When I started college I knew there would be times like this where my school work, environmental work, lectures and all else might keep me from posting to my blog as often as I’d like and the last two months have been just that. I’ve been “radio silent” for some time between traveling overseas for an incredible experience that I will soon share with you, final exams, a new job I’ll tell you about soon, and one marine science expedition after another to start the summer. I will be back on the “high seas” on a week long shark tagging trip later this week, but will do my best to write a post or two between now and then given all that’s going on in the world starting with Business As Usual…
I was going to title this post Cowards but I generally see myself as a polite, respectful person and thus settled on Business As “Usual” instead.
As much of the world now knows, this week President Trump clearly announced that he’d not have any reservations over accepting information about a political opponent from a foreign government (sound familiar?), nor feel compelled to inform the FBI if ever contacted about such information.
I will leave it to the expert political scientists to evaluate most of the President’s troubling comments but should anyone wonder whether his comments are acceptable (or legal), you need only read the unprecedented statement that the head of the Federal Elections Committee, a Trump appointee, issued while also wondering out loud why her office would even need to explain that working with a foreign government, or not informing authorities about being approached, should be common sense. You can read all about it here from a Washington Post article which starts with the following:
Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub released a statement Thursday making clear that candidates for public office may not receive help from a foreign government, in what appeared to be a warning to President Trump, who said he would consider taking information about an opponent from another country.
Tweeting her statement, Weintraub wrote, “I would not have thought that I needed to say this.”
The President and his profound lack of character is now well known to the world and frankly I’m over it and him. His record speaks loudly for itself and the sooner we can replace him, the better (November 2020 can’t come soon enough!).
However, what actually concerns me is the fact that nearly his entire political party, yes the Republicans, are so systemically silent in response.
Politics aside, as an American it’s truly troubling that virtually all members of his party run so scared of the man (and why, for fear of an early morning tweet?) that they avoid calling him out over those comments and countless others. Their silence facilitates the fire to grow and grow.
These educated men and women in our Congress and Senate are in prominent positions to act like leaders, to be examples for others, especially young people, to follow. They hold in their hands the morals, ethics and laws of our nation and yet virtually all of them remain silent as a storm that erodes our country rages around them.
Their silence has become their accepted approach to politics, it is how they conduct their business but it does not go unnoticed. And I am certain that I am not alone in these observations nor in thinking that they are cowards to stand silent and by doing so condone his behavior.
I can’t say I am surprised, the Republicans’ silence has for too long been their typical “business” strategy to all things climate change. As they sit silently, or worse when they enthusiastically promote antiquated industries such as oil and coal in places like West Virginia, Kentucky, Texas and elsewhere in hopes of garnering votes and political donations to perpetuate their time in office, Republicans are placing their selfish political interests above serving our country and that, most certainly, is shameful.
In order to solve our climate crisis, all of our elected leaders, no matter their party affiliation, are going to need to become involved in creating meaningful solutions, to actively engage in productive debate over what is happening right before our eyes and in supporting solutions to the problem by helping our country transition away from fossil fuels and to our sustainable futures. To avoid these topics, or for that matter avoid scolding a terribly misguided President, will not make things better and likely makes them worse. And while we can likely tolerate the circus that is the Trump White House until the next election, we do not have any time to waste when it comes to our climate crisis.
To solve the climate crisis we need and deserve patriots and leaders, not cowards.
Business as usual will not work.
Policies and products that emit carbon pollution into our atmosphere and oceans must end. We need elected officials who will make the hard choices to support transformational changes that in many cases will threaten their ability to be re-elected and that put our nation and environment ahead of politics. Avoiding the topic as happened over the last 8 years here in Florida under Governor, now Senator, Rick Scott or is happening in Washington right now, is no longer acceptable.
All of us likely need to be a bit less polite and far less patient when it comes to saving our planet.
And you know what? On second thought, I should have titled this blog Cowards. That’s what those who stand silent and allow this to happen to our country and planet are: COWARDS.
I have only ever written the blogs that you have read here at The Sink or Swim Project, but I am delighted to say that changes today. I am honored to introduce to you a guest blog from my good friend Mr. Dick Jacobs. Dick is a lawyer by education and today, as a man in his eighties, continues to thankfully practice law with a focus on our environment. I met Dick as a result of his amazing work with Our Children’s Trust, a group of inspired youth that are fighting for climate justice in state and federal court all over the our country. If you have not learned about Our Children’s Trust, please click here and keep an eye out for news about my future involvement in the organization’s pursuit of climate justice here in Florida.
