By Robert Reich
My wife and I have been warned that we may need to evacuate because of fires ravaging the Bay Area.
The climate crisis is to blame for these fires, which are growing in number and intensity every year. It’s also to blame for the increasing number and virulence of hurricanes now hitting the Gulf and Southeast, flash floods along the Eastern seaboard, and fierce winds across middle America.
Two hurricanes are now threatening the Gulf coast. The Gulf has never before had two hurricanes at the same time.
In early August, Illinois and Iowa were hit with winds of up to 110 miles per hour. Homes were leveled. At least 10 million acres of crops were destroyed. Many people are still without power.
Trump isn’t singularly responsible for climate change, of course. But he’s done nothing to stop it. In fact, he’s done everything he can to accelerate it.
No one speaking at the Republican convention mentioned Trump’s abandonment of the Paris Agreement, his rollback of environmental regulations, or his boundless generosity to the fossil fuel industry.
Yet, facing possible evacuation, I’ve been thinking about all this in a newly personal way. So have many others, including, I suspect, some people who voted for Trump last time, who reside in the Gulf states, the eastern seaboard, and the Midwest.
It’s one thing to understand climate change in the abstract. It’s another to live inside it.
I recently got an email from a woman living in North Carolina whose house was destroyed in a flash flood. She describes herself as a lifelong Republican who’s now a “born-again environmentalist.” She said she’ll be voting for Joe Biden.
It’s much the same with the coronavirus. The gross numbers tell a horrible story. Last Thursday alone, 1,090 Americans died of it. Only 5 died of it in Canada that same day, 6 in the UK, 12 in France, 16 in Japan, 16 in Spain, and 10 in Germany.
Yet not even these numbers hit home the way it does when you know someone who has perished or nearly perished from this disease. I know two who have died. A good friend came close. Like me, a growing number of Americans are experiencing the coronavirus personally.
Trump isn’t solely responsible. America’s public health system was never up to the task of dealing with a pandemic. But Trump’s stream of lies, denials, and refusals to take responsibility have allowed the disease to ravage America.
These days, Trump’s only mention of the pandemic is to blame China or claim the official numbers are exaggerated. Many of Trump’s followers believe him. But just as with the floods and windstorms and fires, an increasing number who have experienced Covid-19 personally have become hardened against his lies.
So, too, with the economic devastation that’s come in the wake of the pandemic. Tens of millions of Americans are unemployed. Many are growing desperate. Almost everyone knows someone who has lost a job, or whose wages have been cut.
There’s an old saying that “the personal is political.” People understand politics most profoundly when it’s connected to their own lived experience.
At the Republican convention, Trump and his enablers claimed Democrats want to turn America into a socialist state. They issued racist dog whistles about “rioters and looters” in American cities. They conjured up “deep state” conspiracies. They lied about Joe Biden.
Some Americans believe this drivel. But I suspect the lived experience of most others – including many who voted for Trump in 2016 – is more convincing. A threat to one’s life or the lives of loved ones, or the imminent loss of a job, concentrates the mind.
After almost four years, tens millions of Americans have felt the consequences of his rotten presidency first-hand. Trump’s malfeasance is now more palpable than his fearmongering. The personal is political.