Opinion: Checks, balances, and the 30,000-foot view of Trump's win.
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Opinion: Checks, balances, and the 30,000-foot view of Trump's win.

We all have work to do. That work is hard and needed doing no matter who occupies the White House.

Opinion: Checks, balances, and the 30,000-foot view of Trump's win


A cross-country flight the morning after Donald Trump's presidential victory lends a certain perspective on the upheaval below.

Nov. 9, 2016

By Douglas Fischer

Environmental Health News

32,000 FEET ABOVE WESTERN COLORADO, Aboard Delta Flight 4454—Only after we passed over Denver, and the Western Slope of the Rockies rose up from the Great Plains, did I realize my good fortune to be on a transcontinental flight while the rest of the world woke to the reality of a Trump presidency.

To fly across the country on a stunningly cloudless day and see the entire panorama laid out below—the Arch of St. Louis, gateway to the West; the repeating circles of pivot agriculture, the snow-dusted crowns of the Rockies' highest peaks—softens the political tectonics. My window seat gives the 30,000-foot view. Literally.

In this thin air, the messy world of judicial appointments-to-come and global trade deals-to-be-undone evaporates.

My Facebook feed and phone erupted last night with friends mystified, shocked, suddenly— and rudely—sober. Hand-wringing commentary filled my inbox and the airwaves, and will continue to do so, I have faith, for weeks and months.

Much will center on how everyone could be so wrong, and how so very much can now go wrong – for the environment, for clean energy, for climate progress and for public health.

It's hard to carry that anxiety aloft. Maybe it's my ignorance. Or naivety. Or perhaps it's literally groundless optimism. I take solace in the words of Dan Rather, as I have done throughout the campaign.

"The world is on edge," the veteran newsman wrote on Facebook. "Huge segments of the American public are in panic—going through the shock of grief. This is the world that is now Trump's to contend with. Do we really know what we have wrought?

"This is a conversation that I need you to be a part of. Do not opt out. Your voice matters now more than ever."

The premise underpinning Obama and Clinton and all my friends who went to bed so stunned and shocked early Wednesday morning is that the science is clear, the path forward open: OF COURSE we have to curb emissions, clean up our environment, protect wild spaces and restrict development. The solutions are obvious.

Except they weren't.

The solutions don't work for all. Disruptions are too much or too one-sided. Liberal, climate-friendly policies don't yet have answers that work for everyone. This election tells me we're not going anywhere until we have better ones.

I'll leave others to comment on the legions that progressive Democratic policies left behind. To me the message today is we must go back and fetch them.

"Clearly there were many voters who felt overlooked by a new world order who have roared with vengeance," Rather wrote.

"I do not believe Hillary Clinton lost because she is a woman. My analysis is that a majority of voting Americans ached for change, especially structural changes in the economic system."

I see the fundamental problem here: How do you have a discussion grounded in science and fact when both sides can't agree on what the science and facts are? But I know that, surely as the left could not drag the right into their vision of the future, the right cannot hope to see its house stand without help from the left.

Flying over the West, you see ageless forces working at scales hard to comprehend up close: Alluvial fans slowly turning mountaintops into valley bottoms, wrinkles and folds left as enormous pressures tear at rock deep underground.

You're reminded, too, of how much we've sculpted our land. Our human touch is everywhere, and from here it looks nonpartisan: Reservoirs where streams should flow, roads snaking up and over mountains, clear-cuts turning forests into a mesmerizing patchwork of different hues of green.

We all have work to do. That work is hard and needed doing no matter who occupies the White House. I'm always struck that, individually, up close, these changes look small. What's one cleared pasture, one more house? From my window seat, however, you see how our needs have shaped our landscape on a scale to rival Mother Nature.

We wrought these changes, and we as a society benefited. What's clear to me is we have a responsibility to craft solutions that work for all. Push that pendulum too hard toward globalization, and it swings right back into nationalism.

Our media, clustered predominantly in New York and Washington, D.C., erred on Trump—President-elect Trump—at every stage. Every single step. And so I'm hesitant to fall into the hand-wringing by my friends on the left fearful that what lies ahead is unmitigated disaster for environmental policy.

Our nation is not so defined by our leaders as it is by our people, our landscape, our local governments and community boards. The wheels of democracy turn slowly. Checks on power feel like they keep progress frustratingly limited. But they also enforce a sort of balance. Tuesday was one such check. So I'm going to stand against the wave of disbelief and angst that no doubt awaits when I take my phone off airplane mode.

We all have work to do. That work is hard and needed doing no matter who occupies the White House. The majority aching for change now has it. It's time for all of us to find a path forward that brings more of us along.

EHN welcomes republication of our stories, but we require that publications include the author's name and Environmental Health News at the top of the piece, along with a link back to EHN's version.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski at bbienkowski@ehn.org.

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