Thursday 10 November 2016

A view from Germany on Trump's America

It is a dreary dark rainy cold day in Bonn. The right setting for the catastrophe that just happened in America.

German children's radio tries to explain why the adults are freaking out. They said Trump main claim was to make America great again, which everyone can read into it what they like and is a sign for his lack of clear policies. And they told the kids he denies climate change and wants to build a wall.

I guess they did not want to freak out the kids by explaining that this election may well mean that fascism returns. German kids are well informed what happened in the 1930s. They know that Hitler was very explicit about his hatred for the Jews, but did not take his antisemitic plans seriously. They know that like Trump Hitler was misunderestimated time and time again. They know that the conservatives and the corporations thought that he could help them and they could control him, while they actually helped Hitler to power.

That is the worst case scenario. The good case scenario would be George W. Bush on steroids. More inequality; Trump plans gigantic tax cuts for his billionaire buddies; the corrupt Republican Congress wants the same. Utter incompetence and less regulation for the banks will produce private gains (bank shares are 4 to 5% up) that will likely lead to another 2008-style economic recession that socializes the losses. Gratuitous deadly wars that benefit the military industry; Trump wants to increase the defense budget, surrounds himself with war hawks and likes aggressive posturing. And a federal government in the pockets of coal and oil that will try to emit more CO2 to green the planet.

Many people seem to have been surprised by Trump winning. The Huffington Post was very sure Clinton would win and attacked Nate Silver with the flimsiest of arguments and mistakes for hyping the uncertainty: What's wrong with 538? What's wrong with HuffPo when a pseudo-German knows US polling better? Also after the election Silver is still sometimes seen to have been wrong because he gave Trump 30% chance. 30% does not mean he will loose. It means that every 3 elections a catastrophe will happen.

I sometimes wonder if people make the same mistake for climate change. If the chance that they are directly affected is less than 50%, then it does not exist. It is a wonder people take an umbrella with them when the chance of rain is 30% and have a fire insurance. Maybe that is because we have more experience with rain and a longer tradition of cities burned to the ground. Even if it not certain, a chance of a huge catastrophe is a strong reason to act.

Please see the Trump presidency in the same way. By all means hope for the best case scenario, but be prepared for the worst case scenario. Do not keep an open mind about Trump, be vigilant, start organizing and informing yourself now. Read up on German and Italian history. Inform yourself what is happening in Russia and The Philippines. Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians is great book for insight into their behavior and thinking.

Make sure everyone knows about the [[Reichstag fire]] and how it was used to destroy the German democracy. A more recent US example is 9/11 and how it was used to take many constitutional freedoms away. This expansion of government power will now allow Trump to spy, jail and intimidate the opposition. People need to know this, so they can recognize the pattern and protest before it is too late.

Most of this post is aimed at progressives, I presume they read my blog most. If you are a rational conservative, like most conservatives in continental Europe, please speak up, please inform and talk to your peers. They will listen to you most. "America first" only means that the others have it worse, not that America has it good. Fascists are not conservatives, they are revolutionaries.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (a conservative) as a politician has to pretend she believes the good-case scenario, but makes clear she sees the danger.
Germany and America are connected by values of democracy, freedom, and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political views. I offer the next President of the United States close cooperation on the basis of these values.
The video below given an overview of the worst transgressions of Trump. The real transgressions, not the naughty words US TV concentrated on.

Climate change

Trump is not clear on most policies, but quite clear in trying to make climate change as worse as possible. Reversing any policies made under the black president, stimulating coal, no regulations on fracking and he wants to get out of the Paris climate treaty. That is actually not possible, but he can simply not do what the USA promised. Shares of Peabody Energy, world's largest coal company, almost doubled in two days after the election; okay, they were not worth much to begin with. On the positive side, Trump did hint at supporting renewable energy for reasons other than climate change.

This would make Trump the only head of state in the world that rejects climate change. By going rogue on climate America will isolate itself. China warned twice ahead of the election that Trump was not a good idea; that is unprecedented. Europe will not view this any kinder. I see the same happening in the field of international security. A president who prides himself on re-negotiating deals and ripping off his partners cannot give security guarantees. This will strengthen regional powers. Trump's presidency may well be the end of American hegemony. Hopefully the transition to a multi-polar world will be peaceful.

