The Cape Cod National Seashore and our no-frills president

National parks struggle to stay open,” went the headline of a recent story about effects of the federal government shutdown, which at this writing is close to the end of its third week. Trump has said that for all he cares, the shutdown can go o n for months, even years. Become the new normal, perhaps.

I suppose, from Trump’s point of view, the shutdown is proving a point. Sure, there are those most of a million workers whose lives are directly affected. And the disappointment of vacationing families who had come to DC to see the shuttered Smithsonian. But hey, we’re getting along, aren’t we? Maybe not so much those unpaid workers, but most of us? We’re managing. The shutdown proves that big government isn’t necessary. Who needs it? The newspaper story tells of states pitching to make up what’s not coming from the feds, and the public voluntarily cleaning restrooms.

The shutdown aside, the Trump administration has not been friendly to our national parks.

He slashed the size of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument by 1.1 million acres or 85 percent, to allow uranium companies to exploit land that used to belong to the public.

Our own Cape Cod National Seashore is still intact, but the Advisory Commission has been inoperant for most of the time since Trump’s election, unauthorized by the feds. This is not to save money—members are volunteers—but apparently because the local input to the Park that occupies much of our towns might interfere with federal oversight. (Aren’t conservatives supposed to like local government?)

At very least it seems fair to say that national parks are marginal to the president’s version of a great America.

And of course it’s true that parks are marginal compared to the basic requirements of life: food, shelter, security. Abraham Maslow’s famous “heirarchy of human needs” is a pyramidal structure starting with a foundation of survival basics and topped with such nonessentials as “belonging and love” and “self-actualization.” There’s nothing at all about such a nicety as national parks. Or, for that matter, such froth as newspapers, or public radio and TV, all of which seem to annoy Trump. Forget about such fripperies as caring about fellow humans seeking asylum.

Let’s face it, national parks— great swaths of nature removed from exploitation for profit and set aside for recreation and preservation– are one of the frills—can we call it an achievement? — of civilization. Ken Burns called his series about the preservation movement National Parks: America’s Best Idea. They may have been our best idea, but not our first idea. The idea began to occur to us only when a lot of the basics had been taken care of. We had to chop down most of the trees for practical purposes and kill off most predators before we decided that our life would be enhanced if we didn’t eliminate all of them. We needed to exploit the living daylights out of nature for the usual sort of riches, before, led by such romantics as Thoreau and John Muir we began to see undeveloped nature itself as riches.

Trump’s whole instinct is to take us back to the great America of that no-frills, exploitative era before such foolishness as national parks got into our heads.

What if Trump saw fit to return some of our National Seashore to commercial exploitation? I suppose local Trump supporters would have a way of seeing that as OK. (and in that they would only be agreeing with local opposition to the park proposal in the 1950s). But to most on the Outer Cape now, and a lot of visitors from all over, this park, this failure to exploit, while it isn’t as basic as food or shelter, it is more than a marginal frill. If Maslow were to make a human needs pyramid for contemporary Cape Cod, the Seashore would be indispensable component of it.

Resisting the AI future?

What will become of us? How technology is changing what it means to be human” is the title of a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine. Something about the helplessness of that plaintive question says a lot about our situation when it comes to the computerization of life and AI (artificial intelligence). Two […]

If it can’t happen here, why not?

“It can’t happen here.” Since Trump was elected, we’ve heard this phrase a lot, with its ironic message of Oh yes it can. In fact it might be happening even as we speak. (And we, frogs in slowly heated water, have just gotten used to it.) So what’s the “it” that we’d like to think […]

The crazy-making premise of Veterans Day

The recent Veterans Day got more media notice than usual as the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, its earlier form, created to commemorate the ending of World War One. That war was demoted to just another world war from the “Great War” when it turned out not to be the “war to end all wars.” […]

Contradictions of our modern romance of the ocean

There was an emotional gathering at Newcomb Hollow beach in Welllfleet in October to celebrate the life of the young man killed by a shark. Part of it was a “paddle-out” of dozens of surfers to form a circle. It took some guts to go out there, I thought, well beyond warnings on the posted […]

The logic of not voting. And of voting.

For as long as I can remember, a theme of civic life has been the scandalously low voter turnout in national elections. On average 40% of eligible voters don’t vote in presidential elections, about 60% in off-years. A curious phenomenon, this failure to vote–to exercise the most basic right in what we think of as […]

The shark crisis: speciesism vs. ecological altruism

In response to the shark fatality crisis, Wellfleet’s selectboard scheduled what was called by some a Shark Town Meeting. It filled the elementary school gym to overflowing, maybe half again the number of attendees as at the Special Town Meeting earlier the same week. After preliminary statements from town officials and shark experts, the meeting […]

Contradictions of shark romance

“We all knew this day would come” ran the big front page headline about the fatal shark attack in Wellfleet. Well, actually, no, we didn’t. Six deaths annually worldwide on average (and first fatality in Massachusetts in 82 years) is pretty good odds Sure, those odds rise when you eliminate all the people who don’t […]

Crazy poor Americans

Can we talk about “Crazy Rich Asians”? We crazy, poor Americans are turning out in crazy numbers to see this movie, whose exotic opulence transcends its cliched romantic comedy plot. The movie seems fresh, not just in its all-Asian cast, but in widening our continent-locked, monolinguistic diversity horizon. The plot takes us to Singapore, where […]

Good for us; shame on us

You know that trick of eyesight: how you can see a moon crater as concave or as convex, but not both at the same time? It keeps flipping between. There was a story in this paper recently that produced for me something of the same effect. Back in the 80s and early 90s, Ben Buck, […]