eyes on the U.S.

How The Trump Era Accelerates The Culture War, From Both Sides

President Trump delivers delivers the State of the Union address in Jan. 30
President Trump delivers delivers the State of the Union address in Jan. 30
Mathieu Bock-Côté


It's now more than a year since Donald Trump"s inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, and the media's animosity towards him continues unabated. After his surprise victory against the wishes of the establishment, Trump remains the target of a never-ending campaign against his legitimacy, his very presence at the White House presented as a scandal. The media persists in seeing his election as a historical aberration, and does all it can to undermine his presidency.

President Trump, they argue, is a grotesque regression in the course of history, allowing the old America to return in its ugliest forms. It should thus be possible, at any good moment, to erase the political accident that was his election and simply forget about it altogether. From the regular questioning of his mental health to his presumed collusion with Russia, it's all about preventing Trump from normalizing his presidency by suggesting that it could explode at any time. The goal is simple: To morally discredit him.

At the same time, the White House is openly at war with the media. Unlike other politicians who try to make concessions to a hostile press corps, or even flatter them, Trump has decided to confront the media head-on. This was plain to see again recently with the creation of the "Fake News Awards," which was about demonstrating that the media is the main "opposition party," to reuse the wording of Steve Bannon, Trump's deposed strategist. One can reject Trumpism without disputing this reading of the situation.

Trump, for that matter, relies on Twitter to communicate directly with the American people, freeing himself from the media filter. But he wallows in a logorrhea that's absolutely incompatible with the sacred dimension of the presidential word. The man seems unmanageable and, applied to foreign policy, his verbal outlandishness is a real danger to world peace, as the North Korean crisis shows.

But let's go further. It's difficult not to agree that Trump is a vulgar, boorish character. Such a megalomaniac venturer should probably never have ended up leading the empire of our time. Of course, you could also argue that it takes an out-of-the-ordinary and a particularly controversial personality to stand up to an establishment that first tried to stop him from being elected and now seeks to oust him.

To the eyes of the elite, this program looks like a form of simplistic nativism.

But if the media condemn Trump because of his erratic and equally nasty style, what they're actually trying to neutralize is the populist insurrection that he successfully led, with his purported vow to defend ordinary, forgotten Americans. From his fight against mass mass immigration to that against what he considers to be the excesses of free trade, and for national sovereignty, Trump is openly embarking on a fight against the dominant ideology: He's opposing an entire system in what seems to be a revolt against globalization.

To the eyes of the American elite, this program only looks like a form of simplistic nativism, good for nothing else than appealing to those whom Hillary Clinton infamously described as a "basket of deplorables." Such a disputed president should be feeling very lonely indeed, especially given that he's constantly in a quarrel with his own party. Still, Trump's base remains loyal and follows him in his insurrection. For a long time, it felt scorned and humiliated, without a real political champion after failed attempts by Ross Perot in 1992 and Patrick J. Buchanan in 1992 and 1996 to rise to the White House. What's unique about Trump's insurrection is that it came and disrupted the partisan system from the inside.

There is in Trump a transgressive mentality that appeals to voters who feel culturally alienated by the prevailing political correctness. Even now that he's in power, Trump still believes he's in the opposition. And he's not entirely wrong about that, as the vision of America he claims to embody only exists in the form of some kind of horror story.

The Trump presidency fits in with a radicalization of the cultural war that's been dividing America for 30 years — and which isn't about to end. The pro-diversity America that remains culturally hegemonic doesn't tolerate that traditional America will resist it.

The comparison between Donald Trump and Richard Nixon is inevitable, even though the first is a charismatic leader and the second an unpopular professional politician: Both are loathed for having embodied the resistance to the tide of history. So beyond the troubling nature of his character, Trump's presidency raises another crucial question: To what extent can you govern against the established zeitgeist?

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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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