Guest Blog: How to protect the planet from Team Trump


Titus Alexander, campaign coach and author of Practical Politics: Lessons in Power and Democracy 
Donald Trump’s presidency feels like an avalanche threatening sustainable development and social justice. Suddenly fossil fuel kings like Exxon Mobil’s chief Rex Tillerson, Rick Perry, Myron Ebell, the Koch brothers and other climate change deniers, are at the summit of political power, capable of unleashing every restraint on carbon emissions.
Trump’s bullying and unpredictable behaviour makes political skill more important than ever. Misguided protest could trigger the avalanche and sweep aside decades of hard work. Trump’s election has galvanised resistance, but he is also mobilising an angry movement behind his rhetoric. Divisions within America, and with the world, could grow deeper and uglier. Protest has a role, but it is not a strategy and cannot stop Team Trump from riding high. To win in the time of Trump, activists need smart strategies.

I suggest three broad movements to outflank the climate deniers and carbon barons. Paradoxically, political Jujitsu could make Trump’s presidency a turning point towards a more sustainable, just world:

Donald Trump’s presidency feels like an avalanche threatening sustainable development and social justice. Suddenly fossil fuel kings like Exxon Mobil’s chief Rex Tillerson, Rick Perry, Myron Ebell, the Koch brothers and other climate change deniers, are at the summit of political power, capable of unleashing every restraint on carbon emissions.

Trump’s bullying and unpredictable behaviour makes political skill more important than ever. Misguided protest could trigger the avalanche and sweep aside decades of hard work. Trump’s election has galvanised resistance, but he is also mobilising an angry movement behind his rhetoric. Divisions within America, and with the world, could grow deeper and uglier. Protest has a role, but it is not a strategy and cannot stop Team Trump from riding high. To win in the time of Trump, activists need smart strategies.
I suggest three broad movements to outflank the climate deniers and carbon barons. Paradoxically, political Jujitsu could make Trump’s presidency a turning point towards a more sustainable, just world:
First, focus on opportunities: Trump’s appeal to many voters was job creation – $1tr on infrastructure, the end of free trade treaties like NAFTA and TTIP, protection against Chinese imports, and bringing factories back from Mexico. His policies could implode in the face of the political and economic realities, but conservation, renewable energy and urban regeneration offer the best opportunities for job creation anywhere. A “Green New Deal”, as proposed by the Green Party of the USA, a group in the UK and others, provide a menu of projects to meet people’s needs and create worthwhile jobs. Most Greens and liberals will baulk at doing anything other than resist Trump, but the Trump stimulus could create opportunities for many worthwhile projects across the country. As campaign strategist Chris Rose suggests, “create a success Trump can align with and he may try to claim it: success is catnip to Trump” (Campaigning with Trump in the Whitehouse).
Second, stop harm: Trump may be powerful, but he also has to choose his priorities and win political battles within his party, Congress, in the media, with business and internationally. Trump cannot afford to lose many battles or his support will crumble and Congress will turn against him in the run-up to midterm elections in November 2018. Power dynamics within team his team, Congress, the security services and American states are already pulling in different directions. This creates opportunities for skillful activists.

Stopping harm means monitoring every move by the Trump administration to spot danger and neutralise it through targeted protests, lobbying and the media. Trump is thin skinned and responds swiftly to criticism. He may mock opponents, but he won’t let them threaten voter-pleasing policies. As a property developer, he wants to boost about buildings, big infrastructure projects and jobs. He will try to close down trouble as fast as possible, as shown by his swift action on the Republican ethics plan or Trump University.

This means watching the Whitehouse and key departments through political intelligence services like Politicos, pressure groups, lobbyists and the press. No organisations can’t monitor everything, so you need a network of trusted sources to share intelligence, then decide when and how to create an issue to stop something in its tracks.

Hence my third strategy: building capacity for social justice and stainable development for the long term. Dangerous climate change, global inequality and conflict could be with us for centuries. We need to build resilient institutions and skills for the long term:
1.       Every education institution can develop practical political skills, together with sustainable development. Education should not take sides between parties, candidates or policies, but it has a responsibility to promote respect for evidence and critical thinking. Donald Trump uttered numerous lies during his campaign according to Factcheck.org and the  Toronto Star journalist Daniel Dale, who identified 560 falsehoods. Educators must have a responsibility to ensure that public debate is grounded in evidence and equip people with the political skills and knowledge to take part in the democratic process. My book Practical Politics: Lessons in Power and Democracy shows why and how political skills are essential for democratic societies – and the survival of humanity. Activist and campaigners may find the book useful for building partnerships with educational institutions.
2.       Create sustainable success: practical action on the ground, in towns, cities, states, farms, factories, firms and international agencies, is making a difference. Movements like Transition Towns, Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), Oslo Manifesto for architects, and thousands more are transforming the world from the bottom-up.
3.       Democratic reform: Trump did not win a majority of the popular vote, polling 2.8m fewer than Hilary Clinton.  Fair Vote’s campaign for a National Popular Vote compact is part of a wider movement for democratic renewal, including campaign finance reform and new forms of participatory politics, as documented by Participedia.

Seizing opportunities on the one hand and challenging or blocking specific measures on the other, can subtly turn the impact of Team Trump towards a more sustainable path while building resilience for the long term.

Our political systems have struggled to solve problems facing people and urgently need to become more effective, inclusive and responsive. The votes for Trump, and Brexit in the UK, mark an historic turning point, like 1979, 1945 and 1914. A century ago the first era of globalization unraveled over two decades, unleashing forces that created the Great Depression, dictatorship, two world wars and over 100 million dead. These were not forces of nature, but the result of decisions by intelligent, educated people. What happens now depends as much on how people respond to decisions by those in power as on the powerful themselves.

Today we have better mechanisms for global cooperation and conflict resolution, but the challenges are greater and the pace of change is faster. A bungled drone, misjudged military manoeuver or unwise tweet could trigger a dangerous chain reaction anywhere in the world. The break-up of Yugoslavia and invasion of Iraq show how fast the settled order can be wrecked. Even more perilous are the risks of run-away natural disasters, from the release of methane in the tundra to melting ice in the Artic.

Trump’s election dramatizes the need for political skill and effort to tackle dangerous climate change and other problems. Political ability could make the difference between chaos and a sustainable future. Humanity has the technical knowledge and resources to tackle most problems. What’s missing is the political ability and will to reconcile conflicting interests and create durable solutions. Politics is a state of mind and skillset which everyone can develop. Most politics takes place within the institutions –corporations, government departments and other agencies which run our lives - not through political parties. But parties and government ultimately decide the rules for society, so cannot be ignored.

Protecting the planet from Team Trump may depend on internal politics of the professions, international agencies, corporations and public authorities, more than on party politics. Above all, it depends on more citizens becoming better informed, politically skilled and more directly involved in practical politics. Building capacity for campaigning through education will strengthen resilience long after Trump Tower has been demolished.

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