When a local organizer for a new adult education project in Austin, Texas, asked me to teach a course on politics in January, it was tempting to focus on the potentially disastrous short-term consequences of the election.
Instead, I decided to frame the course around the disastrous long-term forces that shape the contemporary United States, no matter who is in office.
To be clear: I am not arguing that it doesn’t matter who gets elected. The Trump administration poses distinct threats to the most vulnerable people in this country, to a fragile economy, to our threadbare hopes for peace in the world, and most dramatically to the health of the planet’s ecosystems. Those threats should spur organizing to fight the immoral and just plain stupid policies that lie ahead.
While Trump deserves to be harshly critiqued, we should not pretend that he and his supporters are an aberration. When during the campaign President Obama said of Trump, “That’s not the America I know,” my response was: Trump and his supporters, like it or not, represent ideas at the core of the America that we all know, if we are willing to be honest. Trump articulates ideas that are closer to what is considered “normal” in the United States than many of us are willing to acknowledge.
Since becoming politically active in the 1980s, I have worked on issues ranging from U.S. domination of the Middle East, to a radical feminist critique of pornography and men’s sexual exploitation of women, to climate change—all problems that have persisted as the administration of the first Bush gave way to Clinton, Bush II, and Obama. The focus of my organizing and activism has changed depending on events in the world, but the underlying systems out of which these problems arise remain the real target.
In short: While we should concentrate some of our energy on the differences between politicians and parties, we cannot ignore the enduring injustice and unsustainability of our social and political systems, no matter who is in office. That’s reflected in the outline of the course I am teaching for the Austin Underground Graduate School.
Race and Gender: The Systems of White Supremacy and Patriarchy
Racism and sexism involve more than negative personal emotional reactions toward others. Those feelings arise in systems of white supremacy and patriarchy, based on relationships of domination and subordination. That quest for domination by white people and by men takes different shapes over time, but the domination/subordination dynamics still shape our experiences. That’s why decades after the civil rights and feminist movements’ signature achievements, we still live in a racially segregated and sexually violent society.
Empire: The Problem of Patriotism
Nationalism is a threat everywhere but is most dangerous in societies with great economic and military power. The United States is the richest society in history with the most destructive military capacity of any nation in history. Despite a well-documented history of the centrality of violence in achieving U.S. wealth and power, we harbor delusional fantasies about our innocence and inherent goodness in leading the world. Is “make America great again” a promise or a threat?
Economics: The Crisis of Capitalism
An economic system that delivers incredible wealth to an increasingly small number of people is not only a threat to democracy but also a consistently corrosive influence on our collective humanity. Pretending that a system that celebrates greed and inhuman behavior will somehow magically alleviate the suffering of millions is irrational. Just as irrational is a faith in unlimited growth on a finite planet, which leads to…
Ecology: The Ecospheric Challenge
Whatever our struggle to produce justice within the human family, the human assault on the planet’s ecosystems presents the most pressing problems and demands collective action. The high-energy/advanced-technology society of the modern era is an ecological dead-end, as the consequences of the dominant culture’s narcissism become harder to ignore. Either we begin to act based on an understanding of ourselves as one species within the beauty of a larger living world, or a large-scale human presence on Earth becomes increasingly unlikely.
A Trump administration, featuring Republican reactionaries and bottom-line business executives in key posts, accelerates the threats to people and planet. While a Clinton administration staffed by mainstream Democrats would have been more reasonable, there is no evidence that the power-brokers in either party have ever been willing to acknowledge the unjust and unsustainable nature of these systems or challenge the mythology that props them up.
Progressive/left/radical activists routinely call not only for electing different leaders but energizing movements to push for deeper change. But those movements will offer the most hope if we can face the uncomfortable realities of a world that cannot, and will not, suffer indefinitely under the delusions of this “great” country and the pathological systems that distribute wealth and power.