12/30/2016. The country is in a deep kind of trouble that requires a response from every thinking citizen. For the sake of my posterity I am jotting down my personal plan.
We have a Republican president-elect who is unfit to serve. I don’t say this just because my candidate lost in a normal election. I do not feel about Trump like I felt about George W. Bush. Certainly I do not feel about Trump like I felt about Romney. In fact, I have thought that it would have been better if Romney had won in 2012 so that white backlash would not have produced Trump. I proudly voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, the most qualified person to ever run for the office. That we would be electing a woman after electing a black man amazed me, and I was thrilled at my country’s ability to continue to mature and progress socially. But instead of electing the most qualified person possible, we elected the least. Misogyny, bigotry, and racism are constantly espoused by Trump, ripped out from our darkest closets and made to seem as acceptable. Ignorance and intolerance are praised. An anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-environment cabinet is being put in place. The GOP, drunk on the prospects of unlimited power, continues to put party before country and will not provide check and balance.
The country is in deep shit.
The president-elect is a clinically narcissistic bullshit artist. The genius that got Trump elected is a form of madness. It renders what he does, what he says and what he is utterly untrustworthy. The man is a moral chameleon, saying whatever fits his audience and whatever brings in the ratings and gains him the greatest attention. His megalomania creates an addict’s craving for power. Early in office Trump will manufacture a crises, perhaps a war, in order to create a diversion while he convinces Congress to revoke civil liberties and thereby consolidate authoritarian power in the office of the president. He is working on finding the right crises now. Probably China. He has had a hard time getting his hotels going there and wants revenge. The Republican mind has an ingrained attraction to authoritarianism and the Republican controlled House and Senate will not resist.
We are not in a normal politics as usual situation. Action and resistance are mandatory. In thinking what I can do I am reminded of the scene in The Princess Bride where the hero Westley is propped against the wall of the castle he plans to storm, still paralyzed by an evil poison, when he asks his cohorts, “What are our assets?” The situation we face as progressives facing Trump is as bleak as having to enter a battle paralyzed, but our hero prevailed and so can we.
Westley, I have three primary assets. 1) Torrey House Press, a nonprofit book publisher with a mission, 2) the strong, passionate women the press is associated with, and 3) the town of Torrey itself, a budding intellectual, literary and conservation oasis. A literary nonprofit press, strong, independent women, and a literal oasis. I am 60 with some good years left. These three assets constitute the legs to the three legged stool I want use as a platform to implement a counter to Trump, to further the inevitable progress of progressive liberalism.
The environment, like the country, is in deep shit.
Torrey House Press, a literary nonprofit book publisher based in Torrey and Salt Lake City, is now six years old and gaining traction. I want to put more weight behind it.
The press was founded to promote conservation through literature. Conservatives today are not conservationists. The Republican Party platform of 2016 opens up on the subject of the environment declaring the GOP is the party of the natural resource extractors. As such, the platform goes on to say “Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states.” They make the ludicrous claim that industrial extractors are the best guardians of the environment. Trump has appointed cabinet members who are anti-science, climate change deniers and who are vehemently opposed to the Environmental Protection Agency, to the Endangered Species Act, to the Clean Power Plan and to any regulation that gets in the way of the extraction industries. The industry segment of mining, agriculture and energy make up 3.8 percent of Utah’s GDP and 3.9 percent of the country’s. Republicans are eager to sacrifice the environment at the expense of the remaining 94.1 percent of us. They seek private gain at public expense. The environment, like the country is in deep shit.
From the dawn of the human race we have passed on culture and custom through story. It is by story around the campfire that primitive humans learned to avoid the saber tooth tiger and which of the flora were edible and which poisonous. It is still our stories that compel us and our behavior. Only stories create empathy. Torrey House Press has the momentum and traction to promote the stories and authors that will inform and inspire and perhaps even change a few minds. Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, John Muir and Henry David Thoreau all broke new ground and created new ways of thinking. All the great environmentalists and conservationists were authors. We are in dire need of such voices still today. Torrey House seeks to find them and provide a platform to amplify their message.
Today is Wednesday, December 28 and as I write this President Obama has declared both Bears Ears and Gold Butte as national monuments. Kirsten, as publisher of Torrey House Press, has created two new titles, gained financial support from the public and from The Wilderness Society and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and been to Washington D.C. twice in support of public lands and a Bears Ears monument. She produced cutting edge, purpose based literature, took it to Washington D.C., and now we have a monument. Correlation may not be causation, but then again, it may be.
As all literary nonprofit presses know, book sales typically only cover about half of the expense to publish them. My job, as it was at Wasatch Advisors, will be to find investors and funders to make Torrey House Press sustainable, viable, and effective.
Promote and support women in leadership
The future belongs to women.
White males have been in charge for too long. In order to break political gridlock and heal the country’s growing cultural chasm we must turn to leadership by women. Feminism and environmentalism share a common foe in Patriarchy. We came close but the U.S. has yet to have a female president. It easy to see that men tend toward competition, women toward the welfare of the group. Patriarchy is about conquest and domination, ownership, manifest destiny. The Republican mindset, as written about by Jonathan Haidt (see my book review here)is oriented around the family model of a strict father doling out support and punishment to promote self reliance and the rugged individual. Democrats, like women, are oriented toward equity and fairness, toward concerns for the group and community. As culture evolves and progresses it slowly learns that co-operation trumps competition, so to speak, and promotes win-win over zero sum outcomes. Trump, as a nasty deal maker favoring bankruptcy as a tactic, is the ultimate zero sum guy. Women, on the other hand, know about providing for the welfare of the group and how to create win-win.
