Taking the Table
America First is a catchy slogan, one that can remedy the feeling of dispossession by offering the illusion of being the priority. But how this mantra plays out, who it benefits, and who it leaves behind, provides a cautionary tale that we seem hellbent on repeating. The question becomes obvious, should America stand alone? The answers is absolutely not. Any independent nation should have autonomy over developing and implementing its own domestic and international agendas. However, when we see that the US has emitted more CO2 into the atmosphere than any other nation since the industrial revolution we gotta ask ourselves if that progress came at the expense of another’s prosperity? Climate change blurs the line between independence and sovereignty, and America has assaulted countless other nations’ independence. There are sovereign nations, but it grows clearer, now more than ever, that the world is in this shit together—true independence is as illusory and divisive as Make America Great Again.
From the minerals in your phone, to the food you had for lunch, global trade enriches everyday life. While the taxes on these things may recognize borders, the consequences of their production do not. Dirt and Air don’t recognize borders and so the state of an interconnected world goes double for greenhouse gas emissions, regulations, and a climate that is changing. Despite having control over our own policy, if shifting temperate zones, rising seas, swollen hurricanes, and expanding deserts are the result of global emissions, where does our agency lie? We can mitigate against change, but a collaborative response is necessary to tackle a collective problem.
When Trump and the GOP speak about the forgotten “American Worker” they are romanticizing a white-male-American-worker. Minorities, particularly the African-American experience, has never had true access to the bountiful middle-class that we long for. The period of the idolized industrial working class was also a time when skin color determined your bathroom. We are a generation removed from the factories and mines, simply because it’s not an economy we’ve experienced. Last May, there were only 69,460 coal mining jobs reported, making up only 0.019% overall share of the American workforce.That generation of workers who bought houses on assembly work, payed for college with a part time job, or fed and clothed a family as coal miners and steelworkers is such an impossibly small prospect today that we hold no allegiance to the fantasy.
Back in June, Pruitt claimed that the administration had created over 50,000 coaling mining jobs. A lie, but if he is going to throw it out there anyway, we should ask what color and gender do you think his hypothetical coal miners are—his American worker? We now have a segment of our population that can empathize with a white coal miner down on hard times due to systemic forces, but simultaneously holds black service workers in contempt of laziness. In glorifying a distant economic past, they provoke this segment to lash out at the minorities and immigrants that are now at economic eye level, rather than analyze the swamp’s conscious decision to leave them in the ditch huffing coal dust.
Fifty years ago MLK confessed that he had, “been gravely disappointed with the white moderate,” for being, “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.” While millennials are equipped with the historical prowess and social integrity necessary to heed King’s dismay, there are plenty of Americans in the 21st century who view Kaepernick as a traitor, China as a threat, and inner cities as cancer on American morals. Our generation was taught to idolize the civil rights movement and as a result our standard is that the outright bigotry in our nation is shameful. Which is a whole lot more than we can say for many of those who precede us. And yet, facing bleak prospects, some still flirt with repeating the past in a hipster twist (think Richard, the Alt-Right, Spencer). The vast majority of our generation reject this outright, but it is important to note, if we don’t start this conversation now, who knows how far these new-branded worms might eat into our conscious, and stall our progress.
An America First agenda not only exports our brand of racism, sexism and classism, but it expands another battleground designed to divide us—generational warfare. We are at a place now where one generation with little stake in the future (hella old) are making a lot of the decisions regarding climate change and environmental degradation and we need to take that authority from them. It will be the youth in charge of clean up, so why not start now? The generation in power, much more susceptible to divisive rhetorical fantasies and skeptical of science, needs, no, must get out of the way. Hell, we need to be the ones deciding how much over the 2 degree celsius warning point we want to go. But hey, thanks for these pocket aces baby boomers.
The consequences of climate change will adversely affect those who are the least responsible for CO2 emissions. These communities are consequently those who are the most impoverished, and have the least political agency. The temptation to conceptualize the dynamics of global interrelationships in reductive terms like competition and survival of the fittest is an attempt to divorce ourselves from culpability in exacerbating poverty, inequality and injustice. Donald Trump, Scott Pruitt, and Rex Tillerson are not backing this position because they genuinely believe the alternative facts. They are pursuing this path because they believe their livelihoods will not be negatively affected. That is why the greatest winner of 2016 was the fossil fuel industry.
Indignation was conjured, heritage was perverted, consciousness was compartmentalized, and a referendum on who this country belonged to was delivered. We have since been living in the aftermath, where every item on the menu is meant to serve less opportunity, less prosperity, and less stability than the last. That is the deal that many Americans accepted when they went to the polls last November. Instead of fighting for an inclusive, accountable, and fair economy, they would instead position themselves first in line for table scraps.
The good news is, it’s not our vision of bygone economic stability so it’s easy enough for us to deny. The bad news is, it is our world they are condemning and it is us, in line, waiting for table scraps until we decide to take the table out of their hands.
(Published December 21, 2017 - View Full Newsletter Here)