An Unofficial Recap of Donald Trump’s Perfectly Normal Press Conference


This will be the first in a new recap series called Donald Trump’s Perfectly Normal Press Conferences. Since he may never do a press conference again, it might also be the end of the series.

Scene 1:  An Atrium

White guys in suits bring out piles of manila folders and stack them on a table next to the podium which has a sign on it that says:

Office of the President-Elect

New York, New York

Is that normal? Did Obama have this same sign with Chicago, Illinois on it? I’m not looking for that right now because I don’t care since I’m too fascinated by these guys who are fiddling with folders and trying to look busy.

Guy in blue suit:  I’m sort of done here but I’m going to keep stacking because reporters are trying to peek.

Guy in shirt sleeves:  Let’s mess them up a little. They represent Hard Work.

Guy in blue suit:  These reporters really want to look at them.

Guy in shirt sleeves:  It’s just blank paper inside folders. Get this scary looking guy to guard the table. Also, keep looking busy.

Scary guy: I will scowl and look big so reporters won’t look at all of this blank paper inside of these blank file folders.

Random reporter:  I am very excited about these file folders. Maybe these are…THE TAX RETURNS!

Universe:  LOLOLOLOL

Random reporter:  Kellyanne Conway said that this press conference is so popular that they had to turn away reporters! She always says true things.

Hired extras:  Claps

Reporters:  *look around* Who is clapping?

Kellyanne Conway:  Those are totally not hired extras brought in to make Trump feel popular.

Reporters:  That is a perfectly normal thing to do at a press conference.

Scene 2:  Chatty Anchors Chat

Killing time while the camera zooms in on the podium, the piles of blank folders, and the 10 giant flags, the chatty anchors chat about how this is the first press conference since Donald made that hilarious joke where he asked Russia to hack Hillary’s emails. What’s so funny is that they did!

Then chatty anchors talk about the intelligence dossier released by Buzzfeed.

Anchor 1:  I really, really want to talk about the intelligence dossier so I’m going to say the word ‘unsubstantiated’ 100 times in order to cover my own ass.

Anchor 2:  Yes. Let’s do back flips while spelling out the word ‘unsubstantiated’ in flaming letters.

Anchor 1:  It’s killing me to not talk about pee.

Anchor 2:  Same. *Does backbend and sings ‘unsubstantiated’.

Scene 3:  Power Couple Sighting!

Steve Bannon: I am a genetically superior white man. This constant state of flop sweat is intentional.

Jared Kushner:  You are very sexy with your manly flop sweat. Also, I am going to work for free and make zero dollars because I love my country.

Bannon and Kushner:  LOLOLOLOL *make out*

Scene 4:  Grand Entrance of Future First Family Except for Melania and those Other Kids

Reporter 1:  *whispers* Where’s Melania?

Reporter 2:   Dude. Hookers peed on her husband in a totally unsubstantiated way. Leave her alone.

Donald, Sr, wearing a crisp white shirt, red tie, and a navy coat looks angry but determined with his fresh blowout and tanning bed goggle mask. The coat is very billowy – probably to hide the Kevlar vest and Bannon’s emergency chicken wings.

Eric and Donald, Jr. (I still don’t know which is which but it doesn’t matter) have the same pomaded hairdos but combed in opposite directions. One of them is sporting a pink shirt and blue tie and the other is possibly in a green shirt but he’s hiding behind his sister so I can’t tell.)

Ivanka: I am absolutely not plotting to poison these 3 men. At all.

The scary guy with the scowl is still standing in front of the file folders with the reams of blank paper in them. His face might be stuck in a permanent glowering position so I get distracted thinking about what a few cc’s of Botox would do for his “11” lines.

Scene 5: Sean Spicer!

Spicer, rocking the Giuliani haircut, tiptoes to reach the podium and it’s cute, like he’s doing really well at a spelling bee. Does anyone call him Scooter? They should. He whines for a bit about Mainstream Media and Fake News which are squares in Alt-Right Bingo (tm @NoFilterAlexa I think) and then he conflates the substantiated CNN story with the Buzzfeed story.

Scooter:  Freedom of the Press is important but…

Constitution:  There’s no “but”.

He tells us he’s going to introduce a woman whose law firm is responsible for all of those file folders with the blank paper. A quick Twitter search tells us that this law firm is so awesome that its Moscow branch won Law Firm of the Year. Yay! [I’ve got to hand it to this crowd with their IDGAF attitude about optics.]

