This is a fine article contrasting the two people who really couldn’t be much more of polar opposites. Greta thinks globally, in terms of right or wrong, has empathy, relies on science, tells the truth, and lives her principles. Trump? Well….
She could not have appeared at a better time.
She is young and he is old. She is honest and he is a habitual liar. She relies on science and he relies on nothing but his gut. Her focus is on the forecastable future, and he lives in an imaginary past. Greta Thunberg is the anti-Trump.
Other young people have been in this battle longer than Thunberg, who led the global climate strike last Friday, in New York, and addressed the United Nations’ Climate Action Summit on Monday. Other young people have stated the obvious truth: that the governments elected by their parents and grandparents have been derelict in their responsibility to insure that today’s teen-agers have a planet to inhabit. Kelsey Juliana, of Eugene, Oregon, who is now twenty-three, has been a consistent and inventive climate activist since she was a young teen-ager. At fifteen, she co-filed a lawsuit against the governor of Oregon, and at nineteen she became the lead plaintiff in Juliana v. United States, which has been working its way through the courts for four years, slowed by objections from both the Obama and the Trump Administrations; the twenty-one young plaintiffs are claiming that government inaction on climate change violates their constitutional rights. The Sunrise Movement, driven by young people, was founded in 2017, a year before Thunberg began skipping school to protest outside Sweden’s parliament building, in Stockholm. Members of the Sunrise Movement confronted Dianne Feinstein earlier this year, prompting the California senator to admonish a sixteen-year-old: “You didn’t vote for me!” On Monday, Thunberg joined sixteen other children in filing a lawsuit against worst-polluter countries; one of her co-plaintiffs, the New York activist Alexandria Villaseñor, criticized the media for paying little attention to the other children named in the suit: “The other plaintiffs have names, experiences, and stories.”
Villaseñor is right that Thunberg has commanded far more media attention, and more respect from politicians, than her peers in the climate movement—she is the only one who has a hold on our collective imagination. More important, she has inspired her peers: in one year, her solitary school strike and weekly protest on the steps of the Swedish parliament turned into a global movement. She is the political leader for the age of Trump because she is in every way his opposite.
Thunberg thinks and speaks logically. Her activism was prompted by a contradiction: the planet was dying but the grownups were not behaving as if there were an emergency. This was absurd, unthinkable, untenable—and it was reality. Every time Thunberg speaks, she makes this incontrovertible case for action and against hypocrisy. She points out that adults tell children to have hope and dream of a big future while they themselves act like there will be no tomorrow and that’s all right. She says that adults tell children to go to school and study while they themselves willfully ignore the fruits of the best scholarship available. She exposes the fundamental contradiction of Western politics: that it is impossible to fight climate change and continue to measure national success by the rate—or presence—of economic growth. One is not compatible with the other, and anyone who says otherwise is a liar. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” she said at the U.N. on Monday. Some of Thunberg’s sentences are simple and predictable: “We will make them hear us.” Others are poetic: “[Our future] was stolen from us every time the adults said that the sky is the limit and that you only live once.” All of her sentences have verbs and nouns, beginnings and endings, and describe something we recognize as true.
Trump speaks by creating piles of words that become more distant from facts the longer he speaks. He free-associates, escalates, repeats, distorts, lapses into the unintelligible, and lashes out. He builds feeling but never an argument. Logic is his enemy. The purpose of Trump’s speech is to obscure, to muddy the waters. Even when he reads a speech clearly prepared by someone else, as he did on Tuesday at the U.N., he is inevitably engaged in rhetorical coverup. While Thunberg was at the Climate Summit (Trump stopped in for a moment), the President was speaking at a religious-freedom event. The man who began his Presidency by imposing a ban on Muslim travellers, and who went on to reduce the number of refugees the country accepts to an all-time low, delivered an address about American commitment to helping people persecuted for their religious beliefs, wherever it happens.
Thunberg and Trump hold opposing world views: she sees the universe as moral; he believes that it is rotten. She believes in the concepts of right and wrong, and he is a nihilist. Speaking at the U.N., Thunberg said, “If you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil, and that I refuse to believe.” A day earlier, Trump talked with reporters at the White House about the whistle-blower report that allegedly concerns, in part, his July phone conversation with the President of Ukraine. “The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice-President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine,” Trump said. To the extent that this sentence can be interpreted as having meaning, it seems to reflect Trump’s understanding that the world is full of corruption, ruled by corruption, and doomed to corruption. To succeed, one has to be even more corrupt than others.
Thunberg’s message of logic and the basic belief that humanity is capable of moral action lands precisely because we are living in a time dominated by a man who continuously spews nonsense based on the premise that the world is rancid to the core. Thunberg always makes me think of Soviet dissidents who cut through the fog of late-totalitarian propaganda by insisting that words that had long been stripped of meaning be taken seriously. They demanded the rights guaranteed to them by the Soviet Constitution, such as the right to peaceful assembly. Everyone around them had long known that the law was just words, but they began acting as though words had meaning. They were thrown in prisons and psychiatric hospitals or tossed out of the country, and yet they and their friends persisted, because that’s what one did if the universe was moral. They had no evidence that it was moral, but by insisting on acting as if it were, they were willing a better future into being. Their moral authority came from the simple heroism of behaving logically and consistently. So does Thunberg’s. She doesn’t fly. She sailed to the United States. She has taken trains to destinations in Europe. At home in Stockholm, she bikes. She buys clothes secondhand. She looks smaller and younger than her sixteen years; with her braids, she looks like a girl from a children’s storybook, where she would surely be shown in nature. Her opposite is the man in the oversized, shiny Italian suits—everything about him is too much, including the length of his tie. He looks older than his age, or like a bad commercial for a self-tanning lotion. Just looking at and listening to him feels embarrassing.
Trump has been repeatedly and unfairly (to children) accused of acting like a child. “Baby Trump” balloons have been used to troll the President all over the Western hemisphere. Thunberg is a child. Unlike many other young activists, she does not dress, act, or speak like a miniature adult. When Sunrise Movement activists confronted Feinstein, they addressed her in the idiom of the existing political process: “I hear what you are saying, but we are the people who voted for you; you are supposed to listen to us.” Feinstein immediately rebuked the teen-ager for being a child impersonating an adult. Thunberg is a child who rebukes adults for failing, and for forcing children to act. She calls bullshit on every single political slogan based on the construction of children as human beings in need of protection. Her activism is not an attempt at participation. It’s an intervention.