There have been declarations of “the end of history” when Hegel noted the triumph of Napolean, and when Nietzsche noted the end of man, and when political philosopher Francis Fukuyama noted that consumerism would supplant ambition, courage, imagination and individualism. Back at the beginning of the public consciousness of the danger posed by the release of carbon dioxide through hydroflorocarbons from aerosol cans, the apocalypse became the watchword for many environmentalists, and through that spike in consciousness, the environmental movement lost much of its steam. Overstatement is, by definition, a potential self-sabotage simply because the “end” does not appear, and because the public becomes disengaged. A yawn replaces the appropriate activism and change in habits.
The Christian heritage of the “end of times” is an archetype from the book of Revelation that foretells the time when good triumphs over evil, and when the ultimate judgement of humans by God separates the “good people” from the “evil people”. Anticipating the end of time has been a repeating theme starting with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem A.D. 70 and as re-emerged intermittently in various writings from Ezekiel to Isaiah, as a method for disclosing the future intervention and power of God in the lives of those writing the Old Testament.
As expected, the writers who have raised the spectre of the end of time have fed on and nourished a kind of fear of epic mortality, often as a motivating vision and stimulus for reformation. When the current reality overwhelms our capacity to integrate and comprehend what we are witnessing and experiencing, humans frequently dip into the well of metaphors and re-cast the image of ultimate terminality. Wars, tsunamis, droughts, fires, mass migrations, mass deaths, economic depressions, epidemics, population explosions, revolutions….these are just some of the turning points in human history that have energized the deployment of apocalyptic thinking and writing.
Of course, the wringing of hands, the turning to prophets and saviours, heroes and tyrants, a spike in both legal and illicit medications for escape….these are some of the ways humans choose to confront their mounting fears. Large and seemingly unresolveable fears ironically generate a kind of thinking and language that confronts the fears with over-reaching power, in images of the 'end of times'. Also, when one is frightened, one’s grasp on what is “real” seems to loosen and one looks for reference points of stability, perhaps even maturity, perspective and calm. Some also look for “silver bullet” remedies that can be compressed into a kind of sound byte, without the full comprehension or even openness to the complexities of current reality and any authentic process for change. The opportunist gravitates to such a vacuum, ready willing and eager to ride the wave of fear to ultimate power and control by promising instant, glib, (unachieveable, unrealistic) and large answers to what are really gordion knots so complex that no political, economic, military or executive act will resolve. As part of the paving of the path to power, the opportunist seizes on promising the “moon” to a people starved for their “due” at least in their own mind.
The convergence of “scarcity” with the ambition of the unscrupulous, especially with the advent of a mind of technology with which the masses have yet to adjust and to integrate into a kind of normalcy in their lives, offers a unique moment in history when moderation seems to fail the starved imaginations and the limited visions of many in the public for what they perceive as required solutions. Power, in the short term, swings toward those who promise that “moon” without any real expectation of resolution. Desperation, at that time, becomes the operating public mood in the culture.
With the rise of opportunists, charlatans, hucksters and narcissistic self-fulfilling and self-declared ‘super-humans’, one of their easily manipulated tools is the re-writing of the public discourse. What once seemed an agreed body of information over which a legitimate debate took place as to what approach might best meet the need for change is replaced by a tidal wave of mis-information, dis-information and outright distortions. Charlatans have no remorse at cleaning away the underbrush of facts in order to have a new unfettered road to dominate both the facts and their proposed solutions, all of which are designed to enhance their own personal reputation. Any thought of the “public good” is obliterated from the consciousness of the opportunist charlatan, for the simple reason that “the other” has no “standing” in the court of his mind. The only “other” that matters is the other who submits completely to the will and the whim of the “leader”. “Serve me, or prepare to be outcast” (in order for me to sustain my invincibility and my supreme power) would seem to be the mantra of the supreme leader.
Little wonder then that talk of the end of time, the end of history has re-surfaced in the public consciousness.
The triumph of “virtuality”, the new word that seems to be crowding “reality” off the stage of the human consciousness, seems to have reached a “zenith or perhaps a nadir” with the rise of Donald Trump to the Oval Office. Dependent almost solely on the utterances of his own vacuous mind, the new president “invents” terrorist threats, raping Mexicans, corrupt Hillary, rising crime rates and a swamp that needs draining, not to mention “so-called judges” and presidents who are not encumbered by any conflict of interest nor a constitution. As for the divestiture of private business interests, the disclosure of tax returns, the nepotism embedded in appointments to the administration of family members as well as the historic respect for individuals like Senator John McCain,…..well, these are all mere myths in the mind of a dishonest and disgraceful media and not worthy of honouring, respecting, or even circumscribing as off limits from presidential tweets.
The Speaker of the British House of Commons shouts that Trump be denied the opportunity to speak to Parliament when he visits London, an occasion that would be an embarrassment to the Queen and the British people. The Canadian government sends as many cabinet ministers to Washington as will be received, in order to pave the way for a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Trudeau, as if such inordinate pre-planning would leave the Canadian leader vulnerable to the Trump bullying offensive.
