If you haven’t read a dystopian novel about the future of the world following a nuclear holocaust, an encounter with a large asteroid or, more realistically, the playing out of anti-science climate change denial, you should. Particularly the ones about environmental collapse. They’re more “fun” than actual science books, easier to absorb and sometimes have happy endings. They often focus on a small band of “survivors” who miraculously are able, through ingenuity and just good luck, to eke out a “living” sometimes in violent conflict with other bands in similar dire circumstances.
Someday soon these dystopian visions of possible futures will begin to show up in the History section of your local bookstore or online purchasing habit. These visions are coming to pass as I write. If you don’t believe this, read The Sixth Extinction, just for starters. It won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 2015. That’s nonfiction. Published before Trump was on the radar. It’s about the science. It’s about the impending disaster that, once it overtakes the planet, may be irreversible.
Trump, of course, is now on the radar, as are the Republican Party enablers who have chosen to support his agenda without regard for the consequences for humanity. Trump himself is, by his own admission, not a reader. Experience teaches us he is not a thinker either. He, of course, regards himself as a distinctly superior being, smarter than all the scientists who are close to unanimous in the belief that climate change is real and is the result, in large part, of human activity. The evidence that that view is overwhelming. Republicans wishing it were otherwise doesn’t change the reality. As Ben Franklin presciently said a long time ago: Experience keeps a dear school, but a fool will learn in no other.
Can so many people – the climate change deniers – be that uninformed or downright stupid? Of course, they can. They are people for whom evidence, especially if the least bit complicated or inconvenient, is not important. As proof, I refer you to the data, easily found online, of the number of people who believe that the earth is regularly visited by extra-terrestrial beings and the people who think the earth is flat, or believe that the moon landing was a faked Hollywood production, and on and on. Read any history book worthy of the name and you’ll see the story of mass belief in false ideas for which there was plenty of contradictory evidence or, often, simply no evidence to support the mass delusion. People believe what they believe.
So, to return to the subject at hand, Donald Trump heads the Executive Branch of the U.S. government and as a result has enormous power. He appoints, and his Republican majority in the Senate routinely confirms, unqualified true believers to head agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department. Their intention, manifested regularly, is to undermine the environmental protections that have been woven into the national fabric beginning many decades ago at the behest of, among others, some Republican presidents. But those Republicans of yesteryear were quite different than those now serving Donald Trump.
You may have known people like these back in high school. Not high achievers, they were often in trouble, seemed determinedly uninterested in learning much new and were proudest of their record of disciplinary malfeasance. They were almost exclusively white males and often came from families with resources. Eventually they ended up in business and were successful in the sense that they made some money. Trump likes such people even if, as is almost always the case in his appointments, they don’t actually have a record of achievement in the fields in which they now exercise enormous influence. They inspired low expectations in their learning ability and were successful by adhering closely to chichés about the free market economy, American exceptionalism and its importance to the very essence of American society.
So, Trump continues on his merry way, undermining the Endangered Species Act (see New York Times editorial, Sunday, August 18, 2019), the Clean Power Plan and endless other environmental protections that have helped clear the air, purify the water and generally support the health and welfare of the people. Just like in high school, Trump and his lackeys are not really interested in understanding the implications of what they’re doing. They have a short-term view –to make it easy on business to exploit the planet so some people can make more money and retain their popularity among the UFO-sighting crowd.
One thing about those dystopian books I mentioned earlier – in most cases, money no longer means much. There is usually little or nothing to buy. In those stories, all portents of our future, we’re back to bartering and stealing and killing to survive. So much for short term thinking.
I did not exaggerate when I titled this post that Trump wants to kill your descendants. Look at it this way – if I point a loaded gun at you and squeeze the trigger, resulting in grievous bodily harm to you, the law will say that I “intended” to harm you because of the foreseeable outcome that my actions through a chain of causation (pointing and squeezing the trigger of a loaded gun) would have. Trump’s environmental policies, pursued in the face of overwhelming evidence of egregious harm to the planet that sustains us, are exactly like that loaded gun – pointed at all of us and likely to hit your children and grandchildren in the near future.
Many of us have become passive about these issues because we have been primed to believe in good outcomes. Most of our stories, no matter how gruesome in the telling, end with victory for the good guys. War movies, serial killer novels, you name it. We have been conditioned to believe that somehow the worst outcomes will be avoided, that the good will prevail over evil and all will be well in the end, perhaps after an intervening period of inconvenience but certainly not the end of the world as we know it.
That conditioning is hard to overcome and is a particularly strong force in the thinking and emotional makeup of people for whom one or two issues drive all of their motivation. I refer to evangelicals who are obsessed with abortion and who will support someone like Trump because they believe he is opposed to abortion. They will overlook every other aspect of Trump’s behavior to achieve the one goal they think is most important. How these people will react when the earth’s temperature rises, say 4 or 5 degrees, remains to be seen but history suggests they will die believing they did the right thing. The same is true for those Americans for whom keeping immigrants out of the United States is the single most important national policy. They may strangle on the poisoned air and water in the years to come, certainly their children will, but, by God, America will have been preserved for white people and thus they will feel vindicated and victorious even as they perish in massive numbers.
The conditioning we all have been subjected to makes it hard to accept that the end of the earth as we know it may be imminent. Not tomorrow, but soon. In the lifetimes of your children and grandchildren who are alive today. Reality is hard to accept when alternative stories of victory over evil in the end are so ubiquitous and so satisfying. But those are just stories. Reality is quite different. Sure, we defeated Germany in World War II but millions died in the concentration camps. To avoid the massive casualties predicted for an invasion of the Japanese homeland, we dropped the first two atomic bombs on civilian populations of two relatively small towns. The plan worked but likely hundreds of thousands suffered and died. So, victory has its price. Always.
Trump’s ignorance and the indifference of his enablers represent the greatest threat to humanity in possibly centuries. The United States is generally recognized as the most powerful and successful economy and society in the world by many standards. Because of that, its impact on the world is magnified. And it has elected leadership that has a singular vision with only one possible outcome.
After much indecision, I have come to the conclusion that the danger to the country and the world from Trump’s continuing as president is simply too great. He should be removed from office as quickly as possible. I understand all the political arguments, that the Republicans control the Senate and will never vote to remove him no matter what the evidence shows, but part of the process of rebuilding the American society requires that all the evidence be marshaled and shown to the public and the world. Even if the effort fails, it will help drive the voting public to overcome its conditioning and take action in the 2020 election to rid the country of this foul curse.