Reality check

Stewart Epstein’s recent letter to the editor (“Democrats should focus on the issues, not on Trump,” Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Oct. 3) offered some sensible advice in this highly charged midterm election year. His list of such issues, however (Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, etc.), left out even larger concerns which affect not just Democrats but everyone regardless of political or ideological affiliation.

We — all of us — are facing four massive problems that are unprecedented in history: two of them global and two more focused on the United States itself. The global problems are climate change and the greatest numbers of refugees and displaced persons ever seen. The two domestic problems are the imminent demographic shift which will make our country a non-white-majority nation (this has already occurred in places like Los Angeles) and the gigantic bulge of baby boomers now moving into retirement. It is only within this wider context that discussion and assessment of issues and policies can become meaningful.

Setting aside the personalities involved, it quickly becomes clear that the current administration is addressing none of these tremendous problems in an effective way. Climate change, to start with, is not the hoax the skeptics claim. The increasing frequency and violence of extreme weather events — droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, typhoons, catastrophic flooding — are not just “Mother Nature” doing her thing as usual but ominous signs of the shift-in-progress that have been predicted for years. One easily visible indicator is that Lake Champlain no longer freezes over in the winter as it did as recently as 30 years ago. Faced with this grim reality, we have withdrawn from the Paris climate accords, gutted the Environmental Protection Agency, relaxed emissions standards for greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane, and sought to resuscitate the coal industry. These are all actions which not only deny the problem but actively make it worse, putting the future of humanity at risk.

Our response to the global refugee crisis has failed in a similar fashion. Rather than seek creative ways to help mitigate this humanitarian nightmare, we have added to it: slammed our doors, separated hundreds of children from their parents and stepped up deportations. Since many of the displaced are climate refugees, this has led to incoherent policies. Many fleeing Central America, for example, are doing so because of a series of climate-induced droughts and poor harvests, which have made living there impossible. So with one hand we throw gasoline on the fire by exacerbating climate change while with the other we apply draconian measures against those desperately seeking relief from its effects.

Meanwhile, in rejecting globalism in favor of “patriotism” (as President Trump recently did at the United Nations), we have effectively made it impossible for us to participate in addressing these planet-wide problems, which can only be solved by the very global outlook and cooperation that the administration despises. We have abdicated our position of world leadership and walked off the field, sidelining ourselves just at the moment when our resources, expertise and moral example are most needed.

Domestically, the administration’s record is equally misguided. One would think that with a historic demographic shift in process, we would be preparing for it by encouraging policies to promote better understanding, tolerance and mutual respect. A steady barrage of polarizing rhetoric, unfortunately, has moved us in exactly the opposite direction. A case could be made, indeed, that the loud calls for “immigration reform” may be less about “fixing a broken system” than about a cynical effort to delay the inevitable shift as long as possible by massive deportations, visa restrictions and carefully targeted travel bans, and to blunt its political effects by exclusionary tactics like gerrymandering and voter suppression. We have solid historical precedent in the antebellum South, and it’s now making a comeback under President Trump and an emerging new breed of fellow American oligarchs, as Nancy MacLean has convincingly demonstrated.

Finally, there is the problem of the retiring baby boomers, particularly the way in which their situation intersects with the long-discredited fiscal policies characteristic of Republican administrations. Regardless of what one might think of the Clintons, the fact remains that when the Democrats left office in 2001, they had created a budget surplus and a plan to pay off the national debt in 10 years. By 2008, due to tax cuts, bailouts and two ruinously expensive wars, all of that was gone, deficits were soaring, and the economy was in freefall from the collapse of the subprime mortgage market because of deregulation. Now we’re walking down the same predictable road again: tax cuts (with more proposed and the existing ones made permanent), deregulation, and grandiose military schemes like hunkering down in Syria and a multi-billion-dollar “space force,” not to mention spiraling new expenses for FEMA. Having voluntarily slashed our income by a trillion-and-a-half dollars last year, how are we to pay for all this? The country is bankrupt. The only people who can celebrate the Republican tax cuts as an “accomplishment” are those who don’t remember or care what happened the last time around. So once again, just as under President Bush, Social Security, Medicare, etc., are suddenly “unaffordable” (unlike the Pentagon) just at the moment when an increasing number of our citizens are coming to need them — the same pattern of doing exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time.

In sum, the policies of this administration, all personalities aside, uniformly embody the polar opposite of what is required at this pivotal time in human and planetary history. We must find a way to rise above the narrow divisive ideologies that produce those policies and learn to work together as common residents of this “pale blue dot” in the vastness of space. The truth is that these huge problems are not going away and are steadily growing worse. If we are to solve them, we have no further time to waste on counterproductive approaches. And that truth will play out regardless of whether you believe it or not.

John Radigan lives in Saranac Lake.

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