I’ve been having trouble making myself put pen to paper. My reluctance has nothing to do with a lack of things to write about. Options abound. But every possibility I turn over in my head threatens to take me down a very dark road. Not wanting to depress myself or put my readers in a similarly grim mood, I end up contemplating how someone who is an anti-war, environmentally conscious, anti-fascist progressive can navigate the troubled waters from now through 2024 without getting sucked into a black hole of despair.
Put another way, how can right-thinking Americans face the future with some level of positivity, assuming they aren’t considering leaving the country or totally tuning out?
Here briefly, are three consequential goings-on that have threatened to drown me in pessimism.
- The news on climate change is alarming. (UNDERSTATEMENT ALERT!) On one day in November the earth actually surpassed 2 degrees centigrade of warming. It was only one day, but a landmark nonetheless. On the heels of this news COP 28 convened in Dubai. Among its attendees are 1,300 oil, gas, and coal lobbyists. The convener of the session is the top oil executive of the United Arab Emirates. As of today (Dec. 6) the big fight is over whether to agree that fossil fuel use should be phased out over time. The top lobbyist for the U.S. Petroleum Institute, the CEO of Exxon-Mobil, and the Saudi Energy Minister all proclaimed that phasing out fossil fuels is out of the question. It’s highly unlikely this impasse will be resolved.
Large corporations from all over the world make too much money from oil and gas. I guess they have more power than Greta Thunberg, Al Gore, or John Kerry. Make no mistake: No-holds-barred capitalism is fueling our climate disaster.
- Wars in the Ukraine and Gaza rage on. The war in Ukraine, however necessary to stop Vladimir Putin’s invasion of our democratic ally, is losing support, especially from the Republican Party. Americans are accustomed to instant gratification, but this war shows no signs of wrapping up in 90 minutes, like a movie. When things go on and on as they have in Ukraine, our interest wanes. In Gaza, we are ripped apart by a) the urge to stand by Israel, and b) Israel’s disproportionate response to the October 7th pogrom. Biden has full-throatedly backed the Israeli military response while saying all the right things about the civilian toll in Gaza. I would have hoped our leaders could walk a finer line between the rights of Israel to self-defense and the rights of Palestinians not to be massacred. I would have hoped that they could have been more forceful in their condemnation of mass civilian casualties. Now that most of the world’s killing is done from aircraft (manned and unmanned) it seems to be getting easier and easier to justify, in military minds, the killing of civilians. Meanwhile our weapons plants are working overtime to the benefit of their shareholders.
- The 2024 presidential campaign is upon us. And, as every media outlet has said and said again, this election is different. Few sentient beings don’t realize a second Trump presidency could be a dystopia. Robert Kagan’s op-ed in The Washington Post spells out the danger in great detail and is a must read. Here’s the link.
If you’ve read Kagan’s article and aren’t a Trumpster, then you know there’s plenty of reason to worry, brood, pout, etc. I confess that I’ve been there recently. So much anger and frustration. But I have climbed out of that hole, at least for the time being. Let me explain why.
I had lunch yesterday with a friend of my sister Gracie named Linda Stout. She is a voting rights advocate and organizer from North Carolina. We share the same views on many things. Back in 1977 she was physically attacked by members of the Ku Klux Klan in her own home but it didn’t stop her advocacy for the poor and marginalized. She is cheerful and enthusiastic, a real fighter. One thing she recounted struck a chord with me. She was living and working in Massachusetts some years ago when she realized that she could contribute more to the struggle for justice and equal rights in her native North Carolina. So she decided to move back down South and join the fray. And she did so enthusiastically and effectively. She clearly relishes the challenge that fighting for the rights of others affords. She inherently understands what I call (from my Christian perspective) the paradox of the Gospel: that self-sacrificial service to others is the surest path to peace and happiness, not in some later life, but right here and now in this life. Having lunch with her reminded me of that great truth — one inherent in all the world’s great religions if you look for it.
Our conversation reminded me that it’s the perfect time for me to enjoy the journey of life as a charter member of the loyal opposition. It isn’t hard to find people working for justice and peace despite the wave of hate that washes up on our shores. I am highly blessed to be involved with two organizations that do work that matters. One is my parish’s signature outreach program, Anna’s Place, an after school, Saturday, and summertime program for at-risk children in New Orleans. It’s vital and growing, and led by Dr. Cavin Davis, a native son of Treme, a poor neighborhood in New Orleans.. Check it out at https://stannanola.org/annas-place/.
If that were my only interest, I could easily and happily spend all my time working to support Anna’s Place. But I am doubly blessed. As I have written before, my sister Gracie and I are involved in a pilot, guaranteed-income program in partnership with the ACLU of Louisiana. Last weekend we attended a splendid event put on by that organization. It honored Black philanthropists and civil rights heroes of Louisiana. It was most moving and served to rev both of us up about the possibilities for restorative justice that lie ahead. The guaranteed-income program was introduced at the dinner, whose guests included some of the initial recipients. We got some news coverage as well:
So . . . . I am not depressed about the things that short-sighted and greedy people are doing to the world. Yes, I wish that Trump were in jail, that nations would stop allowing for more exploration for fossil fuels, and that the military-industrial complex could be dismantled. But I am happy to have the opportunity to fight back through active opposition and by supporting the struggle for justice in concrete ways.
Everyone has that opportunity. Seize it and get happy!