|Dr. Gerald Horne
holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African
American Studies at the University of Houston. His research has
addressed issues of racism in a variety of relations involving labor,
politics, civil rights, international relations and war. Dr. Horne has
also written extensively about the film industry. His latest book is
The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the
United States of America. Dr. Horne received his Ph.D. in history from
Columbia University and his J.D. from the University of California,
Berkeley and his B.A. from Princeton University.
Trump’s first year in office was marked by extremism in his
administration and in Congressional leadership that shutdown the
government by pitting sick children who need health care against scared
children who need protection from deportation, all as leverage for
building a dehumanizing, unnecessary, and demonic wall.
Attacks on communities of color, the poor, and other vulnerable populations have been the policy agenda of this administration — from the enactment of the Muslim travel ban to repeated attempts to take health care from millions of Americans, to open support for white supremacists like Thomas Farr, Trump’s nominee to the federal bench whom Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have already voted to move forward in 2018.
We live in a time where states and the administration are actively working to undermine voting rights. In his first few weeks in office, President Trump formed a so-called voter fraud commission on the belief that three million undocumented immigrants voted in the 2016 election. The commission was authorized to seek voter registration data from Texas identifying all voters with Hispanic surnames. Though the commission was discontinued, the administration continues to deny the real issue of voter suppression in this country.
With the support of extremists in the Republican-led Congress, President Trump has sought to destroy our economic democracy by enacting an immoral tax bill built on the backs of America’s poor in order to benefit the wealthy. Congress gave corporations a 21 percent tax rate. Now they get to keep 79 percent of their profits, leaving the poor and working class to pick up the tab. We haven’t seen a transfer of wealth this extreme since slavery stole the labor of 4 million women and men to benefit the plantation class.
The tax law Republicans have celebrated as their great policy win is a shameless gift to the wealthy that will hurt poor whites, poor blacks, and poor brown communities. State budgets across the country depend on state income, sales, and property taxes as primary sources of revenue for their operating budgets. The tax law will limit the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT). If states wish to prevent this tax hike, they will be forced to make up lost revenue by choosing between cutting critical programs such as education and health care, or forcing vulnerable communities to pay higher taxes. According to analysis by the National Education Association, this could jeopardize state funding for more than 130,000 education jobs, including 2,500 in North Carolina.
While President Trump has been so focused on building a racist wall on our southern border, he has failed to build up a functioning infrastructure and an immigration plan that provides paths to citizenship, not punishment for people whose labor has built this nation and who want to make this country their home. As we found in our preliminary report for the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call For Moral Revival — “The Souls of Poor Folk” — discretionary spending in 2016 allotted almost four times more for the military than for people’s lives at home — with $630 billion for the military versus $183 billion for education, jobs, housing and other basic human needs. Budgets are moral documents and congressional and political leadership at every level should be focusing investments towards our nation’s 140 million poor and working poor people.
I’m often reminded of the Prophet Isaiah who said, “Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness, which they have prescribed; To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10: 1–2).
To stand with our immigrant, refugee, and poor sisters and brothers is to stand with God, who calls us to love and welcome the stranger.
I cry for all who have been impacted by extremists at the hands of immoral political leaders and systemic policy-violence, but we must remember that President Trump and extremists in the Republican-led Congress are simply a symptom of the real sickness of this nation. There is a moral deficit that allows so many to applaud and pray for this immoral agenda that fails to ensure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare or establish justice. The most glaring irony is that the very people who embraced Trump’s extreme rhetoric — poor and working whites in the South — are, in raw numbers, the ones who are hurt the most by these extreme policies.
It is our moral responsibility to create a country built on policies that benefit all, not just the wealthy. We need a moral public policy agenda that uplifts the poor and communities of color. We must build a country that aims to serve everyone. We need leaders in our government who understand the #StateofOurUnion is divisive and demands a moral intervention.
President Trump’s first year in office makes clear that he not only campaigned with extreme rhetoric, but he and all who enable him have made extremism their policy agenda. Standing down is not an option. It’s movement time in America.
If you care about the heart and soul of this nation, please join the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call For Moral Revival in 40 days of direct action starting this spring. To learn more, visit www.poorpeoplescampaign.org.
Will you join us?
I come to you today in the spirit of the God who is a mother to the motherless.
I come to you today thankful for Tamika and Linda and Carmen and Bob and all of you who are here.
I come today as co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival and President of Repairers of the Breach.
I come to you today in the spirit of Harriet Tubman who said, “I would fight for my liberty so long as my strength lasted, and if the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me.”
I come to you today in the spirit of Mother Jones, who said, “Pray for the dead, but fight like hell for the living.”
I come to you in the spirit of Ella Baker, who said, “In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed… It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.”
