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End of the world: A look at Trump’s nihilism

Why doesn’t President Trump try to do something about global warming? Matt Taibbi proposes an answer in a new piece in Rolling Stone.

Will Donald Trump’s reckless ego, greed, nationalism, megalomania and anti-scientism destroy the world, and, if so, how?

This is, after all, a man who publicly posed the question, if the use of nuclear weapons is unimaginable, then “why are we making them?”

But another strain of Trump’s nihilism is captured by Trump’s ambivalence about the importance of preserving the planet for future generations by combating the threat posed to future life on earth by global warming/climate change.

Last week, the Washington Post reported on a little noticed projection that, on its current course, the earth’s average temperature will rise by seven degrees by the end of this century. Scientists describe such a rise as “catastrophic,” predicting that “many coral reefs would dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Parts of Manhattan and Miami would be underwater without costly coastal defenses. Extreme heat waves would routinely smother large parts of the globe.”

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Obviously, this is just a projection by scientists, but what else can we use to deal with possible future catastrophes, Vegas oddsmakers? And if the smartest scientists in the world believe this is the future if no action is taken, what else can we do except take action?

In a piece for Rolling Stone, headlined “Why Aren’t We Talking More About Trump’s Nihilism?” Matt Taibbi suggests that the current occupant of the Oval Office has an answer to the what-else-can-we-do question I posed above, and that Trumpian answer is, roughly, ignore the experts, party on, we’re probably doomed anyway.

When Trump said, during one 2016 campaign rally, “What the hell do you have to lose by trying something new?” he was apparently speaking directly to African-American voters, which Taibbi acknowledges.

But Taibbi uses the quote to suggest that Trump is making a broader nihilistic argument to all segments of the population that nothing matters much other than the present, or at least doesn’t matter enough to inconvenience ourselves in the frail hope of preserving the world for future generations. Here’s a taste of what Taibbi calls Trump’s “more primal” and more nihilistic appeal:

His core message was relentless, hounding negativity, lambasting audiences with images of death and disaster.

His first campaign speech was basically a non-denominational end-times sermon, in which America was either kaput or close to it, surrounded on all sides by bloodthirsty enemies. ‘They kill us,’ he preached. ‘They beat us all the time. … We have nothing …’

He ranted about a system befouled by false prophets. ‘Politicians are all talk, no action,’ he howled. ‘They will not bring us — believe me — to the promised land.’

Obese and rotting, close enough to the physical end himself (and long ago spiritually dead), Trump essentially told his frustrated, pessimistic crowds that America was doomed anyway, so we might as well stop worrying and floor it to the end. …

It’s easy to understand the nationalist sentiment behind reversing trade deals or backing Brexit. But what’s the populist angle on burning the planet, or nuclear war? Taibbi ends his piece with this: 

The broader electoral pitch is just an evil version of every nuclear-age dance tune ever, “99 Luftballoons” or “1999.” The world is ending, so fuck it, let’s party. As crazy as it is, it’s a seductive message for a country steeped in hate and pessimism. Democrats still don’t understand it. Trump’s turning America into a death cult, with us as involuntary members.

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