Today, this morning, right now, in fact, Brett M. Kavanaugh is preparing to hear cases as the newest justice of the United States Supreme Court, a job he can be expected to hold for perhaps a quarter of a century. This comes barely a week after he gave the most hyperbolically partisan and unstable testimony ever seen for a potential judge, much less a justice, and just a handful of days after the President openly mocked the woman who credibly accused the judge of sexual assault.
None of this is unrelated. Smart commentators said that his emotional outbursts and enemy-blaming helped him with the first audience that matters, the President. Trump was said to be mad that Kavanaugh wasn’t fighting more, wasn’t letting loose, wasn’t acting more like Trump.
And then he did, and the GOP rallied around him. And then Trump let loose with his outburst, and the dam broke, and Dr. Ford was a liar and a monster and the Democrats engaged in the worst forms of sexual McCarthyism. At best, Dr. Ford was correct that she was nearly raped, but the poor dear was wrong about who. Susan Collins, who pretend to Hamlet it up, officially embraced the lunatic “Kavanaugh doppleganger” theory, creating an alchemy in which a burst of Twitter madness somehow morphed into the official moderate position.
In the end, the bulk of the GOP went gleefully to bat for Kavanaugh. They were openly rude to other survivors of sexual assault, shooing them away, and following the President’s gruesome and dimwitted lead in saying that they were “paid protestors“. In doing so, they not only failed to recognize or even acknowledge the pain and anguish in this country, but to dismiss the idea of protest itself as illegitimate.
So what do we have here? We have a Supreme Court justice who has sworn to be as Trumpian as possible, repaying his “enemies” for daring to question the place of privilege he has as his birthright. He owes his position to being Trumpian, and to staking out the most extreme emotional and conspiracy-laden claims (something to which, as his career in conservative hackdom proved, he was already inclined).
He also owes his position to the GOP giving full expression to their own Trumpness. This is a party that for years, decades even, has trafficked in the most vile conspiracies and has acted with cruel indifference toward anyone questioning their position of righteous misogyny. Trump, as we know, didn’t come out of a vacuum. He, or someone like him, is the inevitable result of 40 years of anti-intellectualism, or merging white nationalism with pseudo-populism and aggressive evangelicalism, of combining supply-side economics and junk science.
But Trump is also unique, a particularly malevolent being, and we see that the other branches of government are bending around his dark gravity. He’s a moral black hole, and he amplified and stretched out all the worst tendencies of already truly awful people like Chuck Grassley and Orin Hatch and John Cornyn, not to mention Ted Cruz.
It’s impossible to overstate how broken this country is, how shattered our institutions are. Mitch McConnell has made it his life’s goal to break the idea that government is an expression of popular will, and he has done so with rank cynicism and an overwhelming lust for power. His vision of America has largely won, regardless of what happens in November. It will take a lifetime to repair the damage, if that is even possible.
The problem is, we don’t have a lifetime. As yesterday’s new IPCC report made clear, with blood-chilling precision, we have, at most, a decade to ameliorate the very worst effects of climate change. It will take massive political will and a nationwide effort to keep the temperature from rising above 1.5 degrees more than pre-industrial levels.
The picture they paint of 2 degrees is fantastically grim. Innundated coastlines, scorching deadly heat, an Arctic without ice in the summer, food shortages, water insecurity, hundreds of millions of people at risk of starvation. And they don’t give us until 2100, the far-seeming number that provided a measure of false comfort to those of us approaching middle age. They say that unless massive, international effort is taken now, we’ll be seeing the near curve of the worst long-term effect by 2040 (or, as near in time to us as 1996).
This is enough for genuine despair, unless you believe that it will spur true mass action. And maybe it will. But it is hard to imagine. In the United States, this will be dismissed by many as fake news, and we’ll converse of it as a partisan issue. Republicans believe X, and Dems believe Y, what do you think? That is, if it gets more than a day in play.
It isn’t that the Adminsitration doesn’t believe in global warming. They do. Though it was little-noticed, the EPA justified removing Obama-era constraints on auto emissions by saying that they see a SEVEN DEGREE rise in temp by 2100, so what can we do? Why bother with piddling things? That’s right: when it suits them, they are happy to admit that we are facing an extinction-level crisis, so why bother doing anything about it if automakers can grab a few more bucks while we slog around this Road of Bones.
And it isn’t just America. Brazil’s probably next President, a far-right authoritarian who is openly racist, misogynist, and violent, who is promising to be an undemocratic strongman, has also pledged to open up the Amazon to logging interests. That’s one of the reasons Brazil’s business community is embracing him, after “initial hesitation”. He’s going to open things up for everyone!
That about sums things up. The world is heating up, and the very rich are clustered together to protect their interests, to make enough money to try to shield themselves from the disaster they and their system has brought. To make it work, they are propping up and surrendering themselves to brutal strongmen and dim tyrants, destroying the last vestiges of the institutions we need to stave off the worst of a certainly brutal future. They are accelerating the catastrophe in the hopes of trying to survive it, the rest of us be damned.
Our system is broken. Our nation is shattered and divided, and it will only get worse as waves of climate refugees spread across the world. Authoritarianism will rise, and will be helped along by selfish capitalists, who in turn will be granted the right to act in more self-defeating and species-destroying self-interest.
Is it too late? Maybe not. Maybe this election could make a huge difference. At the worst, it will help to try to change things so we can act to turn this tide, and work toward true ecological and social justice, the only thing that can save us. We don’t have a lot of time as a species to get this right. We don’t have a lot of time as a country.
The election is a month away. Let’s get to work, and recognize that we’re not going to be able to roll down our sleeves again. Hopefully the sweat will be from hard work, and not from the fires raging unquenchably around us.