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Elayne Clift: The country is facing a climate crisis and a political crisis.

Elayne Clift: The country is facing a climate crisis and a political crisis.

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This commentary is by Elayne CliftSaxtons River, who writes about politics and women for several New England newspapers.

It took mere minutes for rumors of the Democratic Party’s demise to hit the airwaves, social media, and conservative print media following the predictable election — by just two points — of Glenn Youngkin as Virginia’s new governor. 

Pundits delight in spouting premature obituaries about the party and declaring it out of touch with American voters. They also called for their own visions and centrist right governance that is still backward-looking in the face changing demographics and a fragile future.

Many factors were at play in recent elections. These included blatant propaganda, lies, insufficient legal action against corrupt politicians and insurrectionists, and historical trends in voting patterns. There were also some very bad candidates. Two legislators from the Democratic Party were also upheld by them, who seem to love obstructionism.

Even The New York Times spewed spurious views of the “political nightmare” that had occurred, calling for a “badly needed” conversation among Democratic leadership to return the party to “moderate policies and values” and issues like the economy (which appears to be doing quite well), inflation, and “restoring normalcy in schools.” 

Congressional Democrats, The Times declared, “need to stop their left-center squabbling,” a stunning trivialization of a cogent progressive agenda that listens to what the majority of Americans want and understand — precisely because, as The New York Times got right, this is a moment in history that cannot be ignored because so much is at stake. 

The fact is that centrists on both sides fail to recognize the two big elephants in the room, or can’t risk acknowledging them lest they lose their power and privilege. These two elephants represent white supremacy and an encroaching autocracy, which is rapidly eroding American experiment. 

Left-of-center politicians — the dreaded “progressives” — understand the impact those two fundamental issues have on policy and on people’s lives. They know, and some have suffered, the reality of legislation that is written by and fully supported by wealthy, white, primarily male powerbrokers in this country, the 1% who are terrified of women and people of color taking their rightful place in politics, the marketplace, America’s boardrooms and decision-making bodies. 

Left-leaning leaders understand that in the richest country in the world, when there are working people paying taxes who can’t afford decent housing, nutritious food, basic health care, or child care on a minimum wage, and who live in fear of guns and police brutality and so much more, our economic and social systems are broken. They also know that broken systems can make a nation vulnerable to dictatorial control.

To be clear, Democrats in leadership need and will quickly address the accusations being levelled at them, particularly the persistent and frustrating lack of messaging talent. Most people don’t know what the Biden administration has achieved in the first year, nor do they know what is in the two signature bills that seemed endlessly stalled in Congress, or how they will be paid for. 

That’s a terrible failure, given that over 70 percent of voters want what’s in those bills, including paid parental leave, child care, Medicare coverage for dental, hearing and eye care, and educational debt relief 

But “building back better” also means turning a new page on Democratic policies and players. It’s time for old, white, centrist guys to stop being recycled as both party heads and advisers. The progressive agenda is urgently needed and can be implemented by younger, more visionary and dynamic party leaders. 

Another sign of the political future is the significant down-ballot victories. Ideas that are tied to fossil fuels, massively pro-big business agendas and tax breaks for billionaires, as well as voter suppression and denying women control over their lives, is old-school and worn out. Proponents of such distorted priorities fail to see the elephants in their room and resort to self-deception to protect profits and privileges.

Now is the right time to pay attention to Democratic leadership who listen to and foster future leaders, are truly able to hear, respect, and understand the constituencies they serve, and mentor from the bottom up. Howard Dean knew this when he ran for president. Many of the most respected political analysts and talk heads now do too. They understand that “centrist” calls for incremental change are hollow. Ask women and people of colour how this has worked for them.

In these threatening times, when white supremacy and autocracy loom large, unredacted American history — CRT to critics — cannot be denied, ignored or buried. If being progressive means being “woke” and being woke means being keenly aware of the incipient racism this country has always endured while understanding the threat of fascism through the lessons of history, then we should all strive to wake up. 

The voice of the populist is important, intelligent, and informed. It is sounding an alarm that our country faces not only a climate crisis but also a political crisis. 

We have very little time left to rectify either case. 

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Adam McKay, director of the film Don’t Look Up and guest on Climate of Change, on global heating demonstration in Los Angeles, March 2022.

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