What today’s guest blogger really is, is an explorer and a photographer and a writer and a very passionate man when it comes to our planet. Dick Jacobs has traveled the world many times over and has visited all seven continents from Africa (where I will be heading in a few weeks) to Antarctica, from North America to the Himalaya Mountains. Dick’s book, Wonderlust, is a gorgeous coffee table size reflection in story and photographs of his life, as he says, “wondering while wandering,” that I highly suggest.
So, without further adieu, allow me to share with you Dick’s latest blog; a piece that is most certainly topical given the changing climate of American politics and the fact that, as Dick says, “democracy is not a spectator sport.”
HOW WILL WE FILL AMERICA’S MOST IMPORTANT OFFICES?
Sunrise or Sunset?
Chapter 26, the final chapter of Wonderlust, Where Will Our Stories Lead Us: Sunrise or Sunset?, poses the question:
“Where will the stories we’ve gathered on our Wanderings and fixed within our belief systems lead us?”
And makes a suggestion:
“What must we do? Create the right stories for our inner self that will lead to the right actions by our outer self. Our choices of stories will carry us on a journey of illuminating Sunrise or a journey of darkening Sunset.”
As 2017 is now upon us, and we consider our “new beginnings” and reflect on 2016, I could not help but consider the Chapter 26 question.
For 2016 will surely go down as the “Year of the Stories” – the year shaped by invented truths and fake news, with yet-to-be-determined real-world consequences.
A few weeks after our 2016 election, Story Hinckley wrote Why fake news holds such allure, pointing out that for many voters, “Fake news sites are essentially the only outlets these readers say they can trust.” When what’s going on, or being advocated, in our world challenges our deeply-held beliefs, fake news that’s in sync with our attitudes and propensities insulates us. It reaffirms our world views and validity. It’s the comforting theme underpinning fake news, not the accuracy or inaccuracy of the facts it touts, that resonates with us.
“But here’s where problem lies with fake news and the human mind. . . . [O]ur minds make value judgments about what to keep. Humor tips the scales in favor of being remembered and recalled, even when counterarguments are strong. . . . ‘When you have exposure to fake news or satire, or any content at all, as soon as those constructs have been accessed and brought into working memory, they are there. You can’t un-think them.’ This mental reflex may explain why caricature traits — ‘Al Gore is stiff and robotic’ or ‘George W. Bush is dumb’ — persist in the zeitgeist for so long despite being untrue.”
Of course, fake election news is not the only volume of incorrect news we experience. Fake news has shaped our thoughts and reactions about such important issues as: the safety of vaccinations, the virtues of smoking, the superiority of a race, and climate change being a hoax. In fact, fake news is an industry with high-paying jobs for those who master its persuasion. Oreskes’s and Conway’s Merchants of Doubt – How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, provides a sobering, unsettling look at the industry.
Were this year’s election winners and losers the products of 2016 being the “Year of the Stories?” The election results certainly reflect an uprising of “America’s Forgotten Class”, those living in small towns and cities, particularly in the Rust Belt.
Many of the Forgotten Class never voted before. Did fake news drive them to action?
It would be easy to criticize these energized voters for being swayed by the propaganda effect of false news. We could lament for the Forgotten Class being energized by impossible political dreams. Dreams about making America Great Again. Dreams about restoring jobs and ways of life displaced by global markets and automation. After all, Brookings and JP Morgan Chase’s reports in Redefining Global Cities:
“In the United States, a useful proxy for other advanced economies, already demonstrated technologies have the potential to automate 45% of the work activities in the United States.”
But I’ve heard arguments before that “naive” folks like those who are members of the Forgotten Class must be wrong and were misled when I was in Eugene, Oregon. I was attending the hearing brought by the fossil fuel industry and our Federal government. They were asking the Court to dismiss the lawsuit filed by 21 Gutsy Kids claiming they had a right to an unpolluted environment. Not included in my blogs about the hearing were comments in The Register Guard, Eugene’s local newspaper, in response to its article, Protesting for their future. Several comments were like this:
“Using children to press a high-profile lawsuit is a waste of public resources and a shameful exploitation of children who are largely incapable of processing the requisite amount of information and making the necessary calculations to understand climate science in the slightest.”
