A Grand Unifying Theory?
Rather than a transformative systemic response into a new adaptive 'phase-shift', we see a powerful cross-sector political economic faction with vested interests in the current structure of the global system engaged in efforts at systemic consolidation. -- Nafeez Ahmed
As we have witnessed this past year the triumph of the radical right over our sweetheart progressive movement, it's become obvious that they have what we lack: a clear, consistent agenda.
And there's a good reason for that. We have eschewed dogma and embraced ambiguity, knowing that the world is not black and white. We disdain ideologies, having learned enough history to be convinced that they ultimately reveal their limitations. Our principles of cooperation and collaboration are high-minded and valid, but they represent a new paradigm, a sharp turn from competitive, individualistic patriarchy, and we have somehow failed to articulate that paradigm or the need for it in terms that the public can understand. Even Bernie, whose speeches are peppered with promises that his administration would assuage all needs, has not presented a truly comprehensive vision for this new age.
The Republicans have moved so far to the extreme right that they seem to be shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly, and we'd like to think that they will eventually -- sooner rather than later -- implode from within and then, lacking sufficient public support, collapse from the sheer weight of their own idiocy. But thus far, that is not what's happening. Their backers have tons of money, and unless the financial system itself collapses, they aren't likely to run out of resources anytime soon. Meanwhile, they relentlessly advance their agenda, disregarding all established government protocol to get what they want. Just last month, to name one example, Trump threatened not to sign any proposed legislation to protect immigrant youth protected under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) unless the Democrats would fund his pet project, the wall along the Mexican border. That kind of manipulation is just plain sinister. The same week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions came out in favor of debtor's prisons for poor people who can't afford to pay fines or court fees for small infractions! https://www.aclu.org/blog/racial-justice/race-and-criminal-justice/jeff-sessions-takes-stand-debtors-prisons/ And it was also revealed last week by journalist Allen Nair on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now that Homeland Security is doing surveillance all over the world, and further, in another report, that airports will soon be taking face shots of Americans at check-in. Does this all sound like the democratic society you grew up in? Doesn't it rather seem to be the march of totalitarian control over our very lives?
In a recent column https://www.truthdig.com/articles/resisting-trumpism-requires-grand-unifying-theory/ the ever-adventurous Sonali Kolhatkar (host of "Rising Up With Sonali" on Pacifica Radio) defines "A Grand Unifying Theory" of the Republicans: "The Grand Unified Theory of politics is that there is a small group of wealthy corporate elites who have taken political power by means of the wealth they have amassed, and their goal is to amass even more wealth." She goes on to say that we, the resistance, need a Grand Theory of our own: "If we are to effectively take on Trumpism and the Republican Party agenda, we need to adopt a universal approach, or a Grand Unified Theory of political resistance and organizing. Indeed, the right has done precisely that!"
Yes, and it's about time we, the opposition, the great majority, woke up and began to tackle this problem. But is the right interested only in money? And is it a theory of resistance that we need or something more broad, something compelling, an inspired vision of how we propose to address the critical problems we face in this country and in the world? Both are more complex than what Sonali suggests in this writing.
The people behind Trump hardly need more money. Men like Robert Mercer and the Koch brothers don't need to stick their necks out to buttress their incomes. Their world view goes deeper than that, and what they really want is power, the power to do what they feel is right for their America at this time. Because the reality is that these men, like the working-class men in America who supported Trump, feel threatened. They realize that the rule of white men may be over. As Naomi Klein wrote in 2011, reporting on a conference held by the Heartland Institute, these men see that acknowledging and addressing climate change would mean the end of the system that has allowed them to flourish. To men like the president of the Heartland Institute Joseph Bast, the liberal solution to addressing climate change "looks like the end of the world. It's not, of course. But it is, for all intents and purposes, the end of his world." And "it's always easier to deny reality than to watch your worldview get shattered." The fact that "a robust international regulatory architecture," such as that which began to take shape at the Paris climate talks, will be required, "is what Heartlanders mean when they warn that climate change will usher in a sinister 'world government.'" Trump's announcement that the US would withdraw from the Paris Agreement is perfectly aligned with the deepest fears of his major funders.
