This week, a reminder that politics is not a spectator sport. I was listening to a recent Noam Chomsky appearance on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour. And the two giants of the American left sparred a bit on particulars but agreed that humanity faces two existential threats: global warming and a revival of the […]
This is not a dream. For your whole life, you’ve seen images on screens showing brutal political struggles in faraway places like Ukraine and Yemen. And in the rare moments you’ve paid attention to the suffering you’ve seen, you’ve asked yourself, “How could things get so bad that people started shooting at fellow citizens?” Now you’re worried such madness will happen here.
Fortunately, things have not devolved to that point in American politics since that little dustup we call the Civil War. Yes, this has been the ugliest presidential race in recent memory. Yes, it has gone outside the pale of what has been considered acceptable political behavior in the last few decades. But there is nothing even approaching a violent mass uprising on the horizon of American politics. There have barely been any physical altercations at all in the race that finishes today — and the few that erupted didn’t get far beyond the level of shoving matches. So it’s important to keep things in perspective.
However, the danger of political instability has not passed. It has only just begun — regardless of which candidate wins. Because our already tenuous democratic traditions are under threat, and humanity is on the precipice of extinction. The first problem is intimately tied to the second. So it’s critical we get our political house in order if we’re going to be able to grapple with the linked crises that face us. And that means everyone who believes in democracy is going to have to get involved in the following three key battles in the coming years — no matter who is in the Oval Office in January.
Democratize America. Contrary to the official narrative, the US has never really been a democracy. It’s fair to say that we’ve made great progress toward democratization across the arc of our short history. But this nation has always been an oligarchy with elements of a democracy. We can and must do better than that if we’re going to leave a safer and healthier world for our grandchildren than we have now. For starters, we need to reverse Citizens United to help lessen the influence of money on politics, institute proportional representation and instant runoff voting where possible, and look seriously at moving to a multiparty parliamentary system — allowing us to have a politics that more closely represents the will of the full spectrum of the electorate. Such reforms will go a long way toward normalizing civic discourse. Which will in turn help end the threat of American politics getting any uglier anytime soon. Because when people feel like there’s a place for them in the political system, they’re a lot less likely to follow demagogues, join militias, and commence shooting up fellow citizens. To get involved in the movement for a more democratic America, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution organization looks like the best jumping off point — given its solid position on stopping Citizens United with a constitutional amendment.
Ban nuclear weapons. There are still 15,000 of those deadly devices in the world, and the US has about half of them. Studies suggest that only 50–100 “small” Hiroshima sized weapons would have to be detonated to trigger a nuclear winter which would wipe out a good chunk of humanity through starvation. Far more are likely to be used in a shooting war between the US and Russia or China. Yet the US has maintained its policy of allowing a “first strike” with nuclear weapons, and has been pressuring both fellow nuclear superpowers in hot spots like Syria, Romania, Ukraine, the Baltics, and the South China Sea for a variety of bad geopolitical reasons. With smaller nukes available, it will be tempting for the next administration to use one in any military crisis that might result from such brinksmanship. Once a single weapon is used, automated retaliation protocols on all sides will virtually ensure that more will be used. No matter who wins the presidential contest. So the movement to eliminate American nuclear weapons, and win a global nuclear weapons ban is one that everyone needs to join at speed. Check out the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons to get involved.
Stop global warming. Neither presidential candidate is prepared to do what is necessary to end the terminal crisis presented by the human-caused warming of the planet. And if we don’t make a near total conversion from an energy system based on burning coal, gas, and oil to one based on (genuinely) clean energy by 2030, scientists are saying that we have no hope of holding warming to an average increase of no more than 2 degrees Celsius worldwide. Another four years of federal status quo will make that transition even less likely to happen in time. Dooming us — at minimum — to the inundation of coastal cities like Boston due to rising sea levels, mass starvation as our growing lands turn to desert and our oceans acidify, and general havoc created by ever-worsening storms and ever-warmer weather. The 350.org movement remains the best organized US-based campaign devoted to minimizing this crisis. So drop them a line right away.
Otherwise, stay active. Stay woke. Another world is possible.