A few weeks ago, I received an email threatening to abduct me off the street, cut my balls off, and stuff them into my mouth when I yelled in pain. That night, I locked the door to my apartment, and the next day, I looked over my shoulder when I stepped out into the pregnant heat of New York summer.
Today, two weeks later, I don’t think twice about running to the store to grab milk. I say this not to be a tough guy or for sympathy but to say it’s become easy to adjust to horror. That’s particularly true in a year besieged by disease and violence and set against the backdrop of a dying planet. This malaise is its own kind of disease—and potentially just as deadly as the pandemic that continues to consume us.
Put bluntly: Shit is worse than it feels, and it’s only going to continue to get worse unless we organize to stop it.
The premise of Republican governance since the 1980s has been a failure to govern. In a nutshell, if you want less government, the best thing you can do if you’re the party in power is to make people think the government sucks by cutting back the social safety net and opposing any attempt to make things work. The coronavirus and Donald Trump’s cruelty have simply given Republicans a chance to operate at warp speed, creating unfathomably wicked conditions for the American public that includes their very own voters.
Consider what’s happened or been in the news this week alone. The U.S. Postal Service, under the guidance of a rich Trump donor, has undercut itself by slowing down the mail millions of Americans rely on, ripped out sorting machines, and is well on its way to essentially becoming a Trump campaign tool to suppress the vote, if the president gets his way. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned the Senate until September 8 without a deal for a new coronavirus relief package, letting extended unemployment benefits and other protections that have kept people slightly above water wither away (all while knowing the deadline was coming for months). Florida under Republican Governor Ron DeSantis set a record high for covid-19 deaths (though, to be fair, Democrat-controlled California is also in crisis). The Trump campaign has set up a strategy to contest the election no matter the outcome, and I’m fairly sure it’ll make the Brooks Brothers riots following the 2000 election look like a peaceful sit-in (don’t just take my word for it, though). Meanwhile, birtherism is back.
While the public is forced to languish and watch institutions fall apart amid what’s expected to be the worst global recession since World War II, 467 billionaires have gained $731 billion in wealth since the pandemic began. The Republican Party has effectively taken the coronavirus as an opportunity to do a smash-and-grab operation on the backs of the American public. It’s Naomi Klein’s “shock doctrine,” plain and simple. Mental health experts are worried there will be a rising tide of deaths of despair as benefits start to trail out and eviction and utility shutoff moratoriums lapse.
The message is clear: You are expendable to Donald Trump. You are expendable to Mitch McConnell. You are expendable to every single Republican elected official who is letting this happen so their rich friends can profit while pulling the ladder out of the grasp of the middle and lower classes.
The injustice is intentional.
When Vice’s Aaron Gordon dropped a piece on Thursday detailing how mail sorting machines are being taken out of service across the country, my wife asked why people (ourselves included) weren’t in the streets. The answer is that creeping despair, spreading like poison in the bloodstream, and the need to put out the immediate fires in our daily lives. It’s a particularly bleak moment in American history. But we cannot succumb to the darkness.
It’s time to stop being expendable. It’s time to melt your malaise. It’s time to harness your rage. It’s time, frankly, to become a threat to the plans of anyone who treats you as expendable.
If Republicans are successful is sacrificing however many hundreds of thousands of American lives now, they’ll have carte blanche to sacrifice millions more here and around the world as the climate crisis worsens. The pandemic is a warm-up. As climate essayist Mary Heglar has pointed out, if he gets it, a second Trump term will be far, far worse. But even absent a Trump win, Republican governance by breaking institutions and people is something we can never allow to happen again on an overheating planet.
Any action that delays decarbonization, demonizes the working class or people of color, and cuts benefits will be a death sentence both for those here in the U.S. and in countries around the world since the atmosphere connects us all.
Rather than accept despair, it’s time to welcome rage back into the public sphere. And more than rage, it’s time to harness the power of organizing. We’ve already seen the energy shift in this direction. The Movement for Black Lives sparked a massive shift in public opinion on policing and systematic racism this summer. Though it feels like a distant memory, recall that just last year a movement led into the streets by teenagers terrified the oil industry and world leaders. Saving the Post Office is the fight we need to organize around now. And if you think all of this—the fight for equality, the fight for the mechanisms of democracy, the fight for the planet—is disconnected, think again.
As the editor of Earther, my focus consistently shifts to the climate crisis and the fight to save our planet from the bastards who profit from its hastened demise. Everything—literally everything—is connected to the climate fight. So much rides on this moment and how we respond to it. As University of Providence political scientist Thea Riofrancos put it in the New York Times this past weekend (emphasis added):
“The coming months and years are crucial. They will shape not only politics but also, as the climate crisis intensifies, the very conditions of life on this planet. That’s a huge challenge. But it’s also a historic opportunity to make a better, more equal and more just world. We must not pass it up.”
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. If you are a veteran or service member you can speak with a qualified U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs responder at 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1).