(Photo by Angus Mordant/www.angusmordant.com )
If you are a climate activist, or care about what happens to the earth or environment, then read this carefully.
Our democracy is on the endangered species list. It is dying. And when it does, there will be no hope for the climate, ourselves, or our children.
Our democracy is unique, precious and fragile. The way it dies is not by some foreign invasion, but from within. Right now, Trump and his Republican enablers are staging a slow moving coup. This is a fascist coup. (See Environmental Fascism post here.) Historically, the transition to Fascism is completed by an act of war. Usually this is a false flag external war, but Trump has decided to create a false flag internal crisis and wage war against democracy.
He is delegitimizing the election. Half of Republican voters, or 35 million Americans, believe he won the election. He refuses to concede. He is trying to coerce electors and attorneys generals into invalidating results. He is blocking a transition. These are acts of sedition.
His enablers are offering weak tea excuses and are waiting to see if we blink. They are cowards and weak men who think Trump is strong. They tell us it’s within his rights to contest certain state results. Or they tell us to just humor him, he’ll get used to the idea, like he is some child. This is bullshit. Worse are the Democrats who assume his incompetence means that he will not succeed. Or worse yet that it can’t happen here. They sit patiently waiting and twiddling their thumbs. Ask Chamberlain how appeasement works.
We are now so numb to the Trump outrage, and noise that we grasp at straws. We want someone else to come to save us. Continued fear, mis-information and media noise have created fatigue and apathy. Are we content to simply watch this happen? Come on Republicans, stand up and grow some spine. Religious leaders? CEOs? Climate activists? The work of defending democracy is not done. No one is coming to save us. It’s up to us.
The climate related part of this coup is environmental fascism. Opening the arctic for oil drilling, logging the Tongass National Forest, permitting the Keystone XL, the Dakota Access and Line 3 Pipelines, imposing solar tariffs, and reversing 108 other climate and environmental protections and rights. In addition, it is the damage he can do to the Biden administration by making him seem weak and illegitimate.
One question I hear is, why is he doing this? As if understanding this question will help us. He is doing this because he is a narcissist. Let me rephrase this, he is a sociopathic narcissist with sadistic tendencies and skills as a con man. He has proven time and again, that he doesn’t care about the American people, only himself. He has let needless tens of thousands of us die and continues to impede action on the pandemic. Most critically, as a tyrant, he fears prosecution and financial ruin after leaving office. He owes millions if not billions to creditors and will also be subject to criminal investigations. He has no incentive to leave. If he were the ruler of another country, what would we be saying? Because of his treasonous actions, he must be called out forcefully now, otherwise his malignancy grows.
A more relevant question is how is he doing this? If we can understand that, then perhaps we can find the remedy. The obvious answer is by undermining the truth. Timothy D. Snyder, has a an observation that sums this up. “Without truth, we have no trust. Without trust we have no rule-of-law. Without rule-of-law, we have no democracy.”
The second is that identity trumps truth (no pun intended). Trump has succeeded in creating noise that obscures a truthful reality, then uses lies to help reinforce identity. “The virus is a hoax. The virus will go away. It’s not bad. It’s like the flu. Masks are not for me.” Ad infinitum. Until we have people that are literally taking their last breath in the ICU believing that it’s not COVID-19, but something else like lung cancer. We see that identity is the most powerful drug, but it won’t save us from COVID. The denial of the climate crisis follows the same playbook and has greater consequences.
In this upside down world, identity comes first, then beliefs, not facts and reason. Let me give you some examples.
- I am on the side of police, not because I am against protestors, I am against protestors because I am on the side of the police.
- I support Trump, not because I believe in strong borders, but I believe in strong borders because I support Trump.
- I support the second amendment, not because I carry a gun, but I carry a gun because I support the second amendment.
- I don’t wear a mask because I believe in freedom, I believe in freedom because I don’t wear a mask.