I come to you today in the spirit of Coretta King, who taught us that abuse against women is violence. But “starving a child is also violence. Neglecting school children is violence. Punishing a mother and her family is violence. Discrimination against a working person is violence. Ghetto housing is violence. Ignoring healthcare is violence. Contempt for poverty is violence. And an apathetic attitude that refuse to challenge injustice is also violence.”
I come to you today in the spirit of my mother, Eleanor Barber, who was one of the first black women to integrate public schools in Washington County and still gets up every morning at 83 years old and goes to work. I asked her, “Why are you still going to work?” And she answered, “They didn’t want me when I came here; now I’ll leave when I get ready!”
I come to you today as a man who has known abuse.
I come to you today in the spirit of Roz Pelles, the manager of the Poor People’s Campaign and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
I come to you in the spirit of all the women from Africa to Asia to America to Mexico — wherever they are.
And I come to you in the spirit of Tyler, who I met on the plane late last night from Chicago and is here in the crowd somewhere.
And I come here to declare that if Sojourner — “Ain’t I a Woman?” — Truth and
Fredrick Douglass and Lucretia Mott, a Quaker, and William Lloyd Garrison, an abolitionist, could form a coalition to fight for women’s suffrage and change America in the 1800’s, so can we.
I’ve come here to declare that if Diane Nash and Rosa Parks and Joan Baez and Viola Liuzzo and Martin Luther King and Rabbi Heschel could form a coalition to change America in the in the 1960’s, so can we.
We must know that, down through history, those who have promoted sexism and violence against women have more often than not also stood on the side of racism and homophobia and religious tyranny and fascism and greed and systemic poverty. Truth is, to be anti-woman is to be against democracy. It is to be anti-justice. It is to be against our deepest moral and religious values.
In nation where women are 35 percent more likely than men to be poor — where women account for 60 percent of low wage workers and, together with children, account for 70 percent of the nations poor, refusing to address poverty while giving welfare tax cuts to the greedy at the expense of the poor and working poor is anti-woman, anti-family, anti-American, and immoral.
Denying healthcare is anti-woman, anti-family, anti-American, and immoral. And I’m not just talking about the Affordable Care Act. I’m talking about universal healthcare for every human being as a human right.
Participating in voter suppression that allows extremists to cheat in order to get into office is anti-woman, anti-family, anti-American, and immoral.
Attacking labor rights is anti-woman, anti-family, anti-American, and immoral.
Refusing living wages is anti-woman, anti-family, anti-American, and immoral.
Refusing the rights of immigrants in a country made up of immigrants — and a group of people talking about “meritorious immigration” and deciding that they want to put rules in place that their own grandmamma who was an immigrant couldn’t pass — is anti-woman, anti-family, anti-American, and immoral.
So we must stand together. And I’ve come, my sisters, to say that the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival stands with the Women’s March and your goal to transform America, to have massive voter mobilization of one million new registered voters, and to take the power to the polls.
On Mother’s Day, we will launch the Poor People’s Campaign with 40 days of nonviolent civil disobedience, direct action, power building, and voter mobilization with the poor and moral leaders in 25 state capitols and in Ryan and McConnell’s offices. Our first action will be standing against policies that exacerbate child poverty and cut money for public education.
Truth is, my sisters, it’s movement time in America. Any time the nation, with a race-driven Electoral College, turns the presidency over to a narcissistic, egotistical, racist that looses by 3 million votes, it’s movement time. It’s movement time.
Any time the very politicians in the Congress that have claimed Trump is not stable set aside their assessment to push his agenda, it’s movement time.
We can’t wait four years. We have to move extremists now — out of the Congress and out of statehouses. Do you know that if we registered 30% of the black voters in the Southern states and connected those with white people that are progressives and Latinos, Alabama doesn’t have to be an anomaly? We can win in Florida and Georgia and Texas and North Carolina and Mississippi. We need a mid-year election turnout like never before. It’s movement time.
So finally, since it’s Sunday, I come here today as a preacher in the prophetic tradition and in the spirit of a woman in the Bible named Deborah. Deborah was a woman in the Bible in the Book of Judges. The nation in her day was under assault by a loud mouth, egotistical, abusive, narcissistic, lying leader named Trump — I mean, Sisera.
But Deborah wasn’t scared. Some of the men didn’t want to take on Sisera. They were willing to accept what was going on, but Deborah said, “It’s time to fight.”
So she had one message for those who wanted to save the soul of the nation. It was, “Get up!”
And I say to you today, we’ve been crying and whining long enough — talking about what happen in 2016. It’s time to get up and make something happen. It’s time to get up and register everybody you know to vote. It’s time to get up and take the power to the polls. Instead of deporting immigrants, we need to deport some of these politicians out of their office.
It’s time to get up. If we ever needed to vote, we sure do need to vote now. And anybody that doesn’t vote, my grandmamma had a word for you: it’s called “trifling.”