When it comes to climate change again a range of scenarios is possible. The main question is whether America's refusal to act will reduce the willingness to act in the rest of the world. America by itself is no longer a major player and only emits 16% of all greenhouse gasses. Inaction in America is thus bad, but if limited to several years, and Trump is 70, a limited problem. The emissions should be zero in 2050. The danger is when this goes on for too long and when the rest of the world would be discouraged from acting or when international conflict makes global collaboration impossible.

To fight climate change, the main problem in this phase is the energy transition. Here I am quite hopeful because I think we won this battle before this election, maybe even in the USA. Prices of renewable energy are dropping fast. That is partially technological advances and larger markets and partially historical low interest rates. Trump's incompetence and danger to the global economy will keep interest rates low for years to come. In large parts of the world renewable energy is already competitive without any government help, with prices dropping this region will become increasingly larger. Many of the richer US states are run by Democrats and they will continue setting efficiency standards and stimulating the energy transition, which is very popular in the population.

I could be wrong. Not too long ago I still expected that a price on CO2 emissions to compensate for the damages would be necessary to make renewable power competitive. It would still speed the transition up and the transition should go faster, but I feel it is unstoppable due to economic forces.

The Trump presidency has a nice plus for the German car industry. It was somewhat slow with electric cars, but now has a good chance to dominate this industry of the 21st century. Same for wind power and machines to produce solar panels.

The future

How bad it will be be, will depend on us.

The US media is a mess. Especially television. It is no wonder that Trump would have lost bigly had only young people voted; they are not indoctrinated by emotional one-sided sensationalist television programs. Getting rid of my TV was the best decision in my life.

It is important to build up alternative independent media. I would expect to get the highest quality from media sponsored by members, which means they do not depend on clicks, which stimulates sensationalism, and they do not depend on billionaires, which biases the reporting. Examples on YouTube for general news are TYT (partially member funded) and Secular Talk. If your (local) newspaper is decent, subscribe. Become member of The Guardian. Newspapers do a lot of the reporting. TV just rehashes their work superficially.

The US political system is a mess. We need to get money out of US politics. Trump will make this worse. His tax plans and deregulation will increase inequality, increase the power of the wealthy and give them more money to corrupt the political process. I like Wolf PAC, but there are many other groups working on this. Join the Democrat party and try to throw the corporatists out. Campaign for Sanders to clean the stable as new head of the DNC.

When it comes to climate change, join 350 to divest fossil fuel companies. With the renewable energy age so close and the remaining carbon budget not allowing for new fossil fuel infrastructure, the economic case against fossil fuel investments is strong. Infrastructure that would need to be profitable for decades, well after Trump is dead. Banking is global; everyone can help. Also divest personally, join an [[ethical bank]]; their rates are competitive.

If you have money, investing in renewable energy (in the USA) now will be more useful than ever. It would decrease the market for new fossil fuel infrastructure and support these companies over the Trump bump. The energy sector is nowadays only 6% of the global economy; it is easier than one may think to move it. Once wind or solar is running, nothing can compete with the marginal costs of renewable energy. The best way would be to join or start an [[energy cooperative]] with you friends and family. That gets more people involved.

Many more things will have to change, such as the local infrastructure and there are many more environmental problems. Friends of the Earth International is a bottom up democratic environmental group. A good place to find like minded people.

The situation for climate science will probably get hostile. Trump has vowed to defund it. His friends do their best to harass scientists. It will be hard to distinguish between meteorology and climatology for most of the research and I hope the states will be able to compensate for some of the funding. European countries may be interested in top American researchers at a bargain. Still the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund will be more important than ever.

More than about climate change, I worry about human rights, freedom and peace. America elected a bigot. Lets make sure the bigots do not conquer the public space. Only 1/2 of electorate voted. Only 1/2 voted Trump. Only 1/2 selected him in the primaries. Even of those people not all selected him because he is a bigot. After the Brexit there was a rise in violence against minorities. It is bad that so many did not mind a bigot much, but remember that the bigots willing to use violence are just a few percent of the population. We are the majority.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are more important than ever. Even if you do not want to join any organizations, please use them for information, to know what is going on before it is too late.

Related reading

The Conversation: No, this isn’t the 1930s – but yes, this is fascism.