These are just a few of the dozens of examples where identity creates an action or a belief and counters facts, logic and reason. The group identity is more important than the validity of the idea (think flat-earthers). But they all support Trump. This should scare the living crap out of us because we used to be a country that believed in science, upheld the rule of law, and cherished our democracy. 73 million people voted against this. That’s how powerful identity is.
Identity is also catalyzed by something else. A fundamentalist reaction to fear. Trump’s skill is to weaponize fear and create an enemy. The enemies are those who want to take your guns away, immigrants who are disease ridden rapists coming to take your jobs, democrats that want socialism, blacks who are lawless and burning your city.
Liberals might argue that this makes no sense or that people who hold these beliefs are hurting themselves. They might actually laugh at these people or pity them, or worse, feel superior to them. But fundamentalists don’t care if you attack them. They want it. When you create an enemy outside of your group, you strengthen the cohesiveness of the group. When you are attacked, you use it to solidify your group and recruit others. The more outrageous the enemy or conspiracy theory, the more it creates a reaction that not only solidifies the us versus them theme, but also attracts others.
How can we defend our democracy and save our climate as well as a dozen other fair and just causes?
- Decide to stand up. Silence is not an option. If you belong to a climate organization that doesn’t have a political arm, then you are in the wrong organization. Any effort on climate is wasted if we are not fighting to save democracy.
- How do we stand up? Short term the next step is to take to the streets. Coup’s don’t succeed when people march. Peaceful marches also show solidarity and create identity.
- Longer term, start to think about how we would deprogram someone who is a member of a cult. Ridiculing or shaming them doesn’t help. Listening and offering empathy does. This doesn’t mean we have to play nice and all kumbaya.
The key is separating the individual from the identity and offering an alternative one. This requires love and empathy. It’s akin to the religious concept of loving the sinner and hating the sin. It requires continuing to tell the truth. Trump lost the election. Masks slow the pandemic. Burning fossil fuel is killing us and the planet.
It requires us to appeal to a bigger value and a larger group. What group is bigger than conservatives or liberals? How about America or our democracy, i.e. it is un-American to block a peaceful transition of power after an election. It requires thanking and recognizing those that stand up to a tyrant as being patriotic.
- Use stories and when telling a story, use a values sandwich. What’s a values sandwich?
- Start by telling a story that appeals to a universal value.
- Mention how that value is being violated and why it’s being violated.
- Offer an alternative and solution with a call to action.
- Return to underscore the solidarity and identity of the value and the action.
This process was developed by Anat Shenker-Osorio and the Race Class Narrative Action project. Here’s what it sounds like for climate.
- Facing floods in Louisiana, fires in California, and drought in Iowa is terrifying. No matter where we live, the color of our skin, or the size of our bank accounts, we all want a safe, clean environment for our families and loved ones.
- But for too long, we’ve let a few rich fossil fuel executives, and the corrupt politicians they support, divide us against each other. They do this to pad their profits by knowingly selling dirty toxic products that are warming our climate and damaging our health, especially that of our most vulnerable citizens.
- We must stop subsidizing fossil fuels and phase them out. We must take responsibility to enact and enforce protections that reduce fossil fuel pollution. We have the solutions to assure a clean healthy future by protecting our air, water and land, and switching to clean renewable energy.
- This is a moment that we must stand with and for each other across our differences to ensure climate justice and a clean healthy future for all of our families.
If we don’t stand up and start doing these things, we can kiss any hope of keeping ourselves and the planet alive. It’s up to you. And thank you for what you do. See you in the streets.
‘We are all connected. Savor the Earth!’™
(Note: part of the purpose of my screed and outrage against Trump in the first paragraphs of this post is designed to illustrate the concept of enemy and create group cohesion. I’m not trying to trick you in this case because I believe our democracy is in danger, and almost everything I said is backed up by facts. But if you feel uncomfortable, note the asymmetrical tactics of the Left and the Right. Why are you feeling uncomfortable?)