A Plea For Optimism In The Trump Era

by Raywat Deonandan

This article was first published in The Huffington Post Canada on Nov 11, 2016.

The Trumpocalypse is upon us. If you are among the Orange One’s supporters, congratulations; your guy won. In the words of a Facebook friend, I hope he’s as great as you think he is. For the sake of civility, I will assume that you had rational reasons for selecting him, and were not driven by hatred of women, non-Whites, or foreigners.

If you are, like me, horrified by the proposition of four years of Trump-style Republican rule of the White House, Senate and House of Representatives, these are dark days. My social media feed is alive with expressions of doom and Apocalyptic despair, as protests abound and professional friends in the U.S. are unironically looking for opportunities in supposedly more progressive countries.

I get it. There’s a sense that president-elect Trump will roll back all of the progressive initiatives that President Obama worked so hard to bring to Americans. There will likely be fast action to repeal Obamacare, to de-fund agencies offering reproductive services to women, to further drain the treasury by implementing deep tax cuts, and some vicious efforts to hunt down undocumented immigrants and, frankly, to terrorize non-White newcomers.

Longer term, Trump and Pence are in a position to appoint several new Supreme Court members, essentially giving U.S. government and society a right-leaning bias for the next generation. What this means for landmark decisions, like Roe vs. Wade, is uncertain. But fear and trepidation are understandable feelings for many Americans today (the majority, based upon the popular vote).

I am a foreigner, a Canadian. So the domestic policies of a U.S. President do not directly affect me. It is, however, worth pointing out that ultra-Right actors here in Canada were quick to celebrate the Trump victory, former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Conservative leader wannabe Kelley Leitch prime among them.

While the U.S. president’s domestic policies might not affect us Canadians directly, his or her foreign policies have profound effects on our lives, hence we can feel justified in having an opinion on who occupies the White House.

To go by the man’s actual statements, a Trump presidency might result in wanton nuking of random targets. Or a partnership with Russia against the wrong side in Syria. Or maybe nothing at all. No one knows. A Trump presidency fills many with dread, largely because of the competing forces of his egregious claims and his status as a complete unknown with no policy track record.

But in the interests of our mental health, I would like to put forward a brief argument for hesitating optimism. The Trump presidency is going to be a reality. We who opposed him need to accept it. Here’s how I’m getting through it.

1. Science policy

Yes, I’m about to cling to the barest of silver linings. As with almost all of his platform, Trump’s position on science is vague. And certainly it stands to reason that he is likely to gut environmental programs and earth sciences surveillance programs.

But taking space policy as a case example, the Trump verbiage aligns somewhat well with the ethics of pure scientists. While Clinton would have mirrored Obama’s position of requiring all funded programs to be mapped onto social priorities, Trump’s position seems to be to allow space scientists to dictate the scope of their investigation, regardless of whether the outcomes and outputs of that investigation are immediately applicable to American life.

This might mean an increased focus on deep space exploration, where unfettered discovery is to be encouraged, and a decreased focus on low Earth orbit, where observations of Earth and climate changes are prioritized.

In fact, historically, Republican presidencies are more closely correlated with increased research and development funding, across many scientific domains, than are Democratic presidencies. The problem, of course, is that each party de-emphasizes fields that do not correspond with their political agendas. In the case of Republicans, this means a decrease of focus on environmental sciences.

2. Congressional reform

Amazingly, Trump intends on introducing term limits to elected representatives in the House. I’m not sure what this would look like, but on its face this strikes me as a positive move toward more honest, responsive and representative government. Of course, there’s already a push-back, as Mitch McConnell has already declared that such reform “will not be on the agenda in the Senate.” But we will see.

3. He’s a complete unknown

Bear with me now. This argument is a bit of a stretch, but I’m doing my best. With Hillary Clinton, given her long life in public service in the public eye, there would be no surprises regarding her intents, and tactics. She was a known quantity. For better or worse, we were pretty darn sure which of her claims would bear fruit, and which she had no intention or possibility of acting upon.

With Trump, all we have are his vague proclamations and the composition of his team. Now, to be as honest and forgiving as possible, his proclamations are not altogether worrying. He will replace Obamacare with “something terrific”, for example. If he’s not full of sh*t, then…. cool.

On the other hand, his advisors are, almost to a person, monstrous. The records, actions, opinions and intellectual qualities of Mike Pence, Ann Coulter, Omarosa, Katrina Pierson, and Newt Gingrich are known quantities. This fact inspires neither joy nor confidence.

However, if you’re able to put aside the limitations of his rogue’s gallery, then the Trump presidency is a blank slate. Trump himself has a public history of liberal behaviour. He’s not particularly religious, and clearly not a cultural conservative, despite his recent campaign-trail stance. So maybe… just maybe… his actual actions will reflect more his inclusive Manhattan lifestyle and not his backwater election pandering.

4. Some historical perspective

I’m an old man now. I’ve heard this end-of-the-world talk before. Maybe it’s different this time. Bill Maher and Seth MacFarlane think so, with the latter tweeting, “We got through Bush. You got through Obama. But this is different. Half of your fellow countrymen and women now feel as if they are in a strange land that is no longer their home. That should give some of you pause. We now need proof that he is who you say he is, and not who he appears to be.”

I certainly see the temptation to perceive the rise of Trump, especially in the wake of his unprecedented divisive election tactics, as the anointing of a true tyrant, a leader with dictatorial ambitions, who has not hidden his open disdain for a large segment of the population he purports to lead.

However, this is a plea for optimism. So let me say that I was a very young man of 13 when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. But I was politically aware enough to understand the ramifications of Reagan’s conservative, hawkish policies. We had just had four years of Carter progressivism, and I had just met the first Prime Minister Trudeau; I could tell that Reagan was a different animal.

When Reagan was elected, deep in the latter days of the Cold War, I was utterly convinced that World War III would start before his term was over in 1984. I was sure a post-nuclear apocalypse would befall us well before my 20th birthday.

I was wrong.

When Bush Jr. was “elected” the first time in 2000, I thought it would be business as usual, my political cynicism was so well entrenched. Bill Clinton, after all, was, to my mind, a right-leaning Democrat or a left-leaning Republican; I couldn’t see much difference. Why would Bush be any different?

I was wrong. He was a nightmare.

When Bush Jr. was re-elected in 2004, I was sure the world had gone mad. How could the American electorate reward an anti-civil liberty stance, scaremongering, torture, and blatant abuses of the vaunted constitution? Surely, the path to fascism had been joined.

I was wrong. Bush’s second term was horrible. But it wasn’t the end of the world.

Well, Trump probably won’t be the end of the world, either.

I hope.