It’s time to get up and know that love can win, and justice can win, and righteousness can win when we organize black and white and brown and red and yellow; old and young; Jewish and Muslim and Christian and those who do not have a faith, but they believe in a moral agenda. It’s time to get up — gay and straight. No more fighting each other. Let’s fight racism. Let’s fight sexism. Let’s fight the extremists.
It’s time to get up and demand justice for all. It’s time to get up because we are the people who know that we can take a word like “shithole” and turn it into fertilizer and grow a new movement.
It’s time to get up and vote people out of office who do wrong. It’s time to get up and speak truth to power.
And if I could channel my inner hip hop:
We ain’t meant to survive, ’cause it’s a set-up
And even though you’re fed up
Huh, you got to keep your head up
Oh child, it’s gonna get easier
Oh child, it’s gonna get better
Oh, oh child, things are gonna get brighter
Because we are going to get up, get up, get up!
many times will we rebuild Florida’s cities, Houston, coastal New
Jersey, New Orleans and other population centers ravaged by storms
lethally intensified by global warming? At what point, surveying the
devastation and knowing more is inevitable, will we walk away, leaving
behind vast coastal dead zones? Will we retreat even further into
magical thinking to cope with the fury we have unleashed from the
natural world? Or will we respond rationally and radically alter our
relationship to this earth that gives us life?
Civilizations over the past 6,000 years have unfailingly squandered their futures through acts of colossal stupidity and hubris. We are probably not an exception. The physical ruins of these empires, including the Mesopotamian, Roman, Mayan and Indus, litter the earth. They elevated, during acute distress, inept and corrupt leaders who channeled anger, fear and dwindling resources into self-defeating wars and vast building projects. The ruling oligarchs, driven by greed and hedonism, retreated into privileged compounds—the Forbidden City, Versailles—and hoarded wealth as their populations endured mounting misery and poverty. The worse it got, the more the people lied to themselves and the more they wanted to be lied to. Reality was too painful to confront. They retreated into what anthropologists call “crisis cults,” which promised the return of the lost world through magical beliefs.
“The most significant characteristic of modern civilization is the sacrifice of the future for the present,” philosopher and psychologist William James wrote, “and all the power of science has been prostituted to this purpose.”
We are entering this final phase of civilization, one in which we are slashing the budgets of the very agencies that are vital to prepare for the devastation ahead—the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, along with programs at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration dealing with climate change. Hurricane after hurricane, monster storm after monster storm, flood after flood, wildfire after wildfire, drought after drought will gradually cripple the empire, draining its wealth and resources and creating swathes of territory defined by lawlessness and squalor.
These dead zones will obliterate not only commercial and residential life but also military assets. As Jeff Goodell points out in “The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities and the Remaking of the Civilized World,” “The Pentagon manages a global real estate portfolio that includes over 555,000 facilities and 28 million acres of land—virtually all of it will be impacted by climate change in some way.”
As this column is being written, three key military facilities in Florida are evacuated: the Miami-area headquarters of the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees military operations in the Caribbean and Latin America; the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, in charge of overseas operations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia; and the Naval Air Station in Key West. There will soon come a day when obliteration of infrastructure will prohibit military operations from returning. Add to the list of endangered military installations Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle, the U.S. missile base in the Marshall Islands, the U.S. naval base on Diego Garcia and numerous other military sites in coastal areas and it becomes painfully clear that the existential peril facing the empire is not in the Middle East but in the seas and the skies. There are 128 U.S. military installations at risk from rising sea levels, including Navy, Air Force, Marine and Army facilities in Virginia. Giant vertical rulers dot the highway outside the Norfolk naval base to allow motorists to determine if the water is too deep to drive through. In two decades, maybe less, the main road to the base will be impassable at high tide daily.
Cities across the globe, including London, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, Lagos, Copenhagen, New Orleans, San Francisco, Savannah, Ga., and New York, will become modern-day versions of Atlantis, along with countries such as Bangladesh and the Marshall Islands and large parts of New Zealand and Australia. There are 90 coastal cities in the U.S. that endure chronic flooding, a number that is expected to double in the next two decades. National economies will go into tailspins as wider and wider parts of the globe suffer catastrophic systems breakdown. Central authority and basic services will increasingly be nonexistent. Hundreds of millions of people, desperate for food, water and security, will become climate refugees. Nuclear power plants, including Turkey Point, which is on the edge of Biscayne Bay south of Miami, will face meltdowns, such as the accident that occurred in the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan after it was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami. These plants will spew radioactive waste into the sea and air. Exacerbated by disintegration of the polar ice caps, the catastrophes will be too overwhelming to manage. We will enter what James Howard Kunstler calls “the long emergency.” When that happens, our experiment in civilization might approach an end.