Then he goes on a little tear that should be the signal to journalists that it’s okay to report on the unsubstantiated dossier now. He brought it up, y’all, so get to it. Hint: Maybe check into more of the thing that rhymes with Honey Laundering rather than the one that rhymes with Golden Towers.

Scooter yammers on about Fake News and Witch Hunts because of Russia Today talking points then introduces the guy next to him. Mike Pence! Scooter glares at the hired extras.

Hired Extras:  Shit! Sorry we zoned out while you were talking. Yay!

Scene 6:  Mike Pence

Clad in a perfect suit and purple tie with his white Lego guy hair, he looks like he came out of the Romney President Factory. If he would just keep his mouth shut and change his opinion on everything, I would probably like him. He doesn’t seem insane and erratic which is such a relief compared to his boss. But then he blows it with the Fake News blah, blah, blah and I stop loving him.

Close up shot on Donald, Sr. Whoa. He looks nervous. He stares directly into the pool camera and purses up his little lips. It’s chilling. The sons look pissed. Scary bodyguard is giving me a headache. I want to pet his eyebrows.

Back to Pence:

Pence: Freedom of the Press is important but…

Constitution:  Seriously, guys, there’s no “but”.

Scene 7:  DJT Shrek-Walks to Podium

Hired extras:  *shriek and clap*

Reporters: This is not at all like a banana republic.

DJT: *makes weird facial movements* We won the election because I used to give daily press conferences but then I asked Russia to hack Hillary and you guys got all huffy about that so I had to pout for 6 months. Also, my attorney, Michael Cohen, told me to shut fuck up. Hi Mike!

He goes on and on with words and I get another Fake News bingo chip while he threatens the intelligence community and freedom of the press.

DJT:  I have great respect for news and freedom of the press but…

Constitution:  Say “but” one more time. I dare you.

Then he tells the news organizations that didn’t release the unsubstantiated dossier about money laundering and urinating that they were “so professional that I’ve just gone up a notch on what I think of you, okay?” I had to rewind that a few times so I’m not sure I got that exactly right. It’s a weird thing for a dude who’s about to take an oath to protect the FREEDOM OF THE PRESS to say, isn’t it?

Hired extras:  Yeah, baby. Clap clap clap.

Reporters: This is becoming a teensy bit like that time we were in Turkey, amirite?

DJT: I am going to brag about car companies and take credit for things I didn’t do for a minute. Big, big factory. Tremendous. *weird face*

Hang on. How did I not notice that he can’t pronounce words? We are going to make beeyons of dollars on many, many inDUSTries, especially on aeroplanes. Did he always do this? Maybe he’s just nervous about that whole unsubstantiated report about pee and treason. I would be. [Hi, Mike! Notice how I emphasized the unsubstantiated part?]

DJT: *rambles about people nobody has ever heard of*

American People:  Who the hell are Jack Ma and Mr. Arno and why are they so tremendous?

And then he says, without laughing,

“I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created. I mean that.”

The level of ridicule that statement requires is way above my pay grade so I’ll leave it to the professional mockers.

DJT: My inauguration is going to have great talent. Tremendous. I don’t care that all of the people with talent hate me.

Reporters:  We should write one thousand words about how he won because all of the people with talent are mean to him. That will make the people who hate us love us.

People Who Hate Reporters:  LOLOLOLOLOL

DJT:  My inauguration will be so elegant. I am known for elegance. Much gold. Much shiny. *goes into trance and drools*

Then he goes on about the problems with the V.A. which…I can’t say I have a beef with that because there are definitely problems. He announces his pick to straighten that out and I’ve never heard of the guy but that doesn’t mean anything. Then he namechecks Cleveland Clinic and I perk up because, oh boy, did they screw up last week.

Cleveland Clinic:  We are world-renowned so everyone should come here for cancer treatment.

Cleveland Clinic Wellness Center:  Vaccines will kill you.

Cancer Patients:  We will literally die if we are around unvaccinated people.

Cleveland Clinic:  Huh. It never occurred to us that dead patients would be bad for business. That is a problem.

Okay, let’s take some questions!

Reporter: Did the heads of the intelligence agencies tell you about the gross, unsubstantiated stuff you unsubstantiatedly didn’t do?

DJT: That is gross fake news by sick, sick people that “never should have entered paper” because that is a thing people say.

He rambles on for years while I make anagrams out of Fake News. Swank Fee and Snake Few.

Reporter: Will you finally admit that Vlad ordered the hacking?

