My last long CounterPunch essay, titled “Unspeakable,” needs a short and on-point follow-up. Written in relation to Donald Trump’s ill-fated on ban travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations, it reflected on three related taboo topics in United States’ corporate media news and commentary: (i) capitalism’s reliance on a “reserve army” of unemployed workers; (ii) the role of America’s massive military budget in hollowing out American society; (iii) America’s epic imperial war crimes against humanity in the Muslim world and across the planet.
It was a decent essay but it was of course incomplete. It left out numerous other and related topics that have been designated as taboo in the reigning commercial U.S. news media. And here I want to mention the most unspeakable topic of all in that media: the rising specter of ecosystem collapse driven above all by anthropogenic (really capitalogenic) climate change. It’s no small matter. Global warming, the left philosopher John Sanbonmatsu once told me, is “the biggest issue of our or any time.” As our leading left intellectual Noam Chomsky argued nearly five years ago, if environmental catastrophe “isn’t going to be averted” then “in a generation or two, everything else we’re talking about won’t matter.”
Chomsky was writing for leftists and progressives, a group for whom “everything else” includes standard left targets like poverty, imperialism, racism, inequality, plutocracy, sexism, police-statism, nationalism, mass incarceration, thought control, militarism, and, well, capitalism.
He had a point. All bets are off on prospects for a decent future unless homo sapiens wakes up quickly and acts quickly to move off fossil fuels and on to renewable energy – a technically viable project. Struggles over how the pie is distributed, managed, and controlled and for whom lose their luster when the pie is poisoned. Who wants to turn the world upside down only to find it riddled with disease and decay? Who hopes to inherit a dying Earth from the wealthy Few?
Which brings us back to Trump. The United States’ reigning media and politics culture is full of horror and disgust at multiple offenses committed by the new White House. The list of maddening Trump transgressions that you can learn about in great detail in the dominant media is already impressive. There’s the foolish provocations of Mexico (Trump acting on the promise to “build a wall and make Mexico pay for it”) and the Muslim world (the clumsy seven-nation travel ban order); the Nixonian firing of an acting Attorney General who refused to implement Trump’s unconstitutional travel order; the president’s insipid reference to a federal magistrate who blocked that order as a “so-called judge;” the openly preposterous and repeated (straight out of Goebbels) claim that he won the popular vote (by 3 to 5 million votes!) last November; the chilling elevation of Trump’s crypto-fascist top political adviser Steve Bannon to a top position on the National Security Council; Trump’s childish public statement about his “terrible” phone call with the Prime Minister of Australia; the farcical threat to send U.S. troops to deal with “bad hombres” in Mexico; his opening day trip to the CIA’s headquarters, where Trump complained about the media’s supposed under-estimation of the size of the crowd at his Inauguration and said that the U.S. might get “another chance” to go take Iraq’s oil.
Notice, however, what has escaped serious attention. The threat Trump poses to livable ecology is a non-topic. It barely registers on the media radar screen.
Don’t get me wrong. The environmental crisis is nothing new. Earth scientists have been warning us for many years about the ever more imminent risk ecosystem collapse, identifying the excessive extraction and burning of fossil fuels and the climate change that results from burning carbon-based fuels as the leading driver behind the approaching calamity.
The beast with orange hair hardly invented our ominous “ecological rift,” which is rooted, in the words of John Bellamy Foster, “capitalism’s [longstanding] war on earth.” With the U.S. in the planet-cooking, oil- and gas-addicted lead, humanity has been slouching to self-exterminating ecocide for decades.
But with his determination to “deregulate energy” – to go full bore with the Greenhouse Gassing to Death of Life on Earth (a crime destined to the make the Nazis look like smalltime criminals) – Trump represents what Chomsky has rightly called “almost a death knell for the species.” In a time when increasingly desperate Earth Science warnings point unambiguously to the existential necessity of a rapid planetary conversion to renewable energy, Trump is committed to ramping up the extraction and burning of the very fossil fuels that are driving homo sapiens and other living things off the cliff. And that’s no small part of why scientists have now moved the infamous Doomsday Clock ahead by 30 seconds closer to midnight.
The topic is shockingly absent from “mainstream” (corporate) media coverage and commentary in the dawning Age of Trump. One pertinent example: media and Democratic criticism of Trump’s appointment of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State has focused almost exclusively on Tillerson’s perceived excessive closeness to Russia and Vladimir Putin. Almost completely ignored is Tillerson’s longstanding status as a high priest of climate change denial as CEO of the world’s leading corporate climate criminal, Exxon-Mobil. That is insane.
Yes, you can read on the front page of last Sunday’s New York Times about how Trump’s “surprise” election has been a Koch Brothers dream come true, leading to the epic high-speed slashing of federal rules and regulations restricting the behavior of the oil, gas, and coal industries. The Times’ chilling report on that reflects first-class reporting (see Eric Lipton, “G.O.P. and Trump Hurry to Slash Oil and Gas Rules,” NYT, February 3, 2017). It is chock full of important information. But is unthinkable that responsible journalists would tell the full story – that Trump’s energy policies will push life on Earth past irretrievable tipping points, forcing an advance final commons-ruining enclosure on a desirable future. That’s just too much to report. It’s the same across the corporate media board. The complete story on the existential peril is unspeakable.
Once again, it’s nothing new. Media climate failure is a big part of why global warming consistently ranks below other concerns – “the economy,” “terrorism,” “education,” “jobs,” and “crime” to name a top handful – in public opinion surveys on U.S. citizens’ leading policy priorities.
Historians will look back on it all in dumb amazement – if history survives contemporary carbon-addicted capitalism and the Trump administration.
Survival requires rapid revolutionary organization, planning, and action. As Chris Hedges recently wrote, this nation must become “ungovernable” as soon as possible. “Now is the time not to cooperate. Now is the time to shut down the systems of power. Now is the time to resist. It is our last chance. The [right wing] fanatics [in the Trump White House] are moving with lightning speed. So should we.” Basic Earth science suggests that Hedges is right on here, environmentally speaking (he’s right in other ways as well). Bringing down Herr Trumpenstein’s eco-fascist administration is only the beginning.