As 2021 draws to an end (good riddance), and as I am not far from entering my ninth decade on this besotted planet, I thought it an apt time to apologize to my daughter — and everyone of her generation — for the world we old fogies are leaving behind.
It is not a pretty picture. The Earth is either burning or drowning or suffering from cataclysmic weather events. Humankind is threatened by one variant after another of the coronavirus in a seemingly never-ending pandemic. Government in America, and in other democratic countries around the world, for that matter, teeters on the brink of descending into autocracy. Society suffers from an ever-widening inequality of wealth and opportunity. And, undergirding our inability to respond to these intertwined crises is the destruction of truth and the unwillingness of many to engage in civil public discourse.
Not pretty at all. And, while some of it may not be entirely the fault of those alive now, much of it is exacerbated by our lassitude and our unwillingness to cooperate as a society to tackle these problems.
Take climate change. We know the clock is ticking on our ever-warming globe, and we know both the cause of the problem and the remedy. But, we take, at best, only fitful measures to combat climate change. This year demonstrates the seriousness of the problem. Nearly one in three Americans experienced a weather disaster this past summer. In June, thermometer readings in the Pacific Northwest (and British Columbia) exceeded 110° in a region where the average temperature at that time of year is in the seventies. Air conditioning is not common, so most suffered and hundreds died. On the other coast, flash floods killed scores as record-setting rain pounded an area from Connecticut to Pennsylvania. Back on the West Coast, a lack of rain and record-shattering heat contributed to raging forest fires..
The deadly weather continues. Last week, tornadoes ripped through the country’s midsection. Unusually high temperatures for December — readings in Wisconsin and Minnesota set records — contributed to high winds across much of the middle of the United States a few days later. And, let us not forget the continuing drought in the western United States that has caused a severe water shortage on the Colorado River, the source of water for much of the southwest and parts of Mexico.
The effects of climate change are not felt only in the United States. One example: A super typhoon — with wind gusts up to 168 miles an hour — hit the Philippines this week, the 15th major weather disturbance to affect that country in 2021. And, while each weather calamity cannot be blamed directly on climate change, the United Nations concludes that warming temperatures have led to a fivefold increase in weather-related disasters in the last few decades.
The coronavirus has been with us almost two years now, and it is unrelenting. The newest variant — omicron — is highly transmissible but may not be as deadly as previous ones. The latter is good news, but with so many people still unvaccinated, no one knows what the next mutation will bring. Or the one after that. It still boggles my mind that so many of our fellow citizens see the vaccine and mandates to wear a mask in public as political issues. Apparently, many Republicans are willing to die to “own the libs.” Some ownership! Except, of course, that the unvaccinated threaten to infect us all, torpedo the economy, clog the healthcare system, deny access to emergency rooms for those who need it desperately because of heart attacks and strokes, and provide a huge pool of victims in which the virus can further mutate.
Nothing occurs in a vacuum, and the politicization of the response to the virus reflects the bitter polarization of our politics. The defeated former president refused to accept his defeat and staged a coup against democracy. Millions believe the “big lie” of a stolen election and are willing to do whatever to return Donald Trump to the presidency. The January 6 committee is turning up valuable evidence against the plotters of the insurrection, but to what outcome? Will the guilty leaders — not just those who actually stormed the Capitol — ever face justice? Remember, a failed coup is merely a dress rehearsal for the next one.
Worse is the prospect that Trump may be president again. He has a solid base of loyal cultist followers, and many others appear to be forgetting the excesses, corruption, and incompetence of his term in office. Quite a number of Americans just want a change, believing the current occupant of the White House unable to solve our critical problems. Trump may win the presidency outright, but if not, his Republican acolytes are stacking the electoral deck through gerrymandering, voter suppression, and voter nullification. In several states, Republicans are passing laws to allow members of their party to decide what votes to count. It is a bit like letting the New York Yankees call balls and strikes in the very game they are playing.
The Democrats appear feckless, unable to pass major legislation to buttress the American social safety net or protect voting rights. The latter, of course, is needed to save American democracy from sliding into autocracy through the stealing and manipulation of elections. A gridlocked Congress cannot tackle the major problems afflicting our country, and it cannot mitigate growing economic inequality. Part of the problem is that America taxes income, not wealth, leaving Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and their ilk in possession of obscene wealth that they use to corrupt the system and prevent change that might level the playing field. It is a maddenning, never-ending cycle.
For vast numbers of people truth is what they are told by their leaders or the propaganda they hear or read. Make no mistake about it, Fox News is not news; it is propaganda. As bad as Fox is, there are even worse. While there may be a few serious journalists at Fox, we learned more this past week about the extent of the coziness between some of the network’s personalities and the disgraced former president. Incredibly, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity texted that Trump should call off the rioters on January 6, only to go on air that night and claim that the rioters were not Trump supporters but rather provocateurs. The ubiquitousness of information today, unfortunately, means that much of the information is misinformation or disinformation. And, our body politic and civil society suffer from it. Civil public discourse becomes impossible without a shared sense of what is truth.
This is not a very heartening end-of-the-year message. I wish I could be more optimistic about the future. But, the sad truth is that we older folks have made a hash of things. I only hope that you in the younger generation can right the ship before it is too late.
I will be rooting for you and wholeheartedly will support your efforts to set things right.
Posted December 19, 2021
Politics and History will be on vacation for the rest of 2021 (what else could I possibly say about the year?). It will return in early 2022.