DJT: Eh. I think Russia did it but China, China, China. Nobody cared about the Yahoo hack. Why is this a big deal? Much hacking. Much hacking.

Reporters: Trump Admits Russia Hacked

American people: You make him sound like a normal person sometimes. It’s weird.

Reporter:  How will this color your relationship with Putin?

DJT:  Have I mentioned how much I respect and love him? Isn’t that reassuring that I respect and love him? I will now pivot back to Podesta and Hillary and say the word “horrible” 20 times because I have the best vocabulary.

And then he does the most bizarre thing ever. He slips into some sort of dissociative state and says,

“Can you imagine if Donald Trump got the questions to the debate? That would be the biggest story in the history of stories.”

Reporters: Third person. He’s speaking in the third person. What do we do now?

Me:  George is getting upset!

Reporter: So, like, do you accept that it was Putin? Why won’t you answer that question?

Third person again.

“If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset not a liability.”

Putin: *bangs head on desk* Did this dumbass really just say ‘asset’?

And then…he says it again! Repeats the asset line. I am simultaneously terrified and impressed by this gang.

Trump Gang: Can we make it any clearer that we do not give a fuck about how any of this looks?

He’s ready for the next question so he becomes King Roland from Spaceballs and waves his little royal pointer finger around before choosing the lucky reporter.

Reporter:  Yo, did you do gross stuff in Moscow and St. Petersburg or not?

He went there! Good for him.

DJT:  My hotel rooms have tiny cameras in them so, no. Also, my Miss Universe pageant did very, very well because people really care about that. Also, I am a germaphobe. Believe me.

Hired extras:  Laugh.

Me: Hey, somebody tell him that urine isn’t actually sterile and see what he does.

Then he goes on and on and lies about having very little debt and no deals and blah blah. Then he tells a bizarre story about a guy from Dubai named Hussein Demac who offered him 2 billion dollars over the weekend and that he totally could have done the deal if he wanted to because:

“As you know, I have a no-conflict situation because I’m President.”

Dear Friends Who Call Me an Alarmist,


Love, Amy

DJT:  Also, Mike Pence doesn’t have rules either since he’s the VEEP. Too bad he’s so sad and broke! *laughs*

Reporter:  Prove that you don’t have conflicts of interest by releasing your tax returns.

DJT:  *lies again with the audit excuse* Reporters are the only ones who care. American people don’t care, obviously. I won so…taste it, bitches.

American People: *raise hands* Um, we kind of care a lot.

DJT:  Not gonna happen. Also, let me brag about how huge and powerful my business is and how I’m handing it over to my sons, Eric and Donald, Jr.

He doesn’t know which son is which either so I feel a little better.  Now he’s handing the mic over to Sheri Dillon, a Russian Law Firm of the Year Lawyer. Because that’s not at all unsettling.

American People: To be honest, it’s a little unsettling.

Trump Gang:  Have we mentioned how much we don’t give a fuck how unsettled you are?

Sheri Dillon then gets up there and starts out with a lie.

Dillon:  Rockefeller had a bunch of dough and nobody hassled him about it.

Old Newspapers:  Rockefeller Offers to Release All Income Tax Information because People and Senators Won’t Stop with the Hassling

Dillon goes on to puff Trump up by calling his business an “empire” and says that conflict of interest laws “simply do not apply to the President or Vice-President.” Well, okay, then. She tells us he’s not going to exploit it and does a roundoff back handspring across the stage to emphasize that point.

Dillon:  Boring boring bullshit. Please have your cameras zoom in on these stacks of fake documents because they represent the Hard Work we put into making it look like Trump is not creating a kleptocracy.

Trump Gang:  LOLOLOLOL. Best kleptocracy evah! *high fives*

Hired Extras:  Yay!

Back to questions.

Softball question from One America Network which is a network that popped up on cable recently and I’m pretty sure the people on it are just pretending to be American. It’s like, if you were to go to a Kremlin website where they were speaking English but they didn’t actually know what the words meant. Anyway, think Breitbart Television or Russia Today.

Another softball about Obamacare from some other reporter. Why aren’t they identifying themselves and why can’t I hear them?

DJT:  I have no idea what to do about Obamacare but I want to get rid of it before anyone figures that out. I will say ‘repeal and replace’ over and over until you get bored. I’m going to “file a plan” that will be far less expensive and far better because people seem to believe it when I say words like that. Also, I think cabinet secretaries are just like my personal secretary, Rhona, because I do not understand how any of this works.

