Manchester, UK. Amid the swirl of Trump politics it is easy to lose sight of what is important in social life. There is no shortage of media coverage about Mr. Trump's rise to become the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, his penchant for lying, his authoritarian egomania, his limited knowledge of domestic and foreign policy not to forget his shallow comprehension of the US Constitution. Here's a sample of recent headline news.
Did British Prime Minister David Cameron call Mr. Trump "stupid?"
Mr. Trump takes to the airwaves to disagree.
Did Mr. Cameron invite Mr. Trump to London?
Mr. Trump said he did.
Mr. Cameron said he didn't.
This kind of circus-like media attention is good for ratings, for advertising revenues, for circulation and for Mr. Trump. It enables Mr. Trump to spin--with ever-increasing brilliance--the myth of his invincible persona. It also seems to reinforce the growing ignorance of an ever-increasing audience of would-be voters who can't seem to separate fiction from truth or science from conspiracy, who would be hard pressed to know the location of Burkina Faso, or who equate foreign languages, especially Arabic, with threats of terrorism.
This sad state of affairs would not have been possible without the aid of the corporate media. They have helped to create mythic narratives that camouflage (a) political weaknesses or (b) the real sources of power. In the game of power, as social scientists have continuously demonstrated, things are not what they seem. Mr. Trump has been playing the media with perfect pitch. Indeed, they are so besotted with the exciting notes of Mr. Trump's sweet songs there is little room for alternative melodies of global importance.
There is so much "celebrity news," that even in a newspaper as good as The Guardian, you have to read carefully to find stories about the plight of our planet. In The Guardian's May 20th edition there is a story buried on page 4: "Humans are harming the earth faster than it can recover." In the story, environment correspondent Fiona Harvey describes the grim results of a comprehensive United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) study that involved more than 1200 scientists from 160 governments. Based upon the analysis of decades of scientific data, the study found that governments have failed to seriously confront the scourges of air pollution, the destruction of marine ecosystems, the ruin of land or the danger of water scarcity.
Commenting on the report, UNEP Director Achim Steiner stated: "If current trends continue, and the world fails to enact solutions that improve patterns of production and consumption, if we fail to use natural resources sustainably, then the state of the world's environment will continue to decline."
Ms. Harvey concludes her important story in this way:
Despite the recent global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions, signed in Paris last December, carbon output continues to rise across much of the globe. The report argues that this will put a long-term strain on the ability of developing economies to feed their own people.
Climate change is exacerbated by greenhouse house gas emissions from agriculture, including. leaching nitrous oxide from runoff, and incorrectly stored animal manure. These sources increased by more than a quarter between 2000 and 2010...
Obscured on page 4 of one of the world's great newspapers this important news is about the future of our planet. Why is it not on the front page? Why are these issues not at the center of our political debate?
Professor Noam Chomsky has recently bemoaned the absence of public sphere discussion about the growing potential of nuclear holocaust and the ever-quickening slide toward an environmental apocalypse. In a May 20th Guardian interview, Professor Chomsky discussed the current state of American presidential politics.
And we haven't even talked about the worst problems: the economic problems are bad enough, as are the social problems, but far worse than these are the major threats to the survival of the human species - the threat of nuclear war and environmental catastrophe. Here, if you look at the US primaries, you have to be impressed and appalled by the utter irrationality of the species. Here are two enormous problems that have to be faced right now, and they are almost absent from the primaries.
How will we react to the cataclysmic social and cultural dislocations that climate change will soon bring? How will we deal with widespread shortages of water or the disappearance of arable land? How will we confront the global spread of hunger and disease?
These issues are rarely mentioned let alone discussed in corporate media coverage of the 2016 election. For Mr. Trump, of course, these are non-issues. He says that climate change is a myth--no need to worry about it. Given the media obsession with Mr. Trump's fantasy world, it is easy to push these global issues to the margins of our awareness. What happens, however, if we don't think about or plan for the inevitable: widespread social dislocation, hunger, water shortages and the spread of disease?
It is clear that the corporate media are not motivated to bring these life-and-death issues to the forefront of public debate. Although politically active intellectuals like Professor Chomsky are often dismissed as pie in the sky idealists, we should never forget that scholars are the guardians of a body of knowledge that opens our eyes to the world. Scholars attempt to describe the world as it is--not like it is on TV. And yet our scientifically informed representations of the perils of climate change, conspiracy theories, anti-science prejudice, xenophobia, and racism are usually deeply buried inside newspapers or found in small circulation websites that attract relatively small audiences, which means that these efforts often don't have the reach--or the glitz-- to shape public opinion.
Even so, we must go on. It is our scholarly obligation to describe powerfully and evocatively the fundamental issues that shape our being-in-the-world, our humanity. In his Guardian interview Professor Chomsky was asked why he goes on.
Here's what he said:
I remember the philosopher Bertrand Russell was asked why he spent his time protesting against nuclear war and getting arrested on demonstrations. Why didn't he continue to work on the serious philosophical and logical problems which have major intellectual significance? And his answer was pretty good. He said: "Look, if I and others like me only work on those problems, there won't be anybody around to appreciate it or be interested."
Good advice for all of us!
If we follow it we might be able cut through the media fog, help to unravel the Myth of Trump and begin to better protect our troubled planet.