“The amount of real estate at risk in New York is mind-boggling: 72,000 buildings worth over $129 billion stand in flood zones today, with thousands more buildings at risk with each foot of sea-level rise,” writes Jeff Goodell. “In addition, New York has a lot of industrial waterfront, where toxic materials and poor communities live in close proximity, as well as a huge amount of underground infrastructure—subways, tunnels, electrical systems. Finally, New York is a sea-level-rise hot spot. Because of changes in ocean dynamics, as well as the fact that the ground beneath the city is sinking as the continent recovers from the last ice age, seas are now rising about 50 percent faster in the New York area than the global average.”
A society in crisis flees to the reassuring embrace of con artists and charlatans. Critics who ring alarm bells are condemned as pessimists who offer no “hope,” the drug that keeps a doomed population passive. The current administration—which removed Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan from the White House website as soon as Donald Trump took office—and the Republican Party are filled with happy climate deniers. They have adopted a response to climate change similar to that of the Virginia Legislature: ban discussion of climate change and replace the term with the less ominous “recurrent flooding.” This denial of reality—one also employed by those who assure us we can adapt—is driven by fossil fuel and animal agriculture industries that along with the rich and corporations fund the political campaigns of elected officials. They fear that a rational, effective response to climate change will impede profits. Our corporate media, dependent on advertising dollars, contributes to the conspiracy of silence. It ignores the patterns and effects of climate change, focusing instead on feel-good stories about heroic rescues or dramatic coverage of flooded city centers and storm refugee caravans fleeing up the coast of Florida.
Droughts, floods, famines and disease will eventually see the collapse of social cohesion in large parts of the globe, including U.S. coastal areas. The insecurity, hunger and desperation among the dispossessed of the earth will give rise to ad hoc militias, crime and increased acts of terrorism. The Pentagon report “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States Security” is blunt. “Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,” it grimly concludes.
But as Goodell points out, “In today’s political climate, open discussion of the security risks of climate change is viewed as practically treasonous.” When in 2014 then-Secretary of State John Kerry called climate change “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction” and compared it to the effects of terrorism, epidemics and poverty, the right-wing trolls, from John McCain to Newt Gingrich, went into a frenzy. Gingrich called for Kerry’s resignation because “a delusional secretary of state is dangerous to our safety.”
James Woolsey, the former head of the CIA, wrote in a climate change report for the Pentagon titled “The Age of Consequences: The Foreign-Policy National Security Implications of Global Climate Change”:
If Americans have difficulty reaching a reasonable compromise on immigration legislation today, consider what such a debate would be like if we were struggling to resettle millions of our own citizens—driven by high water from the Gulf of Mexico, South Florida, and much of the East Coast reaching nearly to New England—even as we witnessed the northward migration of large populations from Latin America and the Caribbean. Such migration will likely be one of the Western Hemisphere’s early social consequences of climate change and sea level rise of these orders of magnitude. Issues deriving from inundation of a large amount of our own territory, together with migration towards our borders by millions of our hungry and thirsty southern neighbors, are likely to dominate U.S. security and humanitarian concerns. Globally as well, populations will migrate from increasingly hot and dry climates to more temperate ones.
We will react like most patients with a terminal disease as they struggle to confront their imminent mortality. The gradual diminishing of space, perception and strength will weaken our capacity to absorb reality. The end will be too horrible to contemplate. The tangible signs of our demise will be obvious, but this will only accelerate our retreat into delusional thinking. We will believe ever more fervently that the secular gods of science and technology will save us.
As Goodell writes, “People will notice higher tides that roll in more and more frequently. Water will pool longer in streets and parking lots. Trees will turn brown and die as they suck up salt water.” We will retreat to higher ground, cover our roofs with solar panels, finally stop using plastic and go vegan, but it will be too late. As Goodell writes, “even in rich neighborhoods, abandoned houses will linger like ghosts, filling with feral cats and other refugees looking for their own higher ground.”
The water will continue to rise. “It will have a metallic sheen and will smell bad,” Goodell writes. “Kids will get strange rashes and fevers. More people will leave [low areas]. Seawalls will crumble. In a few decades, low-lying neighborhoods will be knee-deep. Wooden houses will collapse into a sea of soda bottles, laundry detergent jugs, and plastic toothbrushes. Human bones, floated out of caskets, will be a common sight. Treasure hunters will kayak in, using small robotic submersibles to search for coins and jewelry. Modern office buildings and condo towers will lean as salt water corrodes the concrete foundations and eats away at the structural beams. Fish will school in the classrooms. Oysters will grow on submerged light poles. Religious leaders will blame sinners for the drowning of the city.”
The damage suffered by Houston, Tampa and Miami is not an anomaly. It is the beginning of the end. Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.
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