What with the shit-show we’ve got going on right now as a nation — concentration camps on the border, a wag-the-dog escalation to a war of choice with Iran, a serious bump in hate crimes and people identifying as Nazis and white supremacists, a climate crisis that will destroy life as we know it starting to kick in for real, a nationwide election coming up that will undoubtedly be fucked with by hostile foreign actors while the beneficiaries insist nothing’s wrong, and a legislature unable, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to do anything but confirm hardcore conservative federal judges to lifetime sinecures, just to skim the surface — it’s easy to understand the widespread longing to go back to the way things were under the Obama Administration. To get things back to normal so we can all go back to living our lives without having to worry that the demented narcissist with the nuclear football will bring about Armageddon in a fit of pique or even just to avoid jail time.
I get it. I really do. I also would like not to live my life in a fog of existential dread, in which every action is pointless because, Rapture or not, the end is probably nigh for the American experiment and possibly human civilization and what can possibly matter anymore?
But even were it possible to return to whatever passed for normal before — and it isn’t — such a return is not even desirable, both on its own merits and especially in light of the challenges we face as Americans and human beings who live on the rapidly-warming, ecologically-imbalanced, and soon-to-be-downwardly-spiraling Earth.
First off, let’s recall the Obama years, now we’ve got some distance. How little got done, because the Republicans in the Senate filibustered everything any Democrat ever voted for, while the Freedom Caucus torpedoed every deal John Boehner tried to make (hurray for the Hastert rule!). This is government by nihilism, an illustration of how much easier it is to tear down instead of build up, and how a hardcore minority dedicated to the principle of NO! can shut down a representative government and prevent the will of the majority of citizens (reasonable gun control legislation, anyone? How about a minimum wage a person can live on? Or a woman’s right to bodily autonomy? All of these are insanely popular, backed by the vast majority of citizens) from being enacted. Worse, through it all, Barack Obama (who I liked and think did his best, but who was never half as liberal as his enemies and their enablers in the press made him out to be) kept trying to meet the nihilists and white supremacists and the megarich donors behind them halfway. It was under his administration that the first drone assassination of an American citizen was carried out, that the first camps on the border were built. And don’t get me started on the bailout from the Great Recession, in which the executives and companies who caused the whole crisis were made whole while the 99% lost their houses and jobs and saw their life savings zeroed out (if they even had any, and don’t even get me started on the generation who came of age around then: they’re fucked their whole lives, thanks to that).
It was like watching an abusive relationship play out in real time. One side constantly reaches across the aisle, makes pre-emptive concessions to bring those who disagree with them to some kind of middle ground, and does their best, again and again, and find commonality. The other side punches and kicks and calls them traitors, and decries incivility on those few occasions they’re called on it. It’s fucking Stockholm Syndrome on a national scale.
And what did Obama get for all his outreach? Bupkis. Shit, they shut the whole federal government down rather than give him a budget, and they called him a traitor, a monkey, and worse, all for the staggering presumption of being a black man and a Democrat trying to do the job he was elected to do.
And you know what? Never mind like half of that. Never mind the bad faith, the false accusations, the specious arguments about the motives and intentions of coastal elites or whatever bugaboo Rush and Alex were libeling on any particular day. Because the main thing was: nothing got done.
Say it again. Nothing. Got. Done.
No budgets were passed. Nor legislation beyond the most anodyne, like naming a post office or declaring National Hot Dog Day. Hell, when all eighteen intelligence agencies unanimously agreed the Russians were actively sabotaging the Presidential elections in 2016 — war by other means if there ever was such a thing — Obama could not even bring himself to tell the American people because Mitch McConnell said he’d call it political and Obama blinked. Again.
And we cannot have that, going forward. Can. Not. Have it.
Because the climate crisis is already here. Once in a century hurricanes and floods happen yearly. Drought threatens millions (why do you think we have so many refugees coming?). Biodiversity is taking a dive to rival Bear Stearns stock price. Acidified oceans are rising, threatening the coastal environments where two-thirds of humanity has set up shop.
And it’s only going to get worse. Catastrophically worse. Don’t-bother-saving-for-retirement worse. Your-kids-will-curse-your-memory worse.
The window to act is closing fast. If it hasn’t already. Whatever the timing, the crisis demands an almost total retooling of our entire economy and life-model, starting yesterday (or, honestly, forty years ago, when we first began to understand what was coming).
We have no choice but to accomplish big things. Works to make Ozymandius drop his jaw and say wow. A civilization-scale transformation of how we live and work and consume and raise children. And that’s if we want a chance at something like life as we know it.
That means not only a President who understands the scale of the challenge. It means a Congress that will back her or him, that will make the hard choices and do the hard things necessary to face the oncoming catastrophe. It means public servants at every level — federal, state, county, municipal — who understand the scale of what we’re facing and have the will to take action. And it means an engaged citizenry who not only hold those public servants accountable but who are willing to make the necessary changes in their own lives so that life as we know it can go on. And it’s not just this election, this decade, this century, but for the foreseeable future and then some. Nothing less will suffice.
So yeah. There’s no going back, even were such a thing to be desired. Nothing less than a radical transformation starting almost immediately will do if we want human civilization to survive.