As you consider the validity of the comments about the 21 gutsy kids being exploited, check out:
• Earth Guardians, the webpage of a 15 year old, one of the teenagers bringing the federal suit.
• Teenager Delaney Reynolds’ Ted Talk. Although not a Federal plaintiff, Delaney’s a Florida activist, whose theme is quite simple:
“Kids get it, why don’t adults?”
Yes, when it comes to what’s going wrong with our care of the environment kids get it. And the first-time Rust Belt and other red-state political activists are on to something we should be paying attention to. In Revenge of the Forgotten Class, Alec MacGillis quotes a Trump supporter:
“I wanted people like me to be cared about. People don’t realize there’s nothing without a blue-collar worker.”
Okay – so, how does all this affect the answer to our question: How Will We Fill America’s Most Important Offices?
Take three minutes and watch Texas Tech’s Pollitically-Challenged “educated élite.”
We can laugh at the Texas Tech kids wrong answers about our government or their unerring knowledge about entertainers. But their responses tell us something important is missing: understanding necessary to make our system of government work. This brings us to those important political offices we have to fill in 2017.
The most important offices we have to fill for 2017 and beyond are not those occupied by our President, his cabinet or the Supreme Court. The most important offices we have to fill are what the late Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis called the “Office of Private Citizen:”
“The duties of the office of private citizen cannot under a republican form of government be neglected without serious injury to the public.”
Frederick M. Lawrence elaborated in the Key Reporter: “There are three sets of skills needed to perform the duties of the ‘office of private citizen:’ . . .
“First, a private citizen must be able to turn raw information into knowledge. Much of our information inundation comes to us without the benefit of curation, editing or vetting in any form. …
“Second, a private citizen must be able to evaluate arguments. Just as statements of fact must be proven, not merely asserted, arguments must be rational and logical and not simply propounded. …
“Finally, a private citizen must be able to engage in reasoned debate with others. Presenting one’s own rational claims, based on provable truths, as well as being prepared to listen thoughtfully to those of others, is the hallmark of liberal education.”
We can be concerned about the effect of 2016 being the Year of the Stories and about false news influencing the Forgotten Class.
But, we can’t ignore the legitimate concerns that underlie their populist revolt. In his New Yorker article about the Populist Revolt, George Packer writes the Democrats morphed from the “working class” to the “educationalist élites” and the main-stream Republicans to the very rich. Packer concludes:
“This new populism is no kind of blind rebellion …. It is rather an effort to bring our governing élites to their senses. … The great truth was that large numbers of Republican voters, especially less educated ones, weren’t constitutional originalists, libertarian free traders, members of the Federalist Society, or devout readers of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. They actually wanted government to do more things that bene!tted them (as opposed to benefitting people they saw as undeserving).”
And we can’t ignore that too many of the rest of us aren’t fulfilling our Office of Private Citizen. Consider:
• When it comes to voting, CNN reports that only 55.4% of eligible voters voted in the 2016 election. Trump won by achieving the support of 26.3% of the eligible voters. Apathy by the many empowered the few.
• Like the “educated élite” from Texas Tech, too many of us are Politically Challenged. We may be well-educated consumers, but we’re poorly educated citizens. UNESCO defines citizen educationn as “educating children, from early childhood to become clear-thinking and enlightened citizens who participate in decisions concerning society.”
The lesson? Democracy is not a spectator sport.
What must we do?
Take Lawrence’s three steps seriously: Develop a broad-base of knowledge so we can evaluate and engage in reasoned discussions across the political spectrum, not merely with those who “think” like us.
That requires careful listening and consideration of others, particularly their concerns and thoughts. It may require us to compromise and reconsider many of our prevailing beliefs, whether liberal or conservative. But, doing so will lead us to the right stories for us to operate our Office of Private Citizen. Armed with those stories, our inner-self will lead us to the right actions by our outer-self.
When we’re politically apathetic, disengaged and “challenged” as the Texas Tech kids are, we have no chance at all.
Lawrence is right. Russon-Gilman is right. The stories we chose to frame how we operate our Offices of Private Citizen will carry us on a journey of illuminating Sunrise or a journey of darkening Sunset.
That’s our hefty Office of Private Citizen responsibility!
Thanks, Dick, for your lifelong pursuit of justice and your passion for the environment, as well as for your friendship to me personally. Thanks also for a wonderful blog posting and for being the very first guest blogger here at The Sink or Swim Project. To learn more about Mr. Jacobs and his work, please visit Wonderlust Journeys.