Aaaand yet another softball about tax cuts. This whole production is just that – a production. It’s not a real press conference.

Trump Gang:  Duh.

DJT:  *Brags and lies about jobs.*

Reporter:  Why did you compare intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany? Also, I am going to poke the bear by calling your dumb wall a ‘fence’.

DJT:  *turns red* IT IS NOT A FENCE! *bleargh*

Rambles for years about the wall and Mexico and now I’ll fast-forward because we all know this song and I’m bored. Randomly announces that there’s a church service planned for the day after the election which:

WHAT? Hey reporters, look into that, will ya?

Constitution:  This is exhausting.

DJT: I am going to ream intelligence services and call them disgraceful Nazis for the next week because that is a thing that makes Americans feel safe.

American People:  Not feeling that safe.

DJT: *threatens Buzzfeed and CNN*

CNN Reporter:  Since you’re attacking us, may I ask you a question, Sir?

DJT:  No. Quiet. Don’t be rude. You are fake news.

Constitution: *turns red*

That really happened.

Reporter:  How fast will you lift those sanctions on your Russian boyfriend?

DJT: Deflects by calling Senator Lindsey Graham poor.

BBC Reporter:  Will you quit if any of the money laundering, treason, and pee stuff turns out to be true?

DJT:  You people really don’t get what’s happening here, do you?

Breitbart Reporter:  What reforms do you suggest for media?

Constitution:  *stands up and pulls gun out of 2nd amendment*

DJT:  Something about a moral compass.


He wraps up the last minute by doing jumping jacks and yelling about China, Japan, and Mexico.

And then he makes a grand flourish toward the table with all the blank paper and he does this sad, rehearsed little line where he brings up his sons and says if they don’t do a good job then “they’re fired.”

Eric and Donald, Jr. (Donald, Jr. and Eric?):  We would groan at your dumb dad joke but it’s easier to stand here and look terrified.

American People: Word.

So, that’s a wrap, folks. The first official press conference since the election and possibly the last which makes me think of this:

“Well, Doctor, what have we got – a Republic or a Monarchy?”

Ben Franklin:  A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Hey, Journalists? We’re really counting on you. Good luck and go get ‘em.

Hey, Motherf*ckers: Say the word ‘elite’ one more time. I dare you

Happy New Year! happy-new-year-champagne

I was going to do a schmaltzy round up of 2016 set to keening background music about the friends we’ve loved and lost and blobbedy blob blob but I decided not to because who the fuck really cares at this point? (We have more important things to worry about – at least until Putin releases those tapes.) I’ll leave the sap to others because the only thing I can think about now is how I want to beat the shit out of the word ‘Elite’.

Elite needs to DIE. It’s the most overused, trite, insulting, meaningless flaming turd of a word that has ever existed. Worse than that – it’s lazy. You are a lazy piece of writerly shit if you are still using that word in 2017 unless you are referring to Nike socks or maybe a kids’ soccer league. Stop using it or I might hunt you down and bash you in the head with your keyboard.

Whew – that felt good to say. Also, I won’t really bash your head in because that would require seeing your lazy-word-using ass in person.

Whiny Conservatives:  *waaaaah* Little Snowflake hates being called an elite.

Whiny Liberals:  *waaaaah* Calling liberals ‘elite’ proves I am better than other liberals.

Dumb pundits have wasted infinity-something words trying to explain about how out of touch intellectual elites are or how Republican elites can’t control Donald Trump or how coastal elites need to reach out and try to understand Real Americans from flat states. All of those words would be super helpful if ‘elite’ actually meant anything but it doesn’t. It’s just a way to discredit experts or dismiss people who don’t agree with you.

When you’re writing the millionth story or country song about how Trump Tapped into White Working Class Anger, perhaps the Elites Just Don’t Understand ballad makes that anger sound more noble or something.

WWC Angry Person:  I am angry because automation made my job disappear.

Trump:  Mexicans and Muslims did that.

WWC Angry Person:  I have never met a Mexican or a Muslim but that makes total sense. Now I am even angrier so I will scare the shit out of Mexicans and Muslims.

Dumb Pundits:  Here are one million words about how people who live near oceans are too elite and out of touch to understand why WWC Angry People hate Mexicans and Muslims.

Maybe I’m just confused because I live in Trumpville, Florida where we’re neither flat and rural or cool and urban. We’re just frizzy hair and swamps. We have lots of the toothless Trump fans with their Tiny Penis pickup trucks and rebel flags but for the most part, the Trump stickers are on the luxury cars at the country club and the signs were in the yards of waterfront estates. I want reporters to come down here and make sense of these voters and how misunderstood they are. Bless their private jet loving little hearts.