Torrey House Press is primarily run by women. Most of the board of directors are women and all of the staff. The press was my idea but today I consider myself an active board member. Until recently I have been the primary funder, but the women are taking care of that problem. I also sit on the board of Wild Utah Project, a small NGO promoting conservation science that is primarily run by women. Kirsten is gaining a voice in the conservation community as publisher and executive director and is beginning to network with a group of women who are also change makers. My plan is to do what I can to support these women, amplify their voice and help them rise to a place of being able to see their ideas into fruition.
Build a blue oasis in a red, red state
I spend all the time I can deep behind enemy lines. Deep, red, anti-conservation, Tea Party Republican lines.
The town of Torrey, Utah is the gateway to Capitol Reef National Park and I love being there. A longtime friend, after visiting us in red rock country from back east, suggested we call it Pile of Rocks National Park and try to keep the place a secret. Torrey sits high on the Colorado Plateau nestled between two 11,000 foot plateaus, the Aquarius Plateau to the south, Thousand Lakes to the north. The Velvet Cliffs at the foot of Thousand Lakes make a seamless connection to the Park. The horizon to the east of Torrey is held up by the massive Navajo and Wingate sandstone sculptures of the Waterpocket Fold. The Fold contains the “capitol” formations and creates the barrier “reef” that blocked pioneer travel. At night the area is one of the darkest places in the 48 states and on a moonless night the Milky Way is so bright you can see your shadow. In 2015 the Park was declared a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association. The place is soul shockingly beautiful and yet the locals (I am a “move-in” although Kirsten prefers “second comer”) see the land primarily for its extraction possibilities. This year the local county commissioners decided some state land between bucolic Teasdale and Torrey would best be used as a gravel pit, in violation of their own zoning codes. When we move-ins vehemently resisted the notion the locals were furious. They wanted to rape our land and yet they treated us like we we were a threat to their very existence. They said, as they always do when their archaic practices are questioned, that extraction is their “way of life.”
Wayne County, where Torrey is, comes up with a bi-annual county resource plan. Several years ago the commissioners, all ranchers, were holding a plan review and the then Capitol Reef Park superintendent was invited. He thumbed through the document and then, raising his hand, noted that the Park was not mentioned in the plan as a resource. The commissioners stared at him, frowns set and arms crossed, until one of them said, “Son, you can’t run cows in there, you can’t log it, you can’t mine it, hell, you can’t even get the water out. It ain’t a resource!” The superintendent walked out. He was behind enemy lines.
I moved my voting residence to Torrey to vote against Mike Noel. Noel is a Utah politician who is the very face of rural 19th century notions of land management. The man is the epitome of what Charles Wilkinson had in mind in the introduction to our title Red Rock Testimony when he wrote, “For complex reasons of history, habit, and hard-headedness, official Utah remains bound to the old clenched-fist conviction that all conservation is wrong and that unfettered mining and ranching is right.” Noel is my Utah State Representative. He usually runs unopposed. I am behind enemy lines
Until the gravel pit threat, I was content to close the ranch gate behind me and hope that no one else wanted to move into the area. Now I am changing my tune.
Torrey is tiny but it has a growing population of university professors, artists, musicians, writers, sustainable micro-farmers, conservationists, astronomers and publishers. Because as property owners we are not granted greenbelt exemptions we make up about 10 percent of the population and pay half the collected property tax. But taxes don’t vote and we need more clout. We have economic clout, and intellectual clout, but not political clout. We know the land in Wayne County is most valuable in its natural state but the extractors are still calling the shots.
I have a vision of Torrey becoming a example of rural renewal and progress, where the flora and fauna are left unmolested by domestic livestock, water runs free in the streams, the rocks are not mined and crushed for road base and the forests and not clear cut but the community thrives all the same. The airport could be appropriately expanded—successful rural communities need reasonable access. The town could use a well run bookstore serving primarily tourists and spreading the conservation word. There exists the infrastructure to support gatherings and targeted conventions for think tanks, conservationists, literary and arts gatherings. The Point Reyes bookstore owners, now retired, ran the Geography of Hope conference. The “geography of hope” are Stegner’s words penned about the Colorado Plateau and a similar conference should be in Torrey. Sustainable green business could be attracted along with pursuits based on knowledge workers producing intellectual capital and creating jobs beyond relatively low paying tourist work. Forethought and planning would need to be used to prevent another Moab, but such things are possible.
Three legged stool
Trump is an existential threat. All politics are local. My strategy to cope and conquer the regressive threat of today’s radical Republican agenda is to work with the assets at hand and do what I can with whatever wisdom might have been earned by all the gray in my beard. Kirsten is running an up and coming boutique book publisher that could use some of my old skills at finding interested assets and fund raising. The women at Torrey House and in my life deserve to be seen and supported in whatever way I can contrive. And Torrey town can be a beautiful example of the best of progressive liberalism, in a way that Thomas Jefferson, who penned the idea of a naturally endowed nation conceived in liberty and equality, would appreciate.