The Emerging Watershed

(I first wrote this piece in January of 2018. What follows is the original, as I wrote it then.)

Hypotheses are literally (from the Greek) “proposed for belief.” Absurdities are impossible to believe, falsehoods are not to be believed, speculations are hard to believe, and conjectures are barely believable. But hypotheses are well worth serious consideration for belief, for they are logically possible, eminently plausible and (until further notice) probable enough to warrant some benefit of doubt. We can see that they might be true, we can see how they might be true, and we are given a reasonably good chance of getting decisive evidence on the matter. We can predict, with a fair amount of certainty, what will happen in experimental settings if a hypothesis is true.

Loyal Rue, Nature Is Enough, page 104

The following remarks are not intended to be predictive or “prophetic.” Yet they have (with considerable allowance for deviation) a certain domino logic. They fall, in some sort of slippery sliding scale, in the gaps between Loyal Rue’s speculations, conjectures, and hypotheses.

The real point, however, irrespective of any domino plausibility, is the final number—9—in the list below. That is, is the Left (insofar as the Democratic Party constitutes the Left) up to the intellectual and spiritual task of deterring catastrophe—at least as catastrophe, particularly in the sphere of climate change, can be deterred—or is this Left so muddled, weak, uncomprehending, compromised and indecisive, that the political opportunity for transformative action (should it present itself) will slip away?

A huge Democratic majority resulting from the 2020 elections is a real possibility. The following steps describe one path by which that possibility might be realized, even as the sequence is imaginative. Here’s the list:

1) The President, with the Robert Mueller investigation about to reveal information that could lead to Trump’s impeachment, suddenly accuses Vice-President Mike Pence of secretly plotting with “principal officers of executive departments” to remove him from office (Section 4 of Amendment XXV in the U.S. Constitution), which immediately shifts attention onto Pence and serves to kick Trump’s crisis temporarily down the road.

2) Trump, asserting “treason,” asks House Speaker Paul Ryan to begin impeachment proceedings against Pence. Ryan agrees, but he also cements a deal with Trump.

3) Pence resigns, seeing no way out of the box, asserting his complete innocence of any conspiracy.

4) Ryan (via Section 2 of Amendment XXV) becomes vice-president. The art of the deal.

5) Between the 2018 fall elections and the fall 2020 elections, impeachment proceedings begin against Trump, perhaps as the consequence, directly or indirectly, of the Robert Mueller investigation.

6) Trump resigns with all the faux hauteur of Charles de Gaulle.

7) But, in complete consistency, Trump immediately calls into being a Trump Party.

8) In November of 2020, the T. Party T-bones the Republican Party, high speed, in the electoral intersection, resulting in an unprecedented electoral sweep for Democrats.

9) On the premise that we are swiftly approaching the either/or watershed moment of Green socialism or aristocratic restoration (for Trump’s troops will not only survive the 2020 elections but be wildly eager to carry their orange-haired Mussolini back to Rome), the spiritual strength of the popular Left will be in the hands of the Democratic majority duly elected. Will that majority look Global Crises in the eye and enact healing remedies? Or will it tremble before and capitulate to Trump’s Angry White Men, returning meekly to the corporate-funded illusions of endless commercialism and the ecological nihilism of drill-baby-drill? The decisive moment may be on us sooner than we imagine.

A Democratic majority—a Democratic sweep of both houses of Congress plus the presidency—should it materialize—would prove to be the acid test of whether a Green transformation is possible short of systemic collapse ushered in by prevailing anger, denial, fear, and greed.

Well, no, not exactly. One must be careful here. It’s not whether a Rainbow/Green transformation is humanly possible. Not only is it possible, it’s the only way out of the death spiral that awaits if we don’t change course. As Arnold J. Toynbee put it Civilization on Trial (pages 23-25), the congenital diseases of civilization are Class and War. Or as Lewis Mumford expressed it in The Pentagon of Power (page 199), “All civilizations have carried within them for some five thousand years . . . the traumatic institutions that had anticipated the rise of the earlier power systems: human sacrifice, war, slavery, forced labor, arbitrary inequalities in wealth and privilege.”

In other words, violence has always been the means by which the civilized governing entities, in both their military and economic arms, have achieved and sustained their power. Raw exploitation under hereditary aristocracies was justified under a shroud of upper-class cultural (and even biological) superiority. With industrial “democracies,” civilized control has largely hidden behind corporate power, with ersatz, trickle-down affluence (commercialism) utilized as “proof” by which an unsustainable standard of consumption demonstrates the achievement and even the fulfillment of “democracy.” Every man a king. Every home a castle. That false equation—that mythic lie (that consumerism = democracy)–is now facing a stark either/or: unless sheer ecological wreckage makes moot any option but raw survival.

Roughly sixty years ago. Dwight Eisenhower, on leaving office, famously warned against the military-industrial complex. But that complex—as Toynbee, Mumford, and any number of other historians have pointed out—was not new in Eisenhower’s era. It’s been there since the violent, expropriating founding of civilized Class and War. Its maintenance has been perpetuated by traumatic institutions. To enter into the democratic socialism of Green transformation requires the excruciatingly difficult task of repenting of our mythically righteous civility, and that is an enormously hard intellectual and spiritual process necessitating worldview conversion.

It is, I think, illusory to imagine a world totally devoid of violence. But on a multi-millennial sliding scale, the violence available to and operative in the present world is two itchy minutes short of catastrophic midnight. Shall we presume to scale it back to a fraction of its present End Times pathology?

Green transformation is predicated on an enormous scaledown in violence, both state and corporate. In its place, in the place of traumatic Class and War, waits ecological stewardship and ethical servanthood. Since servanthood and stewardship lie at the ethical heart (but not, it must be said, the mythic heart) of the world’s prevailing spiritualities, we can’t very well assert that loving our neighbor—even the neighbor who happens, at the moment, to be our enemy—is a directive we’ve never heard about before.


Paul Gilk lives in the woods of northern Wisconsin. His home is a reconstructed nineteenth-century log cabin, without electricity or running water. He is the author of several books including Green Politics is Eutopian, Nature’s Unruly Mob: Farming and the Crisis in Rural Culture, and Picking Fights with the Gods: A Spiritual Psychoanalysis of Civilization’s Superego.