Because this is how hard it is to tell the difference here in North Florida between these people and the out-of-touch elites:

Out-of-Touch Elites vs. Misunderstood Trump Voters in Jacksonville, Florida

Elite Doctor:  I read boring fiction and drink white wine.

Misunderstood Trump Supporter Doctor:  I play golf and have a wine locker at Ruth’s Chris. I hate elites who read boring books.

Elite Scientist:  I know everything about everything. I drive a Subaru.

Misunderstood Trump Supporter Scientist:  I know everything about everything. I drive a Suburban. I hate elites who drive liberal cars.

Man in Tacky Tommy Bahama Shirt:  I make $500,000 a year selling obscure financial products.  I am elite because I know what derivatives are.

Man in Tacky Guy Harvey T-shirt:  I make $500,000 a year selling fake knees. I am a Real American because I can bait a hook. I hate elites who can’t fish.

Elite Lawyer:  I am African American.

Misunderstood Trump Supporter Lawyer:  I am white.

Blonde Elite Mom:  I give money to Planned Parenthood. My dog and children always have jelly on their faces.

Blonde Misunderstood Trump Supporter Mom: I have perfect Christmas cards where my whole family wears crisp khakis and white shirts on the beach. I hate elites and brown people but I love the unborn.

Trump Supporter with Confederate Flag and Red Hat:  Elites think they’re smarter and better than me. I hate everybody.

Everybody:  Literally everyone is an elite compared to you. Go fuck yourself.

The End

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest maybe I’ll think of something inspiring and hopeful to write about 2017 tomorrow if I’m not too hung over.  Hope everyone has a good night. Here’s to good friends and, uh, new vocabulary words in 2017? Love, Amy





Resisting President Butterfat

Photo credit to…Kermit?

Apologies for stealing the Kermit meme but this has been me since election night:

Me: Trump has stolen my sense of humor. I will never laugh again.

Evil Kermit Me: Trump is 300 pounds worth of material. Buck the fuck up.

Me:  There are no orange jokes or hair jokes left. Also, stop fat shaming.

Evil Kermit Me:  Fine. He has an alter ego named Patriotic Pepe. C’mon, that’s hilarious.

Me:  The most powerful man in the world pretending to be a racist cartoon frog is not funny.

Evil Kermit Me:  Dude. He sits on the toilet in his bathrobe and tweets crazy shit for days – why can’t you squeeze a joke out of that?

Me:  He’s trying to distract us. PAY ATTENTION.

Evil Kermit Me: *eye roll* You know how your dog gazes at you and you think you’re having a moment but then he suddenly turns around and licks his butt?

Me: Trump is a butt licker?

Evil Kermit Me: I’m just trying to say that I think you’re giving him too much credit. And, of course he’s a butt licker.


Evil Kermit Me:  Jesus. Are you out of Xanax?

Me:  *eyes darting* But…rising authoritarianism. RESIST!

Evil Kermit Me:  Get off Twitter and go outside.

Me:  I hate outside.

Evil Kermit Me:  The Resistance is lucky to have you.

Me:  Shut up. By the way, how do you open an off-shore bank account?

So, yeah, the Trump thing has made me a humorless stress ball over the past 3 weeks for many reasons, but mostly because I paid a little bit of attention in history class and it’s not fucking funny that Trump is cozy with actual Neo-Nazis who would happily tell my Jewish children to “get in the oven.” And no, it’s not a comfort to me that it’s Muslims and immigrants they’ll go after first, mainly because I’m not a heartless asshole.

I have a tiny platform where I advocate for science and after the election it seemed sort of pointless and frankly, like a losing battle, but then President Butterfat tweeted out something based on the conspiracy website, Infowars, and I felt myself snap out of it.

Alex Jones of Info Wars: Here is a massive lie about millions of illegal voters because I want website hits.

President Butterfat: *bleargh* Voter Fraud!

Rational Humans: Hey dumbass, you won.

President Butterfat:  *shifty eyes* I am not the president because of Russian hacking!!! *coughs up wig hair*

Rational Humans:  You seem awfully nervous.


Rational Humans:  Please stop pretending to be a cartoon frog, Mr. President.

