The craft of a stage magician is primarily distraction. The performer gets you to “look over here” so that you don’t see what he is doing over there. Our current president is very nearly a master magician in how he manipulates the media and uses Twitter to keep up a constant distraction so that the news media never has a moment to notice the more substantive things that he is doing to accomplish his economic oligarchic goals.
Let me spell this out: if Donald Trump has a core belief, it is just this – that the very wealthy should be allowed to soak up an ever larger amount of the wealth of the nation and it doesn’t matter if you have to destroy the environment or bankrupt schools or take away health care from tens of millions of people in order to do that.
For most of the past three years, Trump has created insane diversions through his own antics, but the arrival of the coronavirus has been a smokescreen that exceeds anything that he could have manufactured on his own.
I would point out to you that once we had to close businesses and churches because of the administration’s failure to offer wide spread virus testing in early February, Congress quickly passed a $2 trillion aid package which includes $1200 per adult subsidy, but the majority of that $2 trillion went to large corporations.
And, true to form for our Clementine Caligula, he immediately fired the official who had been selected to provide oversight for these funds, Glenn Fine, because it was his job to make certain that these funds were used properly and that none of them were just funneled into Trump’s own businesses and the businesses of his political donors.
I would remind you that when Obama proposed a stimulus package in response to the 2008 economic crisis, a package that was less than half this amount, it was passed without a single Republican vote.
This $2 trillion package was passed with bipartisan support but now we will be left to wonder where all of the money goes. I never would have dreamed that the United States would come to this point, a point where we are somehow tolerating this level of criminal theft from the Oval office, but folks, we have the equivalent of a third world country.
Even before the Coronavirus lockdown, the Trump administration had rolled back over 100 EPA regulations regarding clean air, water, and waste, especially waste from coal and other mining industries.
As dangerous as this pandemic is, and this is no exaggeration, these environmental regulation rollbacks, these regulations that have protected us from pollution, this will kill more people than Covid-19. And Trump is doing this on purpose, for profit.
This kind of economic domestic terrorism is not unique to Trump. We saw this in the buildup to the invasion of Iraq. The paranoid conspiracy theorists were trying to insist that the Bush administration had somehow planned the 9-11 attacks in order to justify invading Iraq. That was obviously false because there was no one in the Bush administration who was clever enough, by half, to come up with a plan as complicated as that.
However, they had been trying to cook up an excuse for invading Iraq before 9-11 and when that fateful day arrived, they used it as a too convenient excuse.
Just as the coronavirus wasn’t cooked up in some military lab to use as a chemical weapon, nor was it sent by God to punish people for watching the Tiger King series or anything else that might appeal to your mind as deserving punishment. It was an event of nature, as pandemics always are . . . it is just that Trump and the Tiger King make it seem worse.
This writing was prepared for Easter 2020. The virtual Easter sermons that filled the internet mostly take the gospel stories quite literally, promising eternal life because Jesus was bodily raised from the dead. As you know, I take those accounts to be entirely metaphorical, almost like the ending of V is for Vendetta in which V reminds the tyrannical government officials who are about to kill him that they cannot kill an idea . . . the Roman government killed the historical Jesus but they could not crucify his message . . . it took Evangelical Christians to do that!
The real message of resurrection, the real point of it so far as I am concerned, is still the powerful awareness that you can kill a messenger, but you cannot kill a message.
The EPA, which had been busy since the Nixon administration in trying to balance the interests of business, profit, employment, and manufacturing with the need to protect our environment from lethal levels of pollution, has been, effectively, crucified under the Trump administration.
But there are those who are praying for a resurrection. Just as Neil DeGrasse Tyson is not the world’s leading astrophysicist but he is the world’s best known spokesperson for astrophysics, the world’s best known environmental activist is not a scientist at all, she isn’t even old enough to go to college yet and she has been missing a whole lot of high school for the past four years.
In some ways, it is an act, when the snarling, angry, teenaged climate activist, Greta Thunberg, addresses public gatherings. In real life, she seems to be a very sweet, charming, and astonishingly bright high school student. But she has become quite media savvy during her short career as a consciousness raising public spokesperson for the earth.
She understands what it takes to make a splash in the media is a perfect soundbite, but her real plan is not just to become famous and to see these soundbites show up in a single day’s news cycle. She is trying to get the adults in the room to pay attention to the science.
We all saw clips of her “How dare you?” speech at the United Nations last September where she virtually spit out the words: This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school, on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money, and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
I was moved by this brief clip, and unless you have a cold, hard place where your heart is supposed to be, your were too. But, it was a bit of an act to get people to hear some of the hard data in the rest of her speech, much needed information that almost never made it into broadcast media.
Without the added effect of her Swedish accent or even her long braided hair . . . not yet at least, though if barber shops don’t open again soon, I suppose it could happen, I would like to share a bit of the rest of her speech, it is longer than a normal quote but it is important:
For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you're doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.
You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.
The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees (Celsius) and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.
Fifty percent may be acceptable to you. But those numbers do not include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of equity and climate justice. They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tons of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So, a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us – we who have to live with the consequences.
To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5 degrees global temperature rise – the best odds given by the (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) – the world had 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit back on Jan. 1, 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons.
How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just "business as usual" and some technical solutions? With today's emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within less than eight and a half years.
There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures here today, because these numbers are too uncomfortable and you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.
You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.
We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.
I realize that was a lot of numbers and that’s why such important information doesn’t make it into TV news soundbites, but my favorite transplant to America who manages to clearly tell us who we are in plain language, John Oliver, boils our environmental situation down for us: One in four Americans is skeptical about climate change, who cares? That doesn’t matter. You don’t need people’s opinions on a fact. You might as well have a poll asking which number is bigger, 5 or 15? Or do owls exist? Or are there hats?
Human activity is making the earth uninhabitable to humans and if we don’t want to die, then we have to wake up to the facts and change.
So, yes, Greta, change is coming, though the change we have seen in recent years has been all change in the wrong direction. You may recall that I spoke out against the Paris Climate accords years ago, not because, like Trump, I was opposed to its meager goals. I was opposed to it because it did not go nearly far enough to save the planet and anything that falls short of saving the planet is not worth discussing.
So, Greta, I do believe that change is coming but it may come when people like you are elected members of government, a time when Donald Trump and Joe Biden, as well as Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and probably Roger Ray are all decomposing in some iteration of Memorial Gardens somewhere, but change is coming. We can be sure of that because change must come, or humanity will poison itself out of existence. And remember, those gospel Easter stories are metaphors. We have got to get this right.
The Indian writer and environmental activist, Arundhati Roy, has pointed out that -
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.
Trump is using this pandemic as a smokescreen behind which he is hiding moves to degrade the earth while plundering the public purse. I am reaching a point where I am accepting this insane and criminal conduct in much the same way that I accept that it is the nature of a scorpion to sting and you can hardly expect it to do anything else.
But the pandemic, which has put up a red stop light all around the world, shutting down most travel, tourism, and retail business, is allowing the earth to take a deep breath. For the first time in a century, you can see the fish in the canals of Venice.
We were only in economic “stay at home” orders for a month and the earth began showing us that a miraculous resurrection is possible if we would just learn to behave ourselves.
As our young friend, Greta, has observed, the “Coronavirus pandemic only shows that the world can act fast in a crisis.” And folks, I hope you know, so far as the earth is concerned, we are in a crisis, a crisis that calls for a real resurrection.