The Flood

Republicans in Congress are lobbing dynamite at the dam while the White House is calling for more rain and preventing engineers from traveling to the site. The Republicans believe times were better when the river flowed freely. Let the forces of nature rule, they say, ignoring the fact that times have changed. They see themselves as rugged individualists–exceptional people–who have succeeded in spite of all the obstacles they have encountered. However, other people have built their lives beneath the dam and farther downstream, assuming the structure would remain in place and be maintained. Lives are at risk if the dam collapses. Most Republican legislators can afford not to care because they live on high ground. They mistakenly think they moved up in the world without any help from the government, family, or friends. Since they made it on their own, they conjecture, why can’t others?

Democrats, and those who oppose the far right’s destructive agenda, are overwhelmed. The dynamite is being lit constantly, and it is doing some damage. The lake is rising, the dam is leaking, and the flow of the water over the spillway is increasing. When one leak is blocked, Democrats turn their attention to others, but they see Donald Trump and the Republicans striking more matches than they can blow out all at once. The Democrats are lucky the Republicans aren’t better organized because if the Republicans could all agree about the best way to bring down the structure, the dam would have already collapsed, and damage would be irreversible. If the dam does eventually burst, Republicans will argue that the ensuing death and destruction was not their fault. The people who died should have known better than to live in an area prone to floods! They will rationalize away the facts. Think about how much better fishing is in the area now that the ugly concrete walls are gone. Oh, the jobs that have been created. Boat sales, fishing equipment, tour guides, funeral services. Great things happen, they will argue, when government gets off our backs. Things really will be great again for the few who have houses nestled along the ridges. The fact that those living in the valleys need to know how to swim will be ignored.

It’s far easier to attack than to defend. This principle explains much about policy change because no plans for the future are ever perfect. For example, the basic accommodations made in Obamacare policy were the best approach for managing health care given a desire to keep the insurance companies in the game, insure more people had inclusive coverage, and lower overall costs. There is no other way to accomplish these outcomes. The Republicans found this out when they tried to replace The Affordable Care Act. Reform would have been easy and effective. The initial formulation of the plan needed to be adjusted. It could not be sustained easily when governors refused to accept the Medicaid provisions of the plan and when a senator named Marco Rubio sneakily sabotaged it.

Attacking Obamacare’s problems, which the Republicans did for years, is easier than creating a new program. Generally speaking, new ideas and innovations make things better if data is gathered and the results are respected. But old ideas die hard. They are often recycled when those feeling adversely affected by a policy change, push for their wants or when their value system affects how they interpret the facts. The resulting shift from new policies to old ones and then to “new” ones again, leave the American people feeling like they are on a teeter totter. They rise and fall, but they never seem to move forward. Hence the disdain for both sides of the aisle in Congress. It’s difficult to block attacks from either side, especially when people have the money and/or influence to pursue their narrow interests.

I used to live in the Wayne National Forest. It’s the only national forest in the state of Ohio. When you think “national forest,” what comes to mind may be a pristine land set aside long ago for the enjoyment of future generations. Not quite. The Wayne National Forest has many beautiful areas. The slogan of the national forests is “a land of many uses,” drawn from a quote by an early chief of the forest service. The Wayne National Forest was bought piecemeal by the government in three areas in southern Ohio. Today, there are many recreational facilities on these three tracts, but there have been other “uses.” The land was first used by the timber industry. Clear cut. The Forest Service then bought the land and replanted trees. Admirable. Later, the Forest Service sold the mineral rights they owned. I lived in Chauncey, Ohio: coal country. The coal was unearthed, the land turned upside down, and the rivers were polluted with little consideration for the environment or the people living nearby. Most of the oil and gas were pumped out, but I saw some active wells while hiking twenty-five years ago. The mining had ended by then and the jobs were lost. The land recovered to a degree, but the scars ran deep. You can see areas where nothing grows. The small rivers are polluted and lifeless. There’s little left of economic value (or so one would think), and the surrounding communities soon withered after the last lump of coal was extracted from the ground. But now, corporate America has returned to the trough. The rights to oil and gas on some forest lands were recently sold. The wells dried up, but the greed did not. Fracking. The people in the area didn’t want it. The few people left fought against those who wished to plunder the land once again, but they had little wealth, power, or time. Thousands signed petitions, but their wishes were ignored. Funny how the wishes of those most directly affected don’t matter. Just ask the students, parents, faculty, presidents, campus police, and the University System of Georgia about Campus Carry.

It’s ironic that this branch of the federal government that purportedly seeks to preserve the land wants to monetize it. A land of many uses indeed. Lumber, coal, oil and gas. What happens in places like the Wayne National Forest is that the people who live there who will be most effected, resisted in the beginning. They attended the initial hearings where justifications were given for the damage the oil and gas industry would do. But, the special interests are relentless. The people who wanted to preserve the land had lives to live–they weren’t full-time lobbyists. After losing round one, many won’t show up for round two when more oil leases go up for sale. Reidents feel helpless. Angry, but outgunned. It’s easier to attack than defend. Win one battle, the frackers and bombers think, and they’ll win the war.

In Washington, D.C., many Democrats and others are trying to defend the free press, heath care, the environment, the First Amendment, immigration, minority rights, voting rights, public education, fair taxation, sensible gun laws, safety regulations, and many other policies that reflect the values and interests of the majority of the people in the United States. Nevertheless, the dynamite continues to arrive at the dam by the truckload. Small segments of powerful people, who claim they are disaffected, push for their narrow interests. Those living on high ground see themselves as needing to climb ever higher, no matter how many backs they must step on to get to the mountaintop. They convince others that they too can reach the top, even as the overflowing water rises to the level of their ankles. How? They blame Obama for building the dam which they don’t realize is actually protecting them from drowning. God would not let it flood, they think. Well, better ask Noah before betting your life on that.

The point is that we have to keep on fighting. Even when it seems like we are losing ground and the sticks of dynamite are exploding all around us, we still have to protest. The Democrats have been losing ground lately, but their efforts have not been fruitless. They’ve blocked some initiatives and slowed the opposition down. Unfortunately, the Republicans have quite a few plays left in their old playbooks. Shock and awe. If the protests stop, the dam will come down. The torrent of water will do irreparable harm. If the protests continue, Republicans will weigh what they are doing. Their top priority is holding onto power. They want to appease their donors, but not if it costs them their jobs.

If the land goes underwater we will all be sunk. Those of us who are older and well off may feel safe, but an increasing number of people better be sure they and their loved ones know how to tread water. Trump’s only been in office for a few months. There will be more to come. His corruption and political problems seem to accelerate the attacks on the dam. The noise from the dynamite is used to distract us from how he is personally enriching himself and subverting the government. Be informed. Stay focused. Protest when you can. Stick together. Buy a boat and some life jackets if you can afford to. Things can turn around quickly when the time comes to shift to the offense.

%d bloggers like this: