The Dangerous Politics of Nostalgia

It’s a good idea to look in the direction you’re traveling, not backwards to your past.

In an airport, I recently saw a sign above the moving walkway advising us to face in the direction we were traveling.  That’s sound advice for life in general and policy making in particular.  It’s a recipe for failure to try to restore the past rather than looking toward the future.  Unfortunately, rather than embracing the future, the Trump Administration has its eyes firmly locked on an imagined 1950s golden age.

Trump notoriously favors the  old energy sector over the new — coal, oil, and gas, not solar or wind.   His plan for prosperity is based on massive expansions in fossil fuel production.  This includes repudiating the Paris Agreement, expanding oil and gas drilling into new areas, including opening new places to offshore drilling, expanding mining and drilling on public lands, opening up the Alaska Natural Wildlife Reservation, and eliminating protections for lands set aside as national monuments. And to encourage greater use of fuels, Trump seeks to roll back limits on pollution from coal-fired power plants, at a real cost to public health, while axing all federal programs dealing with climate change.

On a broader scale, his vision of prosperity is based on restoring the manufacturing sector of a half century ago, rather than looking to new industries and opportunities. This has been his rationale for reducing environmental regulations and allowing increased pollution. In signing the executive order to begin a rollback of the Obama Administration’s signature climate change regulation, he said:

The action I’m taking today will . . . allow our companies and our workers to thrive, compete, and succeed on a level playing field for the first time in a long time, fellas.  It’s been a long time.  I’m not just talking about eight years; we’re talking about a lot longer than eight years.  You people know it maybe better than anybody. . . .

That is what this is all about:  bringing back our jobs, bringing back our dreams — and making America wealthy again.

In signing this executive order, he surrounded himself with coal miners. But today, the solar industry employs more people — and unlike coal, it’s growing, not shrinking.

Refusal to deal with climate change is the most important and most striking example of this backward orientation. Besides being unwilling to take steps to reduce emissions, the Administration is also refusing to deal with rising sea levels and other effects of climate change.  Trump simply refuses to acknowledge that the world is changing. Like King Canute, he seems to think he can turn back the rising waters through royal fiat.

Similarly, the GOP platform had an entirely backward-looking vision of the American West.  It stressed old industries — mining, logging, oil, and ranching — while ignoring the burgeoning New West economy completely — an economy stressing tourism, recreation, and technology.

Inability to look forward is also apparent in Trump’s proposed budget cuts to research.  These include gutting major research programs on climate change and renewable energy at EPA, the Department of Energy, NOAA, and NASA.  More broadly, Trump’s budget proposes $1 billion in cuts to biomedical research at NIH and a $776 million cut at NSF.  Scientific research is all about new knowledge — not a priority for this Administration.

It’s no wonder that California has aligned itself against Trump.  True or not, California likes to think of itself as “the place where the future happens first.”  But Trump’s Washington seeks to restore the past, not embrace the future.  It’s also little wonder that his greatest appeal is to the elderly, while the young are repelled. The elderly imagine that the world was far more glorious when they were starting out; the young realize they are facing the challenges of a changing world.

The airport sign had the right idea.  If you don’t look in the direction you’re traveling, you’re likely to stumble or risk a collision.  Let’s hope the country doesn’t learn that lesson the hard way.

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Reader Comments

4 Replies to “The Dangerous Politics of Nostalgia”

  1. Remember when . . . the United States was a global environmental leader and the federal government served the national interest for the benefit of every individual in every state?

    Those were the days my friend, but they have reached their end. If nostalgia is dangerous, then we can hope for those days to return, but the more responsible path forward is for California and other states to step up and take action to protect their own citizens without relying upon the unreliable federal government.

    1. Jai Rho said;
      “….Remember when . . . the United States was a global environmental leader…..”

      Dear Jai,
      The U.S. is still the global environmental leader with our advanced regulatory systems for clean air, clean water, habitat and natural resources. We have always been way ahead of all other nations in terms of protecting the environment and we remain so today.

      California cannot offer anyone a responsible path forward because it has sunken into the dark depths of regulatory abuse, failure, depravity, intellectual fraud and financial bankruptcy.

  2. Dan, Legal Planet intellectuals have always made excellent attempts at motivating us to save ourselves from global self-destruction but you obviously are not reaching the peoples around the world we need to read and heed them, and politicians in Washington have completely changed our form of government from Democracy to oligarchy with politicians in both parties that are totally subservient to the power of money controlling our future regardless of consequences.

    Now that atmospheric CO2 has passed 410 ppm, along with the consequences of increasingly out of control climate changes, we must find a better way to communicate and motivate because tipping points are falling and producing disasters far faster than we shall ever be able to control in time to protect the human race from a totally unacceptable quality of life in this century.

    Today, Legal Planet posts are proving beyond all doubt that it is time for all UC professors and scholars to join together with the highest priority of producing and implementing solutions to save the human race with the greatest sense of urgency.

    1. My greatest disappointment with trying to protect us from destructive climate changes is that those who know the most about the hell on earth future being created by global warming refuse to join together to motivate the public to take actions necessary to protect our future.

      This means that global warming deniers are winning their fight to destroy our future by default, especially since Washington politicians, in both parties, are enabling the deniers more than ever before.

      The old “it’s like herding cats to get academics to join together to protect the human race” argument is totally unacceptable now that we have no way to stop atmospheric CO2 from increasing, proving beyond all doubt that politicians and intellectuals have not evolved far enough beyond chimpanzees to save the human race, just as the history of civilization has taught us far too many times.

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

READ more