And what does this have to do with science advocacy? Everything because those lovely conspiracy loons who Trump goes to for intel briefings are the same goddamned people who drive the anti-science crazy train. Infowars and Natural News are the same websites that are shared all over Facebook by people who are trying to spread fear about vaccines and GMOs. These websites and many more like them are run by the people who have been working for years to break down our trust in the institutions that are here for our protection – the CDC, the FDA, NIH, and so on. They’ve profited nicely off of fear and now they’ve got their very own commander-in-chief who is doing the same thing.

So, now I get to continue to do what I love, mocking the shit out of bullshit peddlers on the Internet, plus I can add another voice of resistance to the Trump kleptocracy or whatever he and Bannon and their little band of Neo-Nazi friends are planning. Better hold onto your wig, President Butterfat – because I’m in a much better mood.

What is To Be Done? Trump and Ecomodernism by Ted Norhaus

Below is an important essay from Ted Norhaus of The Breakthrough Institute. Republishing with his permission. Please see the original piece here.

November 16, 2016

This is the space where I am supposed to write about what a Trump Presidency might portend for climate, energy and the environment.  At present, I don’t believe I can in good faith do so.

Our view at Breakthrough remains that macro-economic conditions, technological change, and public investment in innovation and infrastructure are the primary determinants of global emissions. At least insofar as climate change is concerned, a Trump Presidency may not be much worse than a Clinton Presidency would have been, for the simple reason that explicit climate policy has had little impact upon the trajectory of emissions pretty much anywhere in the world.

These concerns are separate and distinct from the various policies that Trump has proposed.  Trump campaigned and won the election fair and square. He has every right to pursue his agenda and vision for the country. When and if it becomes clear that democratic norms will prevail in the new Administration, that Trump does not intend to prosecute his political opponents, squelch dissent, and harass the free press, I will happily praise the Administration when it takes actions that I believe to be consistent with health, prosperity, equity, and environmental protection, and criticize it when it does not.

But the signals have thus far been mixed and that presents complicated decisions for those of us in think tanks, advocacy organizations, and the media. Most of our professional incentives are to act as if some version of normal democratic discourse and policy-making will prevail. There is not much for us to do, at least in the normal way that advocates advocate and analysts analyze, in the event that those norms do not prevail. The risk for all of us is that in our haste to get back to normal politics and advocacy, we normalize a dangerous turn toward authoritarianism.

Already, the siren song of collaboration is strong. Trump could be good for nuclear energy. He plans to make big investments in infrastructure. He appears to be backpedalling on many of his most outrageous promises.

I can understand the appeal, especially for those of us who strongly believe that nuclear energy must be a core technology in any plausible path to climate mitigation, Democrats have been at best fickle allies and environmental groups have been committed opponents.

But I, for one, would counsel caution.

Back in 2004, when Michael Shellenberger and I wrote “The Death of Environmentalism,” we argued that environmentalism was failing because it had become a special interest. Environmentalists had constructed an interest called “the environment” and then advocated for it in the same way that the insurance industry or the auto industry or the labor movement advocated for its interests.

That insight is all the more important today. Trump may build better roads and airports and the trains, as the old saw goes, might run on time. He might even lead a nuclear renaissance. But no amount of clean energy or infrastructure is worth forfeiting what remains of our civic and democratic culture.

Further, it is difficult to imagine a democratic path toward an ecomodern future that does not successfully address the twin challenges of immigration and multiculturalism on the one hand and deindustrialization on the other. These challenges are bedeviling advanced developed economies all over the world and represent the underlying crisis of the post-industrial economy and polity.  Democracy, civil society, and the environment all demand that we not retreat back to our silos to advocate for the narrow technical, regulatory, and bureaucratic solutions in which we have become expert.

The Fire This Time

“The Death of Environmentalism,” was published just a few weeks before the reelection of George W. Bush and helped provoke a rare moment of introspection on the Left. It was read by some to be a call to create a broader coalition on the progressive Left of environmental, labor, and social justice groups to fight climate change and by others as a call to reframe the traditional environmental agenda as one that would create jobs and economic opportunity.  Actually, what we had in mind was a more fundamental reimagining of liberal and progressive politics for a post-industrial globalized economy in which both the scale and nature of ecological challenges would be fundamentally different.

In any event, the introspection didn’t last long. In 2006, Democrats swept away Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. In 2008, Barack Obama won the presidency, supported by a multicultural majority that appeared to have remade the American political landscape, one that included many of the working class white voters who eight years later would swing the presidency to Donald Trump. There was nothing wrong with American progressivism, it seemed to many, that an emerging democratic majority of Latinos, African-Americans, millennials, and college educated liberals couldn’t fix.

