In the Summer of 1950, Italian physicist Enrico Fermi asked a startling question. On his way to lunch with friends he posited the proposition of life on other planets. Doing a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation (either in his head or on the back of an actual envelope), Fermi concluded from certain givens that there ought to be on the order of millions of technological civilizations on various planets in our galaxy. “So where is everybody?” Fermi asked.
The question has come to be known as the Fermi Paradox. Naturally, we cannot know how much life, apart from us, there is in the universe until we solve the problem definitively of how life comes into being in the first place. But assuming Fermi was right and there ought to have been millions of technological civilizations in the galaxy, the answer to his question may very well be “nowhere at all,” that is to say, they all destroyed themselves, just as we seem hellbent on destroying ourselves. It may be encoded in some law of the universe that every species capable of acquiring the technological capacity to destroy itself will do so long before it reaches the maturity necessary to handle it.
Thanks to Donald Trump and his limitless greed we have moved another step closer toward destroying ourselves. In a recent staff report prepared for Congressman Elijiah Cummings and the House Oversight Committee, entitled, “Corporate and Foreign Interests Behind White House Push to Transfer U.S. Nuclear Technology to Saudi Arabia,” the report identifies as its source “multiple whistleblowers” inside the White House. These whistleblowers warn of efforts to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia without the approval of Congress.
The report explains: “[U]nder Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act, the United States may not transfer nuclear technology to a foreign country without the approval of Congress in order to ensure that the agreement meets nine nonproliferation requirements to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.“
Such agreements are typically referred to as “123 agreements.” The report continues, “The ’Gold Standard’ for 123 Agreements is a commitment by the foreign country not to enrich or re-process nuclear fuel and not to engage in activities linked to the risk of nuclear proliferation.” In other words, before America will assist another country with technology for nuclear energy, that country must sign off on a pledge not to attempt to convert any resulting uranium products into weapons grade uranium for use in nuclear bombs. Saudi Arabia has steadfastly refused to sign off on this, and, according to the report, Donald Trump wants them to have nuclear technology anyway.
In fact, Saudi Arabia has expressly stated many times that, if Iran acquires nukes, it will do its level best to likewise acquire nukes. In other words, in a room awash with gasoline they’ll be damned if they’re going to be the only guy in it standing around without a match.
Why is Trump doing this? Because his cronies in the nuclear industry want it, therefore Trump wants it. Trump knows there will be millions, possibly billions of dollars in kickbacks for him if he does this. Trump has never passed up a chance to make money at the mortal risk to the lives of American taxpayers, and he’s not about to start now.
While he continues to attract the slack-jawed acclaim of the idiots who adore him, Trump persists in profiteering from his position as president, and he cynically puts at risk the lives of every man, woman and child on earth. When I contemplate the millions who adore Donald Trump on the one hand, and the grimmest conclusion of the Fermi Paradox, that self-destruction is a universal law, on the other, in my darker, more cynical moments I cannot help but conclude that maybe, just maybe, the universe is on to something.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.