I could scarcely get myself out of bed this morning. Illich kissed me goodbye, but came back in the bedroom to comfort me when he heard me weeping. Outside my window, the sky is grey, and the streets of Brooklyn are eerily quiet. Does this sound dramatic? I am not a dramatic person. I do not cry often. But the election of Trump has instilled in me so much disappointment, sadness, anxiety, and fear.
If you think we can just wait these next four years out, you’re wrong. It’s much more serious than that. We are on the edge of an environmental precipice.
If we left the environment out of the picture, I could sigh and move through the next four years wrapped in my white privilege. I would experience sadness for my friends of color, be shocked at the treatment of black men at the hands of police and their unjust incarceration, cry out against racism, be disappointed that the U.S. won’t let refugees settle here, but essentially be secure in my personhood.
Perhaps I will experience more overt sexism and find myself the victim of groping and assault, since half the country went to the polls and said that sexual assault is OK, especially when it’s by old white men. But I will survive. Perhaps I will lose my insurance since it is through the New York Health Exchange, but I will figure out a way to stay covered, even if it means paying higher premiums. Perhaps I will see more guns being openly carried by untrained vigilantes, but perhaps not, since I live in New York State. Perhaps inflation will gut my savings; that is a scarier prospect. Maybe my reproductive rights will be curtailed, but I already have an IUD in, and as a white lady with a savings account, I will probably always be able to find a way to get what I need for family planning. My fiancé might experience more racism, as a person with brown skin (he’s Venezuelan, but is often mistaken for an Indian or Middle Easterner before he starts talking) but he is a naturalized citizen with a passport. He will stay by my side.
And if things get really bad? We can move. To Canada, to Norway, to Sweden or Switzerland, to New Zealand… as educated professionals, we have options.
The point is, most of the things that Trump will do in his first term I can handle or work around. I have that privilege. I have the privilege and duty to stand up for minorities and the rights of other women in the coming four years, and I will do so.
But there are two things that terrify me about his presidency, that we cannot flee. One is climate change denial, and the other is nuclear armament.
Climate Change Is Coming
If you haven’t yet watched Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood, I urge you to do so now. (It was free to watch up until November 7th, but it’s available on other paid platforms now.) In an hour and a half, DiCaprio travels around the world looking at the effects of climate change that are happening now: melting glaciers, failed crops, drought, and natural disasters. And he also visits experts and looks into all the solutions to climate change: carbon tax, eating less meat, switching to clean energy, etc.
Public lands will be sold for resource extraction. The Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, and Clean Water Act will all be torn up.
One of the biggest lessons to come out of that movie is that the United States needs to be a leader on combating and mitigating climate change, or else the entire planet is fucked. In India and China, the growing middle class wants to have the life Americans have – air conditioning, steak dinners – and they’ll get it by burning their reserves of coal. The prevailing opinion is this: If America can burn so many fossil fuels, so can we! We’re not switching to clean energy until the Americans do it.
Now that we’ve elected Trump, any hope of staying below 2 degrees celsius in warming has gone out the window. The Paris agreement has been thrown into uncertainty. Trump, Congress, and the Supreme Court will gleefully gut the EPA and Obama’s Clean Power Plan. A carbon tax, remote before, is now completely off the table. The way for coal mining and mountaintop mining will be cleared. Federal Federal support for clean energy will be shifted to coal, gas, and oil. Regulations will be actively hostile to solar and wind power. There will be no more tax credits for retrofitting your home to be more sustainable, or buying an electric vehicle. Public lands will be sold for resource extraction. The Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, and Clean Water Act will all be torn up.
This has serious implications for all of us, not just low-lying Bangladesh and island nations. Our food supply will be threatened as climate change impacts California and then the midwest. Coastal cities – economic powerhouses of the U.S. – will be flooded. Natural disasters like hurricanes will happen more frequently and be more damaging. We can no longer live under the illusion that our water is and air is protected. Political turmoil and violence around the world will only increase as people and governments fight for scarce resources, and we won’t be able to hide from that violence, no matter how many walls we put up.
And that brings me to my next point…
If Nuclear Warfare Doesn’t Get Us First
The campaign cycle has largely focused on Trump’s sexism, for good reason. But the truly terrifying thing is his cavalier attitude toward nuclear arms.
He wants to scuttle the nuclear deal with Iran, which lifted some sanctions against the rogue country in exchange for them ceasing their nuclear program. So Iran, an unstable country that supports terrorism, could start buying and manufacturing nuclear arms. He’s also said he thinks more countries should have nuclear weapons, though he later backtracked on that.
Of course, what gives me the most anxiety is Trump’s access to nuclear codes. The point of our overdeveloped nuclear arsenal is deterrence. It is a chess game that requires a calm, considered player. If North Korea, Iran, China, Pakistan, or Russia were to threaten us, it would be like a hostage situation involving millions of lives. And the last thing we need trying to defuse the situation is a man who stays up until 3 in the morning to release a barrage of tweets at the people who have mildly insulted him. Trump will have the ultimate power to release a holocaust onto the world, and he is deeply untrustworthy.
Against this threat, all the environmental threats we have been working against – air quality, water quality, plastic in the ocean – seem quite small.
What Meaning Does My Work Have?
It makes me feel so tiny, to consider my actions against these two global threats. What does it matter if I bring reusable bags to the grocery store if everything could be vaporized in a moment? Why worry about living wages for garment workers when civil war sweeps across water-insecure states and suicide bombers do their dirty work? Why choose an organic apple when the very air we breathe and water we drink is polluted with impunity? My tiny actions seem so silly now. They seem both worthless, and elitist. Good for me, with my organic food and non-toxic beauty, and organic cotton blouses. Congratulations to me and my clean, pretty life, while millions of people are suffering and fear for their future.
I am in a crisis of identity and purpose. Who am I? What does my work mean anymore?
I engaged in these tiny battles every day because I had hope for our future. I used my dropper to move water from the ocean, because I thought that the tide was moving our way. I wanted to be on that boat as it was lifted out of the muck. But now a tsunami of resentment, hatred, sexism, racism, fueled by conspiracy theories and misinformation, has swept away the coastline, and left behind a mangled wreckage of cynicism and despair.
I am in deep mourning for our country and for our world. I am tempted to hide away, because to talk about fashion and cocktails at this moment seems wrong.
And yet, I have to keep going. I cannot let my despair win the day. I cannot let this election force me into complacency and cynicism. Because we have an enemy in the White House, the Senate, the House, and soon the Supreme Court, we need to engage in tiny acts of insurrection wherever we can. I will gather my emotional strength and power from living within my values in every decision I make. I will rebel whenever I make a purchase, when I choose my method of transportation, when I sort my recycling, when I cook my food, when I decide where to travel, when I hike in a national forest, when I hug my friends of different nationalities and colors. Every decision will be my whisper: “Fuck you, Trump. Fuck you, oil. Fuck you, racism. Fuck you sexism and rape culture. Fuck you, fear.”
Don’t give up. Our work is just beginning.