Trump’s Beautiful Wall
Donald Trump calls our Climate problem “a hoax”, “a con job”, and says that “scientists are stuck in the ice” (whatever that means?). His “energy policies” (whatever that means?) support unfettered drilling and extraction, a doubling down on fossil fuels.
But behind the bombast, my suspicion is that Trump fully grasps where Climate Change will take us. I see this comprehension in his concept of a “beautiful wall” between us and Mexico.
Climate Change, left unchecked, will create “more death and displacement than all the wars in human history combined.”* That’s staggering considering historians estimate 200 million people were killed in conflicts in just the 20th century. The refugee crisis in Europe is merely the tip of this warming iceberg. In a less habitable world, as resources shrink and extreme weather increases, the tax on civilization will drive more of the population toward what they view as havens.
Global population and civilization will both shrink. But civilization will shrink faster; much faster, I suspect. That will lead to a lot of oppression.
Naomi Klein puts it well, “Climate Change isn’t just about things getting warmer and wetter… It’s about things getting meaner and uglier.”
There are two responses to this ramping oppression: solving it or siloing it. Unfortunately, these options are incorrectly couched as sympathy or practicality.
Trump advocates a hard right toward oppression, and this really isn’t practical.
A wall between us and Latin America will work for a while, until civilization significantly contracts within our borders. Then we’ll need big beautiful walls around neighborhoods, around cities, counties and states. There are Think-Tanks already floating out the idea of “climate refuge cities”, areas where the wealthy congregate and cordon themselves off from the rising disintegration. Minneapolis has been proposed as a good location, since we’re inland plus north enough to ward off the brutal heat longer, and we have water here.
The end game of this thinking, though, is absurd. The wealthy have their resources because of their ability to use the system, but what happens when that system shrinks then disappears? First we silo off the developing world, then we silo off the low-income communities within our borders. Then the middle-class. Eventually even the upper-middle-class will find themselves on the outside looking in.
The end game is that the 1% get in a rocket ship and leave. Except, go where?
And do they want the grimness of choosing who among their family and friends gets to be inside? My opinion is that the 1% have not fully thought this through.
I’d argue this is already happening, that all these silos are being built up simultaneously.
Now that I work in North Minneapolis, I see many of the walls between it and the rest of the city. Downtown creates a geographic separation, as does I-94 and I-394. The industrial corridor north of downtown creates a misery to living near it. The 55411 zip code (where the Carbon Zero project is located) has the highest air-borne lead levels in the city, and the highest rate of asthma hospitalizations in the state. It ain’t subtle. The smell is unavoidable.
But the biggest wall around North Minneapolis is the Blue Wall. This one is subtle, yet it’s vast, historic, and also the most formidable.
MPD union chief Bob Kroll recently called Black Lives Matter “a terrorist organization.” A couple of days later, an op-ed letter in the Star-Tribune by State-Rep Tony Cornish (a former deputy sheriff) laid out how to stay alive if you’re black. Included in his list was “Don’t be a thug”, “Don’t flap your jaws”, “Don’t use lack of a job as an excuse”. Both men are feeding an Us-Them narrative that puts law abiders on one side of town, unemployed “thugs” on the other, with the police force graciously providing separation.
Part of Kroll’s explanation for his label was a shooting during the 4th Precinct protest. The shots, however, were fired by self-stated white supremacists, who videoed themselves en route, and who the police later arrested after one confessed. These facts complicate Kroll’s narrative, so they are left out.
Cornish’s title was, “Really, this isn’t so complicated.” Except despite his “plain-speaking”, he plainly left out the central “Don’t”: Don’t make a mistake. If you are a Them. If you are an Us, there are no mistakes. That generates a painfully complicated dynamic.
The simplification of the Jamar Clark case has walked this out. Mike Freeman said that if Clark had taken his hands out of his pockets, he’d be alive today. Joe Soucheray repeated this idea in the Pioneer-Press.
This story reduction– this simplification– is mostly invisible to people who are mildly engaged, who feel the police make them safer.
Of course we’d take our hands out of our pockets if the police told us to, we think.
But what if you froze when a police officer approached you with a gun in his hand? What if you panicked and flapped your jaw?
They’d give us a moment to comply; we’re not enemies, we think.
Jamar Clark was taken to ground for not complying 20 seconds after the officers approached. Sandra Bland went from failing to signal a lane change, to failing to extinguish her cigarette, to having an officer put a taser in her face and say: I will light you up.” The escalation of these confrontations was profoundly rapid.
Of course, I wish Clark had handled himself differently. I also wish Riggenberg and Schwarze had made other choices. I also wish the system allowed for mistakes, and for some humanity. When Clark asked “What’s the pistol for?”, why not be human and answer? If Clark thought he was helping his friend in the ambulance, maybe he honestly didn’t grasp that the police showed up to deal with him? Why did Riggenberg then holster his weapon but not secure it? If Riggenberg hadn’t tackled Clark with his weapon unsecured, would Clark still be alive? Truly, there are a massive number of “Ifs” swirling through the events of that evening. Whittling the narrative down to just one “if”– so all the accountability rests on Clark– may be legal, but it’s bitterly inhumane. It builds a wall.
Four days ago, Mitt Romney said that Trump’s election could create “trickle-down racism”, along with “trickle-down misogyny and bigotry”. Two days later, 50 people were shot dead in the Pulse nightclub. I’d say we already have a torrent.
Trump demonstrates true skill at propelling the Us-Them narrative, at the “othering” of groups that do not provide simple comfort to his supporters’ mindset.
What might be most frightening, though, is how the othered groups sometimes start building the same narrative from their side–hating the hate, becoming violent in protest, attacking his supporters. Some Bernie Sanders supporters are refusing to align with Clinton, despite the risks. Susan Sarandon publicly suggested a Trump presidency could be a good thing, could speed the revolution. I don’t think she grasps how she contributes to the siloing. Her revolution is simply another wall. But it appeals to her because she and her people will be on the good side.
There is no good side to a wall. The climate crisis is revealing that the Earth is one big silo, and either we figure out how to make our silo work, or we all suffer.
I can honestly say I find hope in this dynamic. Our energy system is humanity’s most fundamental system. That changes, and so many other things will follow.
I honestly believe that Donald Trump denies Climate Change because dealing with it would create a world where his approach doesn’t fit.
In eulogizing Muhammad Ali, Billy Crystal said, “Muhammad believed life is best when you build bridges, not walls.” Ali’s personality and his life were large and complex, heroic and messy. His funeral (which he designed himself) was evidence of the great bridges he built, but he suffered to get them in place. In 1967 (if the term had been common back then), many might have billed him a terrorist.
Bridges are complex. Walls are simple. Revolution is simple. Transition is complex. If we change our energy sources, a lot of other things will “trickle-down”, maybe even a bridge or two. And a lot of walls might wash away.
* Quote from Elon Musk