Most people are wildly underestimating what Trump’s win will mean for the environment.

Guardian sustainable business: Trump's influence on the future of clean energy is less clear than you think.

What it would really mean if Trump pulls the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement by Chris Mooney in the Washington Post.

Climate Experts Weigh in on Trump’s Election Win, Jacquelyn Gill, Katharine Hayhoe, Ralph Keeling, Michael Mann and more.

What Trump can—and can't—do all by himself on climate by Paul Voosen in Science.

Scientific American: Trump Picks Top Climate Skeptic to Lead EPA Transition.

Vox: Donald Trump’s administration is going to be a bonanza for bankers.

The Road Ahead in Saving the Climate by Hunter Cutting.

The Guardian: Conservatives elected Trump; now they own climate change.


  1. Did you know that "misunderestimated" is a GW Bush neologism?

  2. I am Dutch and live in Germany. What I miss most is not being able to make language jokes because people assume I am making an error.

    Yes, that was on purpose. :-) In the best case we go back to the Bush years.

  3. Excellent commentary. I find German newspapers such as Die Zeit better than The Guardian, but then I am able to read German. (The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is also good. I found one in Singapore a few weeks ago!)

    Anyway I enjoyed reading your thoughts and absolutely loved the youth voting map. My children are in there. We need to give them something better. Never give up.

  4. Well said Victor.

    After skimming the news this evening and seeing all the varied interests who are starting to lick their chops at the prospect of a feeding frenzy. I've seen some hideous changes in this country particularly after Gore lost the 2000 election. In it's own way I fear this will be overall even more damaging to the future prospects of humanity.

    I'm so profoundly disappointed in my fellow Americans on both sides of the spectrum. :- (

  5. Interesting that you give the view from Germany, perhaps the lessons of history are louder with you. It is imperative that people stand up to Trump's bullying demagoguery. Angela Merkel is the only Western leader with the guts to do it. The rest pander to his power. Remind you of anyone? Anyway, here are Merkel's words:

    Germany’s ties with the United States of America are deeper than with any country outside of the European Union.

    Germany and America are bound by common values — democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of each and every person, regardless of their origin, skin color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views. It is based on these values that I wish to offer close cooperation, both with me personally and between our countries’ governments

    Today Timothy Garton-Ash proposes Merkel as the new leader of the free world.

  6. Victor, I'm quite puzzled by your mixture of optimism and pessimism.

    I agree there are dark times ahead for the US climate community, on the other hand it's an opportunity for EU, China, Indian, Japan etc. to take a leading role in climate research. We should stop dreaming about USA as something others should follow. On a global scale USA is nowadays a minority in most aspects as US citizens represent only 4 % of global population.

    It doesn't matter how many voted for Trump or Clinton if elections were regular. "Only 1/2 of electorate voted. Only 1/2 voted Trump." is a weak argument as many leaders in the world are elected by such support.

    For me, the largest issue in the US election system is that it's almost impossible for a third party (like Greens) to be elected. In a system of two dominant parties usually you have to choose between the two incompatible sets of values (one party is pro, the other is against something). So many voters have to evaluate what is more and what is less important and therefore many are relucant to vote as both choices seems bad. If I were American, I couldn't vote for Trump nor for Clinton.

    I hope that negative changes (i.e. in climate research) made by Trump & republican fellows won't propagate to other countries. Maybe it will be a wake-up call for Americans to see they are no more No.1 in the world and the results of next US elections will be more positive :)

  7. Jayna Sheats, yes, Die Zeit is excellent and covers a broad range of views from conservative to progressive. Also Die Sueddeutsche and for progressives TAZ are very good. TAZ also has members. FAZ is a quality paper for conservatives. Interestingly it was the paper where Merkel published her article to toppled the previous leader of the conservative party, Kohl.

    I just bought myself a Zeit to get some more perspectives. This week's headline is in English: Oh My God. I guess you can guess the topic.

    I focused on English language publications, the blog stats say that most of my readers are from the USA. That is the main country that has problems with climate change. In other countries people accept the science and do not need to know the arcane details of the processing of station climate data. (When I started blogging, I wrote about completely other stuff, never expecting people to be interested in such details, which are only interesting for a few geeks like me.)