The Republicans on the right--which at the moment seems to be virtually all of them, especially the evangelicals--fear that their America is endangered by the prevailing liberal agenda, its permissiveness a threat to what they consider their Christian values: heterosexuality, marriage, male dominance, white superiority, and wealth the just reward for hard work. Most threatening of all, is the rise of women demanding choice.
The Repubs and their evangelical and disenfranchised working-class white base embrace a worldview based on their perceptions of the decline of our civilization. Immigrants are taking jobs, China is taking over the global economy, and transgendered people are evidence of the triumph of Satan (as Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore declared in his speech challenging the validity of his defeat at the polls). For him and his supporters, all we need is that old-time religion and people with the money to fund political campaigns to elect candidates who will bring back the old white America, that never really existed except maybe in the pre-civil war South.
Certainly we must agree with Kolhatkar that an accurate analysis of the prevailing tyranny is necessary. Even more crucial is a platform that supports our diverse critiques and articulates a viable alternative.
We do have an agenda, one based on ecology, wholeness, and sharing, but thus far it has been too soft to compete with the dominant masculine, ego-driven agenda. We need a clearer, firmer, more practical agenda to address the urgent dangers posed by climate change and nuclear war, one based on goals that the majority of Americas share. We have been developing this paradigm since we realized as youth in the 1960s that the future itself was endangered by a profit-driven, competitive, inhumane system that kept on fabricating reasons to conduct imperialist wars. But articulating that radical new paradigm has been difficult, particularly since we began identifying with groups that represent the interests of minorities whose values threaten or defy mainstream values. We are not communists, and even more gentle forms of socialism do not include the shift in consciousness that is the prerequisite for a holistic, global approach to social transformation.
We have chosen to work on the ground, in the local arena, developing organic food systems and other forms of land management that do not rely on private ownership. How do we translate that experience into a compelling mass movement? Demanding that housing, healthcare and food are human rights is not sufficient. We need to be able to explain how those needs will be met. What are the mechanisms that will provide them? We must show that regenerative agriculture can provide the means, that cooperative ownership of businesses can provide jobs, that new institutions such as community land trusts are an effective way of holding land that keeps it affordable. We have called for local economies with public banks and simpler lifestyles that don't produce so much unnecessary garbage. These efforts may look small in comparison with the mainstream operating system but they are fundamental to changing our way of life in conformity with the reality of our age: climate change combined with shrinking resources, particularly water and available land; large populations; widespread contamination of land and essential resources; corporatization of farming with its petroleum-based pesticides; and the looming possibility that our completely unbalanced economy riddled with debts both public and private may once again fail.
Trump and his legions are moving as fast as they can to adopt selfish, competitive, and patriarchal controls based on utterly retrograde concepts to shore up their fragile, unsustainable lifestyles, claiming that inflated military spending, mean-spirited immigration policies, indecent tax bills, and foreign-policy blunders alienating this country from the rest of the world are all steps to a more secure America. They are wrong, but they are still mercilessly advancing their agendas to a population growing increasingly resentful and restless. But despite growing resistance, the majority feels paralyzed. The situation our so-called leaders are creating, stripping government of its necessary regulatory functions while failing to confront the most frightening global dangers the world has ever known, seems to be outside our control. We have enough to do just managing our private lives in such a hostile environment and we retreat whenever possible, once the kids are in bed, to stupefying distractions; our lack of response is a recipe for a complete totalitarian takeover.
We need to conjure an uplifting, inspiring vision of the world we want to see emerging on the other side of this lunatic crisis. We have the components. We want an America of equality, economic and racial justice, free public education and top-notch national healthcare. We want prosperity, and the way of life we used to have, with quite a lot of dispensable income to buy all the goodies our high-tech system can create. But we are beginning to see that that is not the way it's going. We are moving into -- we are already experiencing -- austerity, scarcity, mounting debt, rising homelessness, to say nothing of hugely expensive national disasters that utterly disrupt our every-day lives.