Natural Disasters, the Future of the Planet, and the Urgent Need to Drive Out this Regime

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Escaping Flood in Bangladesh

Hurricanes tearing buildings apart and flooding whole cities along the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico, with more hurricanes gaining strength behind them. Caribbean islands already suffering from imperialist exploitation, poverty, and debt made virtually uninhabitable. Toxic sites breached, dangerous chemicals burned off into the atmosphere, clean drinking water cut off to thousands.

Monsoon floods in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal submerging areas that are home to 40 million people, taking more than 1300 lives, almost half of them children. Crops and livestock swept away, leaving millions of poor peasants on the brink of starvation. The spread of waterborne diseases threatening even more death and devastation.

Wildfires incinerating more than a million acres of life-giving forests in seven western U.S. States and Western Canada, raining ash down on residents and spreading smoke and air pollution hundreds of miles to the east, with forest services running out of money to fight these fires.

All this is just over the last week of August into the first week of September — millions of people on different sides of the globe forced into day-to-day survival, becoming homeless, losing loved ones, and living in fear of the next rainfall, the encroaching fire.

Fascist Normalization Abetted by an “America Only” Outlook

All this should be a crisis for this regime. Trump and Pence are extensions of and are now leading the influential forces that are still actively burying the science of climate change and carrying on a debate that should have been settled decades ago. The rise in sea levels and the warming of the oceans causes stronger hurricanes, heavier rainfall, and more disastrous storm surges. Record-setting temperatures and droughts cause fires to ignite and burn out of control, threatening forests all over the world. The science of tracking, studying, and preparing for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have been all over the news, yet there has been little indictment of this regime’s empty and hypocritical rhetoric about the hurricanes when wedged against its war on science and on the planet itself.

What did Donald Trump say about his environmental policies after seeing Harvey’s destruction? As Irma was devastating the Caribbean and barreling down on Florida, was he open to reconsidering some of his policies? Of course not. In fact, Trump delivered a speech in North Dakota and doubled down on his environmental record, displaying his ghastly ignorance (“I didn’t know you had droughts this far north”) and boasting about pulling out of the “job killing” Paris Climate accord, ending “EPA intrusion,” canceling restrictions on oil and natural gas, and approving the Keystone pipeline. He followed all this with, “I want beautiful clean air, and I want crystal-clean water, right?” – as if these things happen magically just from wanting it.

In fact, this regime has quite skillfully turned what could and should be a crisis into tremendous opportunity. Instead of the reality and horrors of these disasters being sharply posed against their war on science and the environment, they have seized on openings to advance their fascist agenda in many key areas – furthering a climate of terror for immigrants, furthering the law and order narrative to criminalize people of color, and furthering Mike Pence’s Christian theocratic ideology. Most of all, it gave Trump and Pence a chance to appear normal and presidential and to invite more collaboration and conciliation. This normalization continues to be aided not by an America First mindset but an America Only mindset in the news media, where no other part of the earth matters.

Houston, Hurricane Harvey

Most Americans have no idea that people in Texas and people in South Asia were living the same nightmare of climate change-related flooding. Of course it is on a different scale in South Asia. The effects of climate change in poor countries and poor communities has the potential to reach massive genocidal proportions.

Trapping Immigrants in a Climate of Fear

It is no accident that Trump book-ended Hurricane Harvey with two assaults on Latino immigrants. His pardon of criminal sheriff Joe Arpaio, who terrorized immigrants in Arizona for decades, sent a loud message to immigrants and law enforcement that there will be no barriers under this regime to brutalizing and rounding up immigrants into virtual concentration camps. On the back end, he ended DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), plunging 800,000 young people into a six-month purgatory as they await their fate, which could be deportation, detention, loss of jobs and educational opportunities, and a permanent state of fear and hardship. In the areas hit by Harvey, the state and national climate against the undocumented caused many people to choose to stay behind in flooded homes rather than seek shelter.

