The Yellowstone Super Volcano and the End of a World

I’m worried about the Yellowstone Super Volcano. Just in general. There were some reports recently that we’re overdue for an eruption, which is pretty scary and also inaccurate hyperbolic click-bait according to experts. Still, there’s a 4000 cubic kilometer chamber of magma and gas trapped under Yellowstone National Park. It wouldn’t be that scary if I didn’t have kids, but when you have kids you go a little bit crazy.

Normally I worry about things that directly impact my life, over which I may have some degree of control. But the super volcano looms out there in the distance, in Wyoming, threatening to kill us all at a moment’s notice.

Why worry about it then? Why this generalized worry instead of my normal personalized anxiety?

Because of Trump.

He’s an apocalyptic figure. I’ve maintained this since the beginning of his insane primary campaign. Remember when he stood on stage with 14 or 15 other GOP candidates and told us all that the other guys on stage with him were up for the highest bidder? Well, he wasn’t wrong. He revealed something to us—he said it starkly and without the niceties that makes the poison shilled out by career politicians go down so smooth. If he wasn’t such a disgusting character maybe people could have heard him.

And then of course there are the right wing nationalists, white supremacists, neo-nazis, and KKK hillbillies who feel emboldened by Trump’s insane, nihilistic, macho rhetoric and racist dog whistles. Before Trump, this diseased pus was just under the surface of our culture. Push and prod a bit and you had a sense it was there but it was mostly hidden away and easy to ignore. Trump’s election lanced this blister of extremist stew, and the festering ichor has spilled out into our culture. Where once there was a hiding place now there is an open sore exposed to light and the fresh air. It has been revealed to us, to all of us; it has been uncovered.

That’s what an apocalypse is, an uncovering.

Finally, there’s the #metoo movement. Women in every industry have come forward to give reports of the misogynistic underpinnings of American power. The dam has broken. From Hollywood, through the restaurant industry, right into politics, we are now forced to confront the everyday violence endured by women and the ugly silence we maintain to prop up ugly men. We “knew” that the reality we now confront was true before 2017, but it was concealed, covered up, and we left the cover on. That is until an accused rapist and self-professed perpetrator of sexual assault was elected to the highest office in federal government.

Hillary Clinton as President would have been empowering for women to a degree. Much as I disagree with her neoliberal politics, I’d have been proud in November 2016 to tell my daughter that a woman had been elected to the White House. But Trump has unknowingly galvanized women and men alike to take up their own, individual agency and demand that the truth should be covered up no more. Every woman who publicly says, “Me too,” participates in a revolutionary, revelatory politics that would not have been possible under Hillary Clinton.

Apocalypse also marks the end of the world. Can you feel that the world we lived in has ended? Perhaps it ended on September 11, 2001. The post Wold War II consensus, Cold War, globalizing American capitalist hegemony was wrecked that day along with the towers and thousands of lives.

Francis Fukuyama was right in 1992: the end of the 20th century was the end of history. But the end of history didn’t usher in an eternal utopia for Western democratic capitalism, it introduced an entirely new world, one we cannot grasp with our old ways of being and knowing.

Now with Trump we have a lens that helps us step back and widen the frame, to clearly see the shape of our obsolete schemes and systems, and the space to imagine something new.