This week has felt like an eon, one that encompassed both dance-in-the-street euphoria and an out-of-control deadly pandemic raging amidst an attempt to subvert democracy.
We won’t go back to some imagined normal after Joe Biden enters the White House in January. Instead, this past week has been a training ground for the next decade when the fight for climate action and democracy will go hand-in-hand.
On Saturday, I was basking in a rare November warmth that was at once ominous and comforting. My friend had scheduled a distanced birthday party in the park that turned into something else after networks called the presidential election for Biden. But as I sit here writing this story on Friday, the mood feels very different.
It’s hard to recap what’s happened since, but it’s essentially been a slapdash authoritarian power grab coupled with a complete abdication of governance. Since Saturday, data collected by the Covid Tracking Data Project shows 784,751 people in the U.S. have tested positive for covid-19—a number that will surely be higher by the time you read this—and hospitals are filling up rapidly from North Dakota to Texas. Even as a second outbreak sweeps through the White House, President Donald Trump has remained silent about the coronavirus, instead going off about the election. I couldn’t handling wading through his past week of tweets because I value my time, but in the past 24 hours, Trump has tweeted seven times about the election results, including multiple tweets flagged for false information (this fits a pattern). He’s also retweeted 10 random accounts about how unfair Fox News is and one tweet about the Masters golf tournament. Meanwhile, the Senate bravely passed resolutions congratulating the Dodgers and Lakers for winning world championships and that’s about it. There is no relief package in sight even as we head into a second period of lockdowns that could wipe out more businesses and crush state budgets.
The dynamics at play now are not likely to go away anytime soon. To be sure, we stand a better shot of getting the pandemic under control with competent federal leadership, and every week will not be like this going forward. But the next four years under Biden, let alone the next decade of crucial climate action, will require grinding out wins to ensure a habitable, more just future
through sustained pressure and battling back reactionary forces. As with this week, there will also come with setbacks that will require scraping ourselves off the floor and battling through.
Republicans have dug in their heels to contest Biden’s win, backing Trump’s baseless cases of alleged voter fraud. As Al-Jazeera helpfully notes, more world leaders have congratulated Biden on his win than Republican senators. This is all symptomatic of a Republican Party that has slid toward authoritarianism in ways that Anna Lührmann, a political scientist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, told the Washington Post are in line with political parties in Hungary and Turkey that curtailed democracy to retain power.
Republicans at the national level have also shown a complete unwillingness to govern, treating the pandemic like a political problem they needed to contain to win reelection rather than a public health one they needed to contain to save lives. Even backing Trump’s craven election lawsuits looks like a way to keep Trump engaged and the base agitated to turn out for the Georgia runoffs that will decide control of the Senate rather than any adherence to reality. It mirrors their approach to climate change, having denied the issue for more than a decade. Eventually, denial will likely give way to something much worse we can already see rounding into shape where climate change will be yet another way to consolidate power and entrench white supremacy.
Meanwhile, Democrats lined up behind a fairly centrist candidate for president and now face a showdown over both policy and personnel that will define Biden’s climate agenda. Biden entering the White House will bring a more science-based and empathetic approach to the pandemic as well as a more robust response to climate change. Whoever he appoints to cabinet-level and other positions throughout government will inevitably be light years beyond Trump and his appointees. But to create the lasting change that’s needed, particularly when it comes to justice-centered climate policy, will require constant pressure and grassroots activism. The same is true on the legislative side, where moderate Democrats are already trying to undermine their progressive counterparts.
It’s a tall task, but then a decade of radical change was never going to be easy. None of this is to say there can’t be joy (there can be) or that there won’t be major wins to celebrate in the haze of champagne toasts on a too-warm November day (there will be those, too). But this week has been a crystal ball into the fact there’s still major work ahead to ensure we don’t end up in a valley we can’t climb out of.