Fire and pestilence, flood and wind, the personal is political: Trump must go | Robert Reich
My wife and I have been warned we may need to evacuate our cabin in the hills north of San Francisco, because of fires ravaging the Bay Area.
Climate change is largely 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 hitting the Gulf and south-east, flash floods along the eastern seaboard, and fierce winds across middle America.
Two tropical storms are developing in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf has never before had two hurricanes at the same time. Both are moving toward Louisiana.
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.
This coming week, he’ll be nominated for a second term. I doubt he or anyone else at the Republican convention will mention his abandonment of the Paris agreement, his rollback of environmental regulations or his boundless generosity to the fossil fuel industry.
Yet I’ll be thinking about all this, and in a newly personal way. So will many others, including, I suspect, some 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, the virus killed 1,090 Americans. Only five died from the virus in Canada the same day, six 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.
If he mentions the pandemic at all during the Republican convention, he’ll probably blame China and claim the official numbers are exaggerated. Many of his followers will 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 has come in the wake of the pandemic. Tens of millions 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 can be expected to claim Democrats want to turn America into a socialist state. They’ll issue racist dogwhistles about “rioters and looters” in American cities. They’ll conjure up “deep state” conspiracies. They’ll lie about Biden.
Some Americans will believe this drivel, but I suspect the lived experience of most others – including many who voted for Trump in 2016 – will be more convincing.
After almost four years, we’ve felt the consequences of his rotten presidency first-hand. Trump’s malfeasance is now more palpable than his fearmongering. The personal is political.
Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and The Common Good. His new book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, is out now. He is a columnist for Guardian US