Searching for silver linings

I read a lot of serious newspapers — online and off — today, and in the end got tired of the whining. These publications are mostly written by and for the socio-economic groups who have done reasonably (or very well) out of the neoliberal years and it’s as if they cannot believe that this has happened. So they constantly repeat the long list of terrible downsides that will follow from this catastrophic election. But we knew about those downsides before November 8, so another recitation of them seems redundant. The real question is: what should those who are dismayed by the Trump ascendancy do now?

For American citizens, the answer seems obvious: focus on the mid-term elections that are due in 2018. We know from long experience that new American presidents generally get an electoral kicking in those mid-terms. Given that Trump is likely to make a hash of many things in his first two years, the chances of getting some rationality back into Congress seem worth considering.

For us in Europe, some rethinking is due. Top of my list would be NATO, which was allowed to engage in really pernicious mission-creep after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. What the hell was NATO doing in Afghanistan, for example? Given Putin’s belligerence, NATO in its original conception — to protect Europe from Soviet advances — is still valid. Trump’s scepticism about the organisation might provoke some useful rethinking among the European democracies who most need it — and who have clearly been taking it for granted if you look at the proportion of their GDP that they devote to defence. Kate Bush’s Joni Mitchell’s1 great line — you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone — comes to mind.

Searching belatedly for a silver lining in this cloud, I’m struck by the thought that Trump’s election is likely to take the wind out of Silicon Valley’s sails. After all, Peter Thiel was the only one of the Valley’s oligarchs who supported Trump, and Hillary Clinton’s email trove is littered with the names of tech titans who were clearly part of the Clinton inner circle. And just as I ws thinking this, I came on a column by Andrew Orlowski which likewise sheds no tears over the Valley’s reverse:

Despite inflicting on people the greatest loss of shareholder value in human history, Silicon Valley managed to restore its reputation after the crash, but only did so because the political and media “thought leaders” were entranced and in awe of Facebook and Google. Google’s extraordinary grip on Government agencies has been well documented here at El Reg, and only took place thanks to Obama. Obama was even prepared to give Google something even Google was nervous about asking for – Class II reclassification. If it was good for Uber or Facebook, it must be good for America.

The tech oligarchs had an extraordinary ride of luck. Silicon Valley successfully disguised an attack not just on the heartlands, but the unwritten social contract. If you study Google closely, what emerges is how much the very idea of humans irritates it, what an inconvenience we are. “Post human” isn’t some sci-fi fantasy, it’s a reasonable description of a world in which many jobs have been automated, and the individual’s property rights and identity rights have been pared right away to the bone. People have begun to notice that Silicon Valley doesn’t create jobs or prosperity – except for the oligarchs themselves.

There are 3.5 million trucking jobs in the US, and a further 5.2 million job associated with transport. Trucking is the most popular job in 29 of the 50 states. How many will survive in a decade?

And the relevance of this? If Silicon Valley gets its way, most of those jobs will disappear.

  1. Thanks to Jonathan Rees for spotting the misattribution.