The triumphalism blotted out a much more basic reality. With the Great Recession gathering, Americans deeply disenchanted with the Bush administration and convinced that the country was headed in the wrong direction simply wanted change. Obama proved able in 2008 and 2012 to turn out a larger and more diverse electorate that tilted the national election toward Democrats. But the Obama effect wasn’t transferable to other Democrats or progressives and it didn’t change voters’ general disenchantment with government or the direction of the country.  Without him at the top of the ticket, Democrats suffered crippling losses in 2010, 2014, and 2016.

During those years, we at Breakthrough dabbled a bit in national security, economic policy, and a brief effort to rethink the social contract. But there wasn’t much appetite for it, at least coming from us. “What,” we were frequently asked, “does any of this have to do with the environment?” And so, over the years, we acceded to the same “policy literalism” that we had criticized in “Death of Environmentalism.” By the time “An Ecomodernist Manifesto” was published in 2015, social and economic progress were simply assumed. The focus, rather, was how to reconcile it with environmental protection.

But while it is all fine and well to remind people how much progress human societies have made in recent centuries, about three quarters of our countrymen are not feeling so good about it these days, at least judging by what they tell pollsters. Absolute poverty may be a thing of the past. But relative poverty, the gap between those at the bottom of the income distribution and the average American, and between the average American and those at the very top, is as large as it has ever been. With that have come new problems – obesity, drug addiction, depression, and declining economic and social mobility.

As we have transitioned from industrial to post-industrial economy, the middle class has shrunk. This is not because most of us have become poorer. From bottom to top, Americans are materially as rich as they’ve ever been. Goods and services that were once luxuries – air conditioning, high-definition television, mobile telephony – are now accessible to virtually all Americans. Food is so cheap that Americans struggle with obesity instead of hunger.

Rather global supply chains, rising productivity, and the information and communications technology revolution have brought stagnant wages along with the falling cost of goods. Meanwhile, the economy is increasingly bifurcated between those in the skilled knowledge economy and those in the unskilled service economy. Americans have been simultaneously falling out of the middle class and graduating from it economically.

For poorly educated workers, manufacturing once provided access to middle class incomes. Unskilled workers could find high productivity work in factories and with that high wages. But the old manufacturing economy is not coming back. America today actually manufactures more than it ever has. But long-term productivity improvements mean that America’s manufacturing sector employs many fewer workers than it once did.

The knowledge and service economy are different. Education, skilled labor, and social capital are rewarded and the income gap between those who are poorly educated and those who are well educated is magnified inter-generationally. The child of a PhD is enormously advantaged over the child of a high school dropout, even if they live in the same communities and attend the same schools and classes.

The progressive Left, from the Occupy movement onwards, has railed against the 1%. And while it is true that the very richest among us have reaped far more than anyone else in recent decades, the focus on the 1% allowed many liberal minded people to avoid less comfortable truths. The economic divide that has sundered America is not the one between the super rich and everyone else, but between the rising creative class of knowledge workers and those stuck in the low-wage service economy. That split is mirrored in the divide between red and blue, urban and rural, the so-called flyover states and America’s prosperous coastal enclaves.

Those with education, knowledge, skills, and cultural capital migrate to cities, to the coasts, to blue America. Those left behind seethe at their social and economic marginalization, their loss of status, and the sense that liberal, cosmopolitan America looks down on them, which it does.

Standard liberal remedies, such as redistributing income and spending more on schools and social services, can reduce income disparities to some degree. And by some analyses, they already have. Once taxes and income transfers are accounted for, economic inequality has grown little in recent decades. But even if that is so, those measures can’t close the enormous gaps in social capital, social mobility, and  social status.

Perhaps a more robust social welfare state, not just income transfers, might result in more equitable social outcomes. But the welfare state is bedeviled by the challenges of maintaining social solidarity in an increasingly multi-ethnic society. The success of the social welfare state in Scandinavia and other parts of the developed world has been made possible in no small part by a relatively homogenous population. In the United States by contrast, the dream that working class white, Latino, and African-American voters might find common cause demanding a more generous social welfare state has foundered upon mistrust and inter-group competition for what are perceived to be limited public resources.

Those challenges, of course, go well beyond working class voters. Two decades of gridlock and broken promises have soured voters of all incomes on politics and government altogether. Racial resentments, a continual ratcheting up of extreme rhetoric from both sides of the political spectrum, identity politics and its twenty-first-century handmaiden, techno-narcissism, have further contributed to American politics, and perhaps democracy, coming apart.

