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2017: America’s year of living dangerously
What is past is prologue, and with the lessons of 2016 behind us, it’s time to look at the pivotal year that 2017 will be for America.
Having bid farewell to a year in which The Economist magazine predicted Hillary Clinton would beat Ted Cruz, millions of Americans start 2017 feeling drained and dumbfounded. There are people in the world’s greatest democracy now living in real fear, not of a Muslim terrorist or Mexican rapist in their neighbourhood, but of a future president who confuses being unpredictable with being irresponsible and political messaging with knee-jerk ignorance. Many women are alarmed by the return to permissible bigotry in the workplace and a loss of their reproductive rights, minorities by the arrival of mass deportation schemes, and parents by changes to the educational curriculum that would have their children believe that women descend from a man’s rib.
If federal America fails to uphold the human values and principles that were secured in the last fifty years, it will be the job of its states, cities and citizens to intervene. In California, Governor Jerry Brown has already warned Trump that, if he follows through on his intention to withdraw funding for NASA’s scientific programmes that track the effects of global warming, “We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers, and we’re ready to fight … If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite.”
In America’s cities, evolving demographics are creating diverse and multi-ethnic societies that excel through their complex vibrancy. In the next five to ten years, many of the sons and daughters of left-behind rural America will migrate there too, particularly when Trump’s promises to create new jobs in their economies prove empty. Working with state legislatures, mayors are better-placed to foster innovation while opposing gender discrimination and federal efforts to roll back LGBT legislation.
Trump’s victory and the appeal of alt-Right populism serve as a reminder that what seemed to many to be their sacred rights are, in fact, the advances won recently by tireless mortals.
In the homes of those who never thought of themselves as oppressed, ordinary Americans will need to adopt what lawyer Bruce Ackerman calls, “heightened political awareness”; they will have to become Occupiers of their everyday lives, fighting for the environment and their fellow citizens, each one a “Pant Suit” National, sharing stories of love and resilience in the face of ethnic intolerance and misogyny.
Finding commonality with those who cheered at the Trump rhetoric is hard but some does exist. Obama was able to change attitudes to gay marriage because a critical mass, including conservatives and christians, understood that their own children, sisters, brothers, nephews and nieces deserved, like them, to be happy through the legitimacy of their personal relationships.
Today, most Americans, about 70% according to a recent Monmouth poll, believe that the climate is changing. Most business leaders also understand this reality. In the same way that state laws imposed civil rights against ingrained racism in southern American states in the mid 20th century, US states in 2017 could deny federal demands on the lifting of regulations on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, on controlling air and water pollution, and on dispensing with renewable energy tax credits. Congress may object, but some states have already begun the process of encouraging cleaner energy by taxing carbon emissions.
Finding commonality with those who cheered at the Trump rhetoric is hard but some does exist.
Trump’s victory and the appeal of alt-Right populism serve as a reminder that what seemed to many to be their sacred rights are, in fact, the advances won recently by tireless mortals. Extra awareness and vigilance must, therefore, penetrate the fog of confusion that comes from Trump’s policy pronouncements via Twitter. And he must be challenged when he indulges in cyber-bullying, as was the case with Chuck Jones, the union leader who disputed Trump’s exaggerations over the amount of jobs saved from going to Mexico at Indiana’s air-conditioning plant, Carrier Corporation. Trump’s tweet in reply, blaming Jones for losing jobs overseas and doing “a terrible job representing workers”, generated threats to shoot him and burn his house down.
For a President-elect to stir up threats against an individual citizen in a country obsessed with gun ownership is unbelievable, let alone unacceptable. The fight to retain the integrity of the first amendment will involve courage as well as determination. Jeff Mullin, editor of a newspaper with a readership of 10,000 in a small town in the predominantly red state of Oklahoma, endorsed Hillary Clinton on the basis that the election was about “principles” and “standards”. He received death threats and was ostracised from his community.
Donald Trump has been rewarded with the highest office in the land by jamming his foot into the White House door, with a Blackshirt’s boot that kicked over his adversaries with vile language and sick sentiments, disseminated from the heights of a national podium that sanctioned slander and hatred.
Yet, Trump’s inauguration may be a wake-up call for America’s states, cities and citizens to take more responsibility for running the programmes and policies that benefit their needs. During the Trump administration, it will be up to them to help uphold their constitutional rights, not just as they once were, but as they have become under America’s liberal democracy.