It is not only that Trump lives in and propagates an “alternative reality” which he expects his acolytes to utter before every microphone the can find. It is more importantly also an “alternative reality” that he expects the American people, the leaders and people in countries around the world and the media serving those billions to believe. In short, this man is challenging the credence of the world, in order to bend it to his supreme power. Every opposing statement is countered with a denigrating rebuttal, based usually on an “ad hominum” attack, (witness the attack on Senator Blumenthal’s war record attack, following his disclosure of the Gorsuch comments on Trump’s demeaning the judiciary as “demoralizing and abhorrent”).
Witness the presidential flaying of Nordstrom after they dropped his daughter’s clothing line, because of lack of sales. (‘They have treated her so unfairly!’) Nothing and no one is outside the line of fire of the psychotic, narcissistic and egomaniacal inhabitant of the White House. And, there is a real danger that the constant drumbeat of headline-followed-by-headline from HIS obsession with control will both literally and metaphorically swamp the consciousness of both the media editors and their audiences.
It used to be with George W. Bush that we learned, “I don’t do nuance!” whereas with Obama, nuance, moderation and reflection were defining traits. Now we learn that Trump does not even have the word “nuance” in his lexicon. He does not know such a word/concept exists.
And with the consistent climb of the Dow, and the Nasdaq, the drop in unemployment numbers in the U.S. and the confirmation of some of the most far-right, potentially abusive and sycophantic cabinet ministers in U.S. history, we are on the brink of several regressive and retrograde steps backward in history: the decimation of the public school system, the emboldening of law enforcement’s trampling of civil rights of minorities, women, refugees, and the demolition of Obamacare, the final death knell in the history of the labour movement, and the danger of a geopolitical pot that boils over from the disturbances and the bullying of the new administration. The danger of the erosion of NATO, and the resulting empowerment of Putin, linked to the potential trade wars that Trump has already announced are in his sights bode badly for stability in world order.
As the globalization of economic trade coughs up its winners and losers, and the tectonic shift of the locus of manufacturing, and the replacement of millions of jobs with digital engineering, added to the displacement of employment “with their hands” for which men were eager to prepare, (with the rising need for workers in health care, education and the soft services historically filled primarily by women), the spike in health costs with a rising tide of retirees who consume a major chunk of health costs, there is enough turbulence and scarcity of real solutions to the convex of large issues for an opportunist like Trump to attempt to fill the vacuum with his own vacuity.
There are people in countries other than the United States who recognize the “idiot” (their word) that Americans have elected president and they do not wish to emulate or replicate the American mistake. Hope for many observers lies in the potential defeat of far-right wing-nuts in France, and other European countries, a move that would only fulfil the prophecy of Trump that he is the voice of a world-wide movement.
Surely, the election of Trump and the ensuing trail of lies, phony promises, hollow explanations and rationalizations, and empty sound and fury of the Trump Roman Candle will self-immolate before the eyes of the world. Also, surely the better angels of the American judiciary and the Republican party (so far suffering under their own self-imposed gag order and nose holding), along with the self-respect of the American people.
However, before this “storm” is fully spent, having inflicted considerable damage and devastation on all of the most vulnerable, including minorities, unemployed and underemployed, the rule of law, the public institutions like hospitals and schools, traditional trusted relationships with allies, committed protective alliances like NATO, the world will have to adjust its attitudes to how it protects itself from the potential of a hostile take-over by those seeking the dominance they believe is their’s by right.
The hostile take-over is a routine story from the corporate business world. A large company with a mountain of resources sniffs out a likely target corporation whose acquisition would significantly enhance the profits of the pursuing corporation, or just as likely, would impede the profits of the primary competition of the pursuing corporation. Such a power-metaphor, however, is not so acceptable in the geopolitical realm. Witness the Putin hostile takeover of the Crimea and the potential incursion into other border countries.
The business model has invaded, like an unstoppable virus, the way public business is conducted. The privatization of everything, as the “right” pays unlimited homage to the generation of private profit for investors and “winners”, leaves a wake of “losers” for which the social net then has to scramble to lift up. And the cost of this “lift” is far too heavy for the kind of revenue stream left after the taxes on the uber-rich have been eroded by their loyal law-makers, leaving a sea of poisoned detritus, both human and environmental.
It may be dangerous to speak in terms of ultimate threats to our shared responsibility for creating a world in which equal access to opportunity, including basic services like health care, education, employment and a stable and secure family that delivers a healthy environment to its grandchildren. However, that risk seems necessary to take, if we are to mount a sustained, effective and ultimately mortal wound to the Trump administration.
Whatever form the combined forces of man and nature conjure to “beach this whale” permanently, thereby depriving it of its needed oxygen to live, the world is now conjoined in a shared responsibility, the likes of which we have not experienced for decades. Collaboration, people in the streets in all the towns and cities in every country in the world, a confluence of “fact” generators to combat the alternative facts of this “alternative universe”, and an environmental initiative at the level of every household on the planet….these are the minimal requirements to begin the push-back….and the efforts have to cross ideological, religious, cultural, linguistic and economic boundaries.
Anything less will fail.