of the Washington "swamp" in ways that favour his friends and allies.
Short of impeachment or a military coup, however, Trump will be president of the United States of America for another four years. We need to find a way forward from here that reflects civility on our part — and expects it from him.
So while I agree with the hashtag #NotMyPresident, as a Canadian, it means something very different to me than to someone who is a U.S. citizen. No president is ever my president. In fact, the only thing demonstrations elsewhere against the U.S. have fuelled, historically, has been American isolationism. As much as we would like to respond in kind to irresponsible and juvenile behaviour, it works about as well with American administrations as it does with teenagers.
Instead, we need to remind the U.S. they cannot disengage from the world, that "making America great again" cannot and will not happen at the expense of the rest of us. Period.
While I am in solidarity with my American brothers and sisters who march and protest, I know nothing will be changed by the pointed barbs of American talk show hosts or by fuming celebrity denunciations at awards ceremonies. The opposition needs to be smarter than it has been so far, countering the "alternative facts" where they take root in the ideas of people within their local communities, playing to its strengths instead of exposing its weakness.
This time around, the one per cent won. It will continue to use the machinery of the state to manipulate prejudice, enforce privilege and gain profits, albeit now in a more blatant and undeniable fashion. The 99 per cent simply will not change the outcome if they continue to play by rules that favour money and entrenched, institutional power. Different tactics are required.
Executive orders are made with the stroke of a pen, and they can be rescinded in exactly the same way. The past week has created a smokescreen over the places where the real, long-term battles will be fought in the legislative trenches of Congress and in the wider U.S. administration. But the war will be won at the municipal and state levels, where other levels of government have rights and responsibilities — and therefore powers — the president is unable to control.
Far more dangerous, in my opinion, are the ways in which the Environmental Protection Agency has potentially been sidelined and defunded and its scientists silenced. Mother Nature is not going to be dismissed like a reporter asking inconvenient questions at a news conference, who is told to, "Get out of my country."
But if, as Canadians, we respond to this behaviour in kind, civility will be the first casualty of our exchange. So, too, will be the chance to engage in the kind of dialogue that might lead to the acceptance (however grudging) of the perspective the whole Earth matters, and we all need the kind of environmental, economic and political leadership from the U.S. in a time of global crisis that real greatness demands.
Time will tell.
Peter Denton teaches the history of technology at the University of Winnipeg and chairs the policy committee of the Green Action Centre.
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