On Saturday May 9, I was writing in my journal about depression. No, not about clinical depression. Rather, about the gnawing depression caused by contemplating the future of our country if we don’t vote out Republicans in November. Each day’s news brings more evidence of what’s at stake as long as Republicans hold power at the national or state level.
I probably wouldn’t be writing this if a pre-2016 mainstream Republican had been elected president — Jeb Bush, for example. But we didn’t elect a normal Republican. We elected a narcissist, a non-reader, a Fox News addict, a racist, a misogynistic buffoon without a conscience. And the “party of Lincoln” sold out to him hook, line, and sinker. Here is how Fintan O’Toole, writing in The Irish Times, described our sell out:
It is hard to remember now but, even in 2017, when Trump took office, the conventional wisdom in the US was that the Republican Party and the broader framework of US political institutions would prevent him from doing much damage. This was always a delusion, but the pandemic has exposed it in the most savage ways…abject surrender.
While we’ve been living in a plutocracy for a long time, there was, at least, some pushback against the greed of the ruling class. Obamacare was proof of it. But there’s been no pushback in the Trump era. As Nancy McLean predicted and documented in her book, Democracy in Chains, the powerful and wealthy forces of the quasi-libertarian far right (think Koch, DeVos, Federalist Society, etc.) joined with the fossil fuel industry, the arms industry, and the big banks have hijacked the Republican Party to use a man with zero ideological or moral moorings to do their bidding.
Want some examples?
- TC Energy, building the Keystone XL pipeline to transport natural gas from shale deposits in Canada to the Gulf Coast, received $1.1 billion in support from the conservative government of Alberta. TC Energy saw to it that its workers were declared essential, which meant they were required to work during the pandemic. The company did this even though we already have a glut of oil and gas that will take years to consume. And, as it’s consumed, its toxic vapors will rise into the atmosphere and make our planet almost uninhabitable by the end of the century. A huge victory for fossil fuels and for climate change deniers.
- Republican legislators in Louisiana passed a bill stripping our governor (a conservative Democrat) of the power to enforce emergency measures aimed at limiting cases of Covid-19. This was their way of “standing with the president,” and proving that Louisiana prioritizes profits over public health. The far right cheered.
- Republicans in Congress opposed the expansion of the food stamp program during the economic collapse, proving that cruelty trumps economic common sense within the party.
- While no one watched, Trump vetoed a bi-partisan (i.e., miraculous) bill to limit his power to start a war with Iran. The arms merchants of Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop Grumman got their way.
- Moscow Mitch called the Senate back into session to confirm an unqualified 37-year-old crony, Justin Walker, to sit on the District of Columbia Appeals Court, considered first among equals among all the Federal Appeals Courts because it frequently considers cases involving weighty constitutional issues. Judge Walker had been a federal District Court judge in Kentucky for six whole months. He had three things going for him: he clerked for Brett Kavanaugh, he’s a family friend of Moscow Mitch and a member of the Federalist Society. Another triumph for the Koch/DeVos wing of the Republican Party. Read about it here if you can stomach it. https://www.npr.org/2020/05/06/851495720/37-year-old-judge-epitome-of-mcconnell-court-strategy-on-track-for-confirmation
- And while almost no one is paying attention, the Trump administration continues weekly to roll back Environmental Protection Agency rules aimed at protecting clean air and water. It is so alarming that I urge you to read this recent New York Times article.
This tsunami of bad news can push you into depression and lethargy — or galvanize your resistance. With God’s help, I hope enough sane Americans remain among us to resist. The far right is wealthy and well-organized. They aren’t just wacko white supremacists like those who invaded the Michigan state house. They are the people who support those wackos with money. The DeVos family is the primary funder of the very group that organized the ugly invasion in Michigan. Yes, the same DeVos family that gave us our secretary of education, the one who would like to end public education.
I sat in on two webinars this week. One was hosted by The Nation magazine and the other by the ACLU of Louisiana. I wish you could have seen both of them. The speaker for The Nation webinar was the environmentalist author and activist Bill McKibben, a hero to any of us who care about saving our planet. If you’re not familiar with McKibben, I recommend taking a few minutes to listen to this podcast or simply Google him.
McKibben made many important points in the hour-long webinar. Here are three take-aways from his assessment of the pandemic.
- Physical reality matters. Microbes of coronavirus don’t care if you think the virus is hoax fomented by the Democrats or that you think one day it will just disappear. This is all about science.
- Speed is essential. The U.S. and South Korea discovered their first cases of Covid-19 on the same day. As of May 7, South Korea had gone three days without a single new case. For the last month the new cases in South Korea have been hovering around 10 per day. In this country we had over 20,000 new cases yesterday, May 10. The U.S. did nothing for six weeks after our first case surfaced, while South Korea acted immediately, approaching the crisis scientifically. McKibben first wrote of the coming climate warming crisis in 1989 in his book, The End of Nature. Since then, we have pumped more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than was released since the beginning of time. Speed matters. We are running out of time.
- Social solidarity matters. The forces of the far right have openly stated, with pride, that they want to make the government so small that they “could drown it in a bathtub”. They want all our problems “solved” by the markets. Covid-19 exposed a central government incapable of quickly responding to a crisis. We needed leadership from Washington that we didn’t get. Now our government is the cheerleader for a “reopen” movement that is resisting scientific pushback from public health officials.
The downside of dismantling our governing apparatus is now evident. Smaller government doesn’t help in a crisis and this “dress rehearsal for global warming” clearly shows the danger we face: 300 million rugged individuals have been no match for the virus, no more than they will be for global warming.
The overarching message from The Nation webinar is urgency. If we cannot break the power of the fossil fuel industry, we are going to condemn our children and grandchildren to live in a much more hostile world than the one we know. One of the biggest fossil fuel players is Koch Industries and the Koch family is the biggest donor to the Republican Party. Another huge player is Exxon Mobil, whose ex-CEO Lee Raymond was the lead independent director of JP Morgan Chase until last week. As Exxon Mobil’s CEO, Mr. Raymond oversaw efforts to debunk climate science in order to swell the ranks of climate change deniers. His departure as lead director was the result of pressure from environmentalists and their few allies in the financial world. A tiny, mostly symbolic victory but certainly one worth noting.
The second webinar was a town hall with the staff of the ACLU of Louisiana. These are the saints who are fighting mass incarceration here in the capital of incarceration. They also are fighting against the abuse of immigrants at the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Both of these struggles have become much more urgent because of Covid-19. Louisiana’s prisons and jails are full of asylum seekers detained by ICE or people who have committed nonviolent crimes, typically drug possession. Now they’re confined in veritable petri dishes of Covid-19.
And, don’t forget, these prisoners often are held in for-profit prisons. That is something I’ve talked about before and it is one of the great stains on our country. The very existence of the for-profit prison industry gives the lie to any notion that we are the “land of the free.” Take a look at the ACLU LA website if you want some inspiration. https://www.laaclu.org.
For now, I choose inspiration and action instead of withdrawing into depression. What about you?