    The youth map is great. They are very progressive for America. Almost like Europeans. No TV. It is disappointing that people who created this mess have the audacity to blame the youth for not voting for the lesser evil. Especially when it are people in the mass media that got us into this mess by campaigning against Sanders and normalizing Trump's hatred. Like the Washington Post publishing 16 anti-Sanders articles on one day.

  8. citizenschallenge: "I'm so profoundly disappointed in my fellow Americans on both sides of the spectrum. :- ("

    I wish they had acted differently, but we should not put the blame on the citizens, the non-voters, nor the voters. The political parties should have made the population an attractive offer. They did not.

    Both candidates are historically unpopular. Interestingly Trump more than Clinton, even after this election. The Republican establishment at least produced some token resistance against their monster. The Democrat establishment rigged the system in favor of their inevitable deeply unpopular candidate. The corporate donors are happy with that. These people want to keep their life-styles and will try to make the next head of the DNC another corporate tool. If they succeed, the Democrats will also lose the next election.

    The problem is the political, electoral, economic and media system. They offer and stimulate bad choices. That makes people turn away from democracy. I hope it is just the current US "democracy" and not the concept of democracy. The system needs to change. Especially the spiral of inequality and corruption.

  9. verytallguy: "Today Timothy Garton-Ash proposes Merkel as the new leader of the free world."

    Merkel is not leader of my party, but I have to admit she is a damn good chancellor. She lives in a modest house and has a PhD in physics. She is more pro-corporate than I would like, but I am sure that is not because she is bought, but because that is her world view and that is where the power is; let's not be naive and think the population has all the power in a democracy even in the best case.

    That continental Europe has conservatives you can respect and who believe in their ideology and policies makes it so much sadder to see the actions of the sell-outs and crazies across the water.

  10. Gregor Vertačnik: "I agree there are dark times ahead for the US climate community, on the other hand it's an opportunity for EU, China, Indian, Japan etc. to take a leading role in climate research. We should stop dreaming about USA as something others should follow. On a global scale USA is nowadays a minority in most aspects as US citizens represent only 4 % of global population."

    They still have the worlds largest military, speak the world language, dominate mass entertainment, have the main reserve currency, invest a lot in science and their firms dominate the internet/computers.

    Like I wrote, I would not be surprised if this changes due to Trump and Europe would be one of the main power centres of the world. But it won't be easy and it won't be free of (military) conflict.

    If Europe becomes militarily more powerful it also becomes more interesting for corporate power, that would not improve living conditions in Europe. Power does not make you happy. Ask Gollum.

    We could do better when it comes be becoming on of the world reserve currencies and by going for free and open software we could break the lock-in of US software.

    Gregor Vertačnik: "It doesn't matter how many voted for Trump or Clinton if elections were regular. "Only 1/2 of electorate voted. Only 1/2 voted Trump." is a weak argument as many leaders in the world are elected by such support."

    Trump is elected and somewhat fairly. (Clinton won the popular vote, there was voter suppression. I mostly discount that because any politician fighting for the population would have beaten Trump by large enough margins so that the unfair practices had not mattered.)

    We will see a lot of violence against minorities the coming time. The KKK thinks that disgusting, hateful, violent people are now the majority. That is not the case. The KKK is still a splinter group and decent people need to stand their ground. That is what I wanted to argue.

    Gregor Vertačnik: "For me, the largest issue in the US election system is that it's almost impossible for a third party (like Greens) to be elected."

    A two-party system is not much better than a one-party system. A lot of opinions are not represented in parliament and then it is no wonder that people do not vote.

    A two-party system also makes corruption much easier. If you convince party A that you can also bribe party B, party A can do what you want them to do without the opportunity of the electorate to punish them.

    Plus in a two-party system your vote does not matter for most people. That does not motive people to pay attention and inform themselves. That makes it easier for politicians to get away with corruption and makes politics into a reality show next to the Kardashians.

    And the spoiler effect in a two party system produces a lot of bad blood.

  11. crf, a friend just send me "some" language corrections. I can understand why you thought "misunderestimate" was a error. These are bad times, apparently makes it hard to write.


Comments are welcome, but comments without arguments may be deleted. Please try to remain on topic. (See also moderation page.)

I read every comment before publishing it. Spam comments are useless.

This comment box can be stretched for more space.