America Doesn’t Shrug

October 14, 2018 by Leonard Pitts

What if the end of the world came and nobody noticed?

It’s not quite an idle question.

You see, something remarkable happened last week. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists working under the aegis of the United Nations, issued a report on our planet’s health. Turns out it’s worse than we thought. Barring prompt — and politically unlikely — measures to drastically cut carbon output within the next decade, they say we’ll begin to see worsening droughts, wildfires, coral reef decimation, coastal flooding, food shortages and poverty beginning as soon as 2040.

You can expect mass evacuations from the most heavily impacted areas. As one of the report’s authors, Aromar Revi, director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, told The New York Times, “In some parts of the world, national borders will become irrelevant. You can set up a wall to try to contain 10,000 and 20,000 and 1 million people, but not 10 million.”

And we haven’t even gotten to the remarkable part yet. That has to do with our collective response to this doomsday prognosis. In a word, America shrugged.

That’s a necessarily subjective analysis, but I’ll stand by it. Yes, news media dutifully reported the story and pundits dutifully sounded the alarm. But none of it seemed to quite register. Two days later, the story was pretty much over, our attention having already moved on.

You might correctly say this is to be expected, given the lack of environmental leadership from a White House that wants to bring back coal. But there’s also a subtler force at work.

Largely because of Donald Trump, you see, we live in a starkly different world than we did just three years ago. The unprecedented has become the ordinary, the emergency the everyday. Children in cages #MeToo Robert Mueller Stormy Daniels Brett Kavanaugh Jeff Sessions North Korean nukes election hacking anonymous op-ed administrative coup EPA corruption emoluments clause NFL attacks collusion confusion and lies, oh my.

It has become impossible to care about all you should care about, keep up with all you should keep up with. The human mind doesn’t have the bandwidth for it. Every day, you feel like you’re running uphill on an ever-accelerating treadmill with no stop button.

So then you read where the planet is melting, dire results expected soon, and you just shrug and file it away with all the other terrible things you’ll worry about when you get a chance. That’s understandable. But it presumes a luxury we don’t have — time. Again, this report says the world has 10 years in which to save itself — and we’ll spend at least two of those under Trump.

Always before, the hinge points of American history have somehow managed to find the people the times demanded: citizen soldiers at the founding, Union patriots at the unraveling, tough-minded strivers during depression and global war, American dreamers in the freedom years. But seldom before has the nation seemed as exhausted and fractured as it does now.

So the question of the moment is: What will this new hinge point bring out of us? The answer will come at the ballot box over the next two years. And the whole world waits with us to find out what we are. Are we truly the ignorance, incoherence and chaos of the moment, or are we the sense of purpose and can-do that have always before defined America at its crossroads?

If we say it’s the latter, then we should feel ashamed, chastised by our history. Because if that history tells us anything, it tells us this:

America doesn’t shrug.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

© 2018 THE MIAMI HERALD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Opinions

A Moral Issue We Should All Worry About Opinions
A Moral Issue We Should All Worry About
March 17, 2019
by Leonard Pitts

If you think you're angry now, wait till you read the court documents. Not that the summaries of a college cheating scandal so massive it briefly bumped Donald Trump from the "Breaking News" chyrons were not enough to make a nun cuss. Indeed, the story offered... Read More

'Game of Thrones' Fans Have Been Warned: 'You're Going to Need Therapy' Opinions
'Game of Thrones' Fans Have Been Warned: 'You're Going to Need Therapy'
March 13, 2019
by John Kass

In just a few weeks, millions of people from around the world will be weeping, screaming, pulling out their hair and issuing piteous cries of rage and grief while eating ice cream on the couch. Because in just a few weeks, HBO's series "Game of Thrones,"... Read More

Foreign-Policy Meddling Has Become a Two-Way Street Opinions
Foreign-Policy Meddling Has Become a Two-Way Street
March 12, 2019
by Rachel Marsden

PARIS -- Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly tore into current Vice