The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Transitions, Fast and Slow
Just ten days ago, the election of Donald Trump was a shock -- even for many of his supporters and staff. But our disbelief now has to deal with new realities. In just over a week, Trump's transition team has already released names for several key positions in his pending administration. Many of those picks are quite controversial.
The transition in the office of the US President -- from Obama to Trump -- will happen peacefully and predictably on January 20, 2017. The change of administration, though, will not be gentle. The incoming president and his staff bring goals, policies and style that are dramatically different from what we've seen with the current president.
Tragically, Mr. Trump's election has been taken by some people as permission for bigotry and violence. In the past few days, hundreds of cases have been reported of assault and intimidation against innocent individuals, solely because of their religion, race, or sexual orientation. That shift in social norms needs to be vigorously opposed right now -- by Mr. Trump, by other political leaders, and by all of us as members of local communities. We must not tolerate a climate of intolerance, before or after inauguration day.
As I indicated last week, much of what Mr. Trump has promised is starkly at odds with the ethics that Eco-Justice Ministries has promoted through the last 16 years. There is much to fear if, as expected, he moves quickly to implement key parts of his agenda. On many fronts, those of us who disagree with his policies of exclusion, extraction and exploitation will need to work hard and strategically to blunt or divert some of those initiatives.
There is a bit of good news, though. Political transitions are not instantaneous. Drawing on a familiar metaphor, it is like changing the course of an aircraft carrier at sea. Under the best of conditions, it is a slow process, and strong winds can make it even more difficult.
As we begin to sort out what the Trump administration can do quickly, and what will take more time, we can back off on some of our anxiety, and we can be more focused in developing effective action plans.
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Immigration is one of the flash points for fears about the Trump transition. President Obama, by executive order, had established "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals", which provided protection for hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth. During the campaign, Trump said that he would immediately repeal all executive orders issued and executive actions taken by Obama. The abrupt end of DACA is a threat to the youngsters who had submitted their names, addresses and other identifying information to the government. Those fears are real.
I've heard, though, that it will be close to impossible for federal agents to move quickly on deportations -- whether of the "bad hombres" with criminal convictions, or of youngsters without a visa. The US immigration system is already overwhelmed, and there are not enough immigration judges to process those who are already in detention. A substantial increase in immigration enforcement will take congressional action for funding and confirming judges, and implementing those increases will take time.
Resistance to the Trump policies also will slow, or prevent, some immigration actions. Large cities across the US have announced that they will not compel their police offices to enforce immigration laws. The mayors of two of Colorado's largest cities, Denver and Aurora, have said that they "will not do the job of the federal government", even if that leads to the loss of millions of dollars in federal funds.
The promised wall along the entire US-Mexico border -- already downgraded to a fence in some places -- will not happen quickly, if at all. Funding for the construction, logistics and lawsuits pretty much guarantee that one of Mr. Trump's signature promises is not an immediate threat.
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Issues of climate and energy policy are of special interest to Eco-Justice Notes readers. Here, too, there are immediate concerns, and there are places where we have more time and flexibility.
The rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline permit was a big win in the struggle to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Trump can quickly reverse that decision, and he could green-light the final construction permits for the Dakota Access pipeline. As I mentioned last week, this shift in presidential use of authority will require a shift in strategy for pipeline opponents. The fight may now require an emphasis on state-level permits, legal challenges, and pressure on the banks that fund pipeline construction.
Not all federal policies can be changed quickly. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, speaking in Denver yesterday, voiced confidence that compromises about locations for oil and gas drilling in Colorado "will stick" and that the change of administration "shall make no difference." The Denver Post reported her belief that "a process involving parties on all sides in forging landscape-scale plans will endure."
In an announcement this morning, the Obama administration is blocking new oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean. (Thank you, Barack!) The Associated Press noted that this blueprint for drilling from 2017 to 2022 can be rewritten by President-elect Donald Trump, but it is a process that could take months or years.
A panel of climate experts that I heard on Tuesday shared the mixed and somewhat uncertain prospects of the transition. Trump -- who apparently does not understand or accept the reality and urgency of the climate crisis -- has vowed to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. But that withdrawal, according to the terms of the agreement, takes four years. His administration, of course, can ignore the terms of the agreement, but there are international repercussions in doing so. There is also domestic pressure to stick with Paris, including from a number of major US corporations. The campaign bluster about rejecting Paris may not turn into decisive action.
For the last several years, renewable energy initiatives have been closely tied to climate action, but that is not the only way to approach the clean energy agenda. There are strong and diverse constituencies who are deeply invested in the spread of wind generation, especially. As one panel member pointed out, the top five US states for renewable energy generation are Texas, California, Oklahoma, Iowa and Kansas. Four out of those five are "red" states, and they will work hard to continue the economic boom of wind power.
Yes, there are very real dangers in the Trump administration's slate of environmental policies. But the EPA cannot be abolished by executive order, and changes of established federal rules require the full and drawn-out "notice and comment" process. There is time, and a variety of political options, to work on many of these issues.
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Christian theology speaks of the strange notion that the realm of God is "already, but not yet." In this time of political transition, may we keep our theological bearings with a focus on God's realm -- both present and to come.
On the afternoon of January 20, Mr. Trump will be the President. At that point, we'll also see an "already, but not yet" reality. President Trump can sign executive orders, and his personality will dominate the administration's relationship with the nation and the world. But the Trump agenda will have a strong component of "not yet." Goals of the administration will take a long time to develop and implement. There will be many opportunities for discussion, negotiation and resistance.
We've only had 10 days to get our bearings about this unexpected change in US politics. We have two more months before that change officially takes place with the changeover of administrations. Let's use that time to be careful in our ethical analysis of what is coming, and in our strategic planning for what to address, and when.
Right now, and in the days to come, let us stand firmly with those who are personally threatened by the change in tone and policy. Let us be supportive and nurturing of those who may feel overwhelmed and fearful in the face of such great changes.
NOTE: Next Thursday is the Thanksgiving holiday in the US. As is our long-standing tradition, the entire staff of Eco-Justice Ministries will be taking the holiday weekend off. The next Eco-Justice Notes is scheduled to be sent on December 2.
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