The Authoritarian Bubble: Bolsonaro, the Amazon, Trump and George Orwell

trump empty chair

Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past. – George Orwell

Two weeks into the Trump administration thousands of documents detailing animal welfare violations nationwide were removed from the website of the Department of Agriculture which had been posting this information for decades.  The records included inspection records and animal abuse reports from commercial animal facilities in the U.S. including zoos, breeders, factory farms, and laboratories.

To some that might seem like a trivial concern given the enormity of the threat that the Trump administration presented.  It is far from trivial.

As an animal lover I was incensed by the action.  But as a social scientist, I saw this move for exactly what it was – an attempt to control information, as Orwell wrote to “control the past.”  It was an attempt to own reality and I knew that it would not stop.

Predictably, the Trump administration soon started trying to control and distort information about climate change.  It has been doing so ever since.

As just one recent example, in March of 2019 officials of the Trump Administration neutered a news release written by scientists which showed that climate change could have a withering effect on the economy of California by inundating real estate over the next few decades.  An earlier draft, written by scientists, was “sanitized” to mute the impact of the research.

The report had detailed that California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, would face more than $100 billion in damages related to climate change and sea-level rise by the end of the century.  But, people realizing the effects of climate change might lead to action.  It’s better for authoritarians to manipulate and create their own information.

In an article in the Nation, George Grandin, has written about how fundamental to the ideology of the modern conservative movement is the notion that only individual rights have any standing.  Social rights – the rights of the collective – to health care, education, clean environment are considered dangerous.  The lie that the Conservative movement tells itself and us is that individuals, pursuing their own self-interest will somehow, miraculously, provide a society that functions in the interests of us all.

This is bull shit.

Those committed to the primacy of individual rights pit them in opposition to social rights and despise even the notion of the wider good.  They try to destroy any talk of, thought of, example of or advocacy of social rights.  This is one of the reasons they have fought so hard against the ACA.  It is why they are so terrified of science, of facts.  They wish to convince the American people, and indeed the world, that individual rights if allowed to be expressed unfettered will result in the good of all.

Grandin calls it individual rights exclusivism.

Authoritarian governments around the world are denying social rights and manipulating information to make it seem as if unfettered capitalism will reward us all.  The Brazilian government, for example, recently sacked the head of the National Institute for Space Research who had released data showing a 278 percent increase in deforestation in July compared with the figures for a year ago.  Bolsonaro portrays himself as a champion of indigenous people by taking measures to open the Amazon to exploitation.  If he can, he will hide the science, the facts that demonstrate the lie of his actions and the devastation that will result.

At the G7, Trump refused to attend a crucial meeting on climate change, biodiversity and the Amazon fires.  If you ignore the problem, it goes away at least in the bubble you and your media outlets create.

 

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