Empty Promises

Back in 2002, I moderated the first focus groups that tested what would become the Apollo Alliance with white working class voters in Erie, Pennsylvania. The idea was that we might create a broad coalition among environmentalists, organized labor, and working class voters for action to address climate change and end our dependence on fossil fuels.  By investing in clean energy manufacturing, we hoped, we could create economic opportunity and jobs for communities left behind as America’s traditional manufacturing economy struggled and shift the political ground upon which climate policy was being debated.

The participants were, to say the least, enthusiastic about the prospect and during a break, I left the room to confer with my colleagues behind the one-way mirror. As we shared our excitement about how well the idea was being received, the participants on the other side of the mirror started speculating about whether we might represent a company that was planning to open a wind turbine factory in Erie. They were desperate and hopeful. We were gleeful.

A few months later, we hired a consultant to produce a fanciful study purporting to show that a $300 billion investment in clean energy would create 3 million new jobs. Armed with good polling and economic modeling that nobody in our left-of-center bubble seemed too interested in questioning, we set out to conquer the Democratic Party.

The Apollo concept proved wildly successful politically. It ultimately became Democratic orthodoxy. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama competed in the 2008 Democratic primaries over who had the best plan to create clean energy jobs. As President, Obama spent about $200 billion dollars in green stimulus and many billions more in continuing subsidies for renewable energy, electric cars, mass transit, and high-speed rail.

Fifteen years later, there are few clean energy manufacturing jobs in Erie. Long a stronghold for Democrats and organized labor, Erie County this year voted for a different kind of populist promising to bring back manufacturing jobs by tearing up trade deals, deporting immigrants, and ending the so-called “War on Coal.”

Sadly for Erie, Trump will be no more capable of bringing back high wage jobs for low-skilled and poorly educated voters than was Obama. The same demand for change and dissatisfaction with the economy and government that swept Trump into office may just as quickly sweep him out. But however things unfold, the rage, resentment, and economic disenfranchisement that made Trump’s ascension to the presidency possible are not going away.

After Trump

A decade ago, I came to these challenges as a self-identified progressive. Today, I’m less comfortable with that identity, if only because progressives have demonstrated themselves every bit as capable of trading in arrogance, fantasy, and vitriol as conservatives. And I’ve come to know many conservatives whom I know to be every bit as committed to progress, equity, shared prosperity, and a beautiful world as I am.

Trumpism, in any event, is likely to redraw the fault lines of American politics in ways that are difficult to anticipate. And so for ecomodernists, and fellow travelers, this moment offers opportunity and peril. It is possible that the Trump Administration will end up looking like a souped-up version of the Bush administration with a more populist veneer and less appetite for nation-building.

Under these circumstances, there may be real possibilities to make headway on emissions. A Trump administration prepared to invest in advanced nuclear energy and next-generation solar panels and batteries, keep America’s existing nuclear fleet online, and support the ongoing transition from coal to gas – even as it withdraws from the Paris Accord, repeals the Clean Power Plan, and continues to deny climate science – could end up with more to show in terms of emissions reduction than a Democratic Administration committed to a green agenda that has failed to have much impact upon the trajectory of carbon emissions, in the United States or globally, for almost three decades.

But we should also keep in mind that there are far more problematic outcomes. Should the new administration take a hard turn toward authoritarianism, there will be important consequences for those who align themselves with or in opposition to it. Short of that, should Trump actually attempt to implement much of his agenda, he will engender enormous civil society opposition. The street protests in cities around the nation in recent days may provide just a taste of what is to come. With civil society, including the environmental movement, in the streets, a quick and politically convenient embrace of Trump initiatives that align with our technological preferences risks delegitimizing ecomodernism as a credible civil society voice.

In the end, each of us will need to make these assessments for ourselves. Are we taking pragmatic actions to encourage the best impulses of the new administration or are we legitimizing something much darker? The choice is not one that will be presented to us all at once or that we will make only once. Rather, we will be presented with it over and over again.

However we make those choices, it will be incumbent upon us all to do everything that we can to strengthen civil society, to fight for democratic norms and resist their erosion while simultaneously finding ways to turn down the rhetoric that has rendered so much of our civic life increasingly contentious and irreconcilable. We will also need to ask some hard questions of our own agendas and political commitments.

Here is hoping that we all make those choices well and that together, we can find new possibilities for social, economic, and environmental progress in this moment of fear and uncertainty.