Border Patrol Checkpoint, Falfurrias, Texas

Immigration checkpoints were still operating along evacuation routes before the storm, and in the aftermath, many undocumented families who have lost everything have no recourse for seeking aid from the federal government. It doesn’t matter that much that the government pulled back its immigration operations during the storm itself. Outwardly forcing people to choose between drowning or being deported would have potentially become a crisis for Trump as Katrina became for George W. Bush. A climate of fear had already been perpetrated, and a dire situation for undocumented immigrants in Texas, with racist laws like SB4 (temporarily held up in the courts) still looming and more ICE raids promised to resume, has been made all the more dire as the whole area struggles with loss and devastation. A large part of the fascist program is instilling a psychological terror of detention and deportation, and making life for the undocumented so untenable that they voluntarily leave or retreat further into the shadows.

Invoking Law and Order, Increasing Repression, When People are Most Desperate

During Katrina, private security firms like Blackwater, and the National Guard, created an atmosphere in New Orleans akin to a military occupation. So far there are no reports of anything like this happening in Texas or Florida. But in every hurricane, reports of looting (most of them fake) become excuses for the police to forget about search and rescue and go back to criminalizing Black youth. The mayor of Houston imposed a curfew from midnight to 5 am to “assess the intentions of the people who are out there.” So, if you are trapped by rising waters after midnight and you are a person of color, do you risk going out to look for help?

Houston’s police chief Art Acevedo announced that the police department would stop assisting in search and rescue and focus on stopping looters and “keeping the good people of Houston safe.” In Florida, Polk County Sheriff threatened people with outstanding warrants on twitter, “If you go to a shelter for #Irma and you have a warrant, we’ll gladly escort you to the safe and secure shelter called the Polk County Jail.” Again, when Black youth can be gunned down by police for being out on the streets even on a sunny day, when Trump urges police officers to not be “too nice”, when the Department of Justice reinstates mandatory minimum sentencing and takes “the gloves” off of police, these announcements are chilling, forcing people to choose between potentially drowning in floodwaters or being arrested or shot by police. In this narrative, it is clear that there are people worthy of rescue and those who are not. People who have been criminalized and cast out from society are not seen as vulnerable but as undeserving, even in normal times but more acutely under a fascist system where dehumanizing and scapegoating entire ethnic groups is essential to the overall program and goals.

We Need Science, Not a National Day of Prayer or Mike Pence’s Christian Theocratic Ideology

Without ordinary people stepping out and risking their own lives to conduct search and rescue missions, hundreds if not thousands of people would have been stranded and left to die. The government was not equipped, whether out of real miscalculation or willful neglect, to evacuate and later rescue the numbers of people that were affected. Yet this isn’t considered a shortcoming or failure for this regime. Both Texas and Florida have large numbers of the fundamentalist, evangelical Christians that form a significant part of the Trump/Pence regime’s base. The belief that everything, including destruction and death from hurricanes, is God’s will, does a lot to absolve the government of any responsibility toward the people.

There is even an element of this ideology that welcomes these disasters as a sign of the biblical end times. Christian fascists like Mike Pence and Betsy DeVos, and state-level Christian fascists like Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Florida Governor Rick Scott are hell-bent on encoding their Christian theocratic values into law, undermining secular institutions and destroying the separation of church and state. After Trump failed to mention the victims of Harvey during his first trip to Texas, Mike Pence toured a destroyed church in Rockport with evangelical minister Franklin Graham and was covered in the news media as the more compassionate than Trump. No, neither of these monsters is compassionate; they are simply two different breeds of fascist. Trump, who dons the cloak of Christianity to forge the alliance of white supremacist fascist and Christian fascist, then declared Sunday, September 3rd a National Day of Prayer for Harvey victims. No, we need to reject this and call this out for what it is. We don’t need a national day of prayer. We need a future for all humanity.

It is vitally important to never lose sight of the genocidal logic of fascism. Under fascism, the world is promised to a very small group of people. The war on science, the denial of climate change, the slow poisoning of our air and water through deregulation and defunding, the demonization of group after group, the heartless disregard for the billions of people who share this planet with us, and the passing of theocratic laws that impose a biblical worldview, all serve the same purpose and lead to the same terrifying goals. Every crisis that this regime gets to the other side of – and there have been so many – brings us that much closer to the consolidation of a fascist America and their extreme vision of the future. This is what we’re up against. It will not suddenly and magically morph into something other than that. Will we in our millions allow them to hijack our future, or will we act? The lessons of history have been studied and the way forward is out there, beginning November 4th and continuing day in and day out until this hateful regime is driven from power. For humanity and the planet we must, we must, we must act.

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