America’s Zero Moment

Written by

Maya Rockeymoore
Maya Rockeymoore

Dr. Maya Rockeymoore is president and CEO of Global Policy Solutions, a social change strategy firm in Washington, D.C., and the Center for Global Policy Solutions, a social change nonprofit dedicated to making policy work for people and their environments. She is also the co-chair of the Commission to Modernize Social Security. A regular guest on radio and television shows, Dr. Rockeymoore has appeared on NPR, CNN, Black Entertainment Television, ABC World News Tonight, Fox News, Al Jazeera and C-SPAN.

One of the most riveting narratives released in recent weeks was not a tweet issued by the president elect, but a transcript chronicling the tragic final hours of 33 crew members who died on the El Faro, a merchant ship that sank in the midst of Hurricane Joaquin near the Bahamas in October of 2015.

The record shows a captain, full of hubris, determined to stay on a course that would take the ship directly into the Category 4 hurricane. Many hours before its demise—when there was presumably still time to steer in another direction—the ship’s lower ranking crew members are recorded expressing concern about the course and fear for their safety. Yet, as is customary in hierarchical systems, no one ever intercedes or directly confronts the captain about his decision.

The story of the El Faro, which means “lighthouse” in Spanish, can be likened to the United States, which is currently preparing for Donald J. Trump to take the helm of leadership. Lacking experience yet full of hubris, Mr. Trump has been selected by a minority of U.S. voters to steer this nation toward a perfect storm.

For some time, the U.S. has been taking on water as it has neared a hurricane generating gale force winds of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and Islamophobia and tidal waves of economic inequality, demographic shifts, sociocultural strife, institutional decay, and geopolitical instability within the U.S. and abroad.

Facing increasingly treacherous conditions, partially of his own making, it is not imprudent to contemplate whether Mr. Trump’s leadership could lead America to its zero moment, the point at which the forces of gravity—exacerbated by a careless tweet, diplomatic misstep, or intemperate decision—could become so destabilizing as to pull the nation down into a watery grave.

Almost every person—no matter where they are on the ideological spectrum, geographical map, or socioeconomic ladder—knows that there is something deeply wrong with our nation’s direction. From the vapid and mean spirit of our national discourse and the seeming inability of our political representatives and institutions to solve our nation’s problems to rampant economic exploitation, there are serious reasons to question whether the United States of America can continue to exist as we have known it, and if so for how long.

For too long, journalistic outlets have created a false equivalency between Democrats and Republicans, as if they were equally responsible for the present state of the nation’s institutional stagnation and political decay. Yet, the leading role that Republicans have played in holding the federal government hostage for the better part of eight years, the strongman political tactics they recently used in North Carolina, and their blatantly undemocratic efforts to disenfranchise millions of students, minorities, and elderly people by changing voting rules in states across the country shows a clear pattern of GOP aggression that appears to be intent on rigging the system to create a perpetual partisan advantage.

Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign added to this brute power grab by unmercifully unleashing and exploiting rancid societal divisions while leveraging the appeal of economic patriotism. Since becoming the president-elect, his personnel picks—an almost all white male cabinet of known racists, xenophobes, conspiracy theorists, and corporate executives—disturbing actions by his transition team—who are attempting to conduct a McCarthyesque inquiry into programs and personnel associated with climate science and gender equity —and his own tweets —which most recently revealed his desire to revive a global nuclear arms race — suggest that Mr. Trump will continue to deploy divide-and-conquer tactics while in office.

Yet, with all the focus on Trump, it would be foolish to ignore the role that the highly ideological and destructive GOP agenda would likely play in his presidency

Having won no mandate yet finding themselves in control of all three branches of the U.S. government, the current brand of hardball, play-for-keeps Republicans are sure to use misleading language, obscure legislative tactics, and zealous partisanship to push through a neoliberal economic and social fundamentalist agenda that will seek to use taxpayer funds to further subsidize wealthy corporations and individuals, strip Americans of their public assets, and sideline groups—such as women, people of color, members of LGBTQ communities, and Muslims—that they consider threatening to the social order they seek to reestablish.

Like Trump University, the GOP agenda will be masterfully marketed as good for average or even poorly educated Americans but in reality it will be hostile to their interests and detrimental to their well-being. Repealing the Affordable Care Act and voucherizing Medicare will undermine both regular health insurance and Medicaid and will leave tens of millions of Americans of all ages literally “dying in the streets” without access to life-saving healthcare.

While claiming to save Social Security for our children, the GOP’s long-standing desire to privatize or cut Social Security will instead pull the rug out from under them, leaving millions of children and their families, as well as future retirees (aka today’s children), without an important form of income protection they earned through work.

Republicans will argue that the nation can’t afford Social Security, even as they finagle to make their claim appear to be true by giving themselves and their wealthy benefactors tax cuts that diminish the U.S. Treasury.

The gutting of other vital programs like SNAP and public education will leave tens of millions without critical developmental supports at a time when social despair and opioid abuse are at an all-time high and likely to rise even higher due to job losses fueled by technology and globalization. If the GOP agenda is allowed to succeed, the level of human need in the U.S. will be so great that even the collective wealth of private foundations and charities will be unable to close the chasm, and life expectancies—already stagnant for those on the bottom half of the income distribution and declining among poorly educated subgroups—will continue to fall for all but the wealthy elite.

If GOP efforts to restructure government by privatizing or block-granting its essential functions, eliminating industry regulations, and limiting the power of growing minorities prevails, then economic inequality will deepen, an apartheid-like social structure will become fossilized, and democratic institutions will be further weakened and delegitimized.

Overall, the United States will become an oppressive patriarchal ethnocracy in which concentrated private wealth dictates how society is organized and who has access to basic human rights like education, health, income security, and, ultimately, freedom.

Yet, millions of Americans have a different, more perfect vision for America: one that ensures a basic standard of living that allows people to live in dignity; one that can thrive on an inclusive form of capitalism that eschews human exploitation and planetary degradation; and, one that embraces diversity and inclusion as foundational to our shared prosperity.

People of good will—either motivated by fear of failure or hope for a better future—have a certain resilience that allows them to rally together in times of trouble to defeat a common challenge or to overcome a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. When focused, this resilience can turn what appears to be an unavoidable and negative outcome into a different, more positive and sustainable direction.

The next four years are certain to be filled with intrigue and drama, yet Americans committed to the ideals of freedom, ecology, and justice for all must not become complacent or distracted. Most of all, we cannot afford to remain silent or inactive—essentially leaving the decisions of the captain and his leadership team unquestioned in a time of great peril.

Now is the time to fully use the protections afforded by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to question, challenge, and, most importantly, organize and act to steer this ship away from what appears likely to be a ruinous course.

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