Trump And The World

Donald Trump Era Opens With Darkness

The 45th U.S. president took office by discarding the postwar precedent of values-based U.S. leadership of and engagement with the rest of the world.

Looking in at the Washington Monument on Friday
Looking in at the Washington Monument on Friday


WASHINGTON — For anyone who hoped that President Donald Trump would use his inaugural address to lower America's political temperature, or expected that the rancor of 2016 would give way to elevated expressions more typical of, and appropriate to, an Inauguration Day, the new president's remarks Friday can only be described as a sharp disappointment.

Like his alarmist speech to the Republican National Convention in July, this one painted a false picture of an impoverished, crime-ridden country that has been cheated and victimized by Washington elites and grasping interests abroad. Trump's dystopia may exist in places but not generally in a nation whose economy has rebounded from the 2008-2009 recession and is now outperforming other advanced industrial democracies. Stoking discontent may serve Trump's political interests, but seems unlikely to contribute to the country's stability or unity of purpose. Nor will painting these purportedly unchecked ills as imposed on the "righteous public" by a vaguely disloyal "small groupin our nation's capital" - the same people, presumably, who had honored him, and the country's democratic heritage, by their presence on the inaugural platform. If such words are capable of unifying Americans, it will only be in a shared sense of free-floating grievance against a scapegoat, or scapegoats, designated by Trump.

Some heard in this an echo of Jacksonian populism. And, to be sure, there is a rich American tradition of attacking establishment fatcats and promising reform. But there's a world of difference between decrying dysfunction and insinuating disloyalty. Even Andrew Jackson might have blanched at the grandiosity with which Trump invoked America's "glorious destiny," or his repeated promises to abolish the tedium of democratic deliberation - "talk" as Trump dismissed it - through "action." Old Hickory's 1829 first inaugural address humbly included a pledge to "keep steadily in view the limitations as well as the extent of the Executive power, trusting thereby to discharge the functions of my office without transcending its authority." Trump, by contrast, spoke in oddly mystical terms of "a nation that is only living as long as it is striving."

A Trump supporter at the inauguration Friday — Photo: Lorie Shaull

In fact the Constitution — which Trump never again mentioned after swearing his oath — was ordained for purposes simultaneously less ethereal and more uplifting, such as to "establish justice" and to "secure the blessings of liberty." Yet "liberty," "justice" and even "peace," language common to past presidents' inaugural rhetoric, did not make the cut in Trump's speech. Nor did "equality," though we heard about "carnage," "ripped'away wealth, "stolen" lives and the "destroying'of jobs. And we heard Trump repeatedly offer that Americans would be "protected" against these transgressions and betrayals - "I will fight for you," he promised. Simultaneously personalistic, paternalistic and state-aggrandizing, these formulations were hard to square with his claim that, as of noon Friday, "the people became the rulers of this nation again."

This magical-mystical union of the people with one another (Trump gave "solidarity" its debut in a presidential inaugural address), and of the people with their president, will take place, we were told, under the banner of "America first." Since World War II, American political leaders have been loath to invoke that slogan, due to its association with a long-discredited prewar committee that preached American neutrality toward the rise of fascism in Europe. Trump now embraces it.

In so doing, he repudiated the postwar precedent of values-based U.S. leadership of and engagement with the rest of the world. The United States over the decades has done well by doing good; American generosity, and its support for fair global rules, fostered prosperity in Europe and Asia and beyond, which in turn redounded to the United States' advantage at home. Announcing falsely that "protection will lead to great prosperity and strength," Trump derided engagement and interdependence as suckers' games, elevated "winning" as the only goal and endorsed the zero-sum notion that all nations "put their own interests first." It made for a dark vision indeed - the opposite, if such can be imagined, of Abraham Lincoln's inaugural appeal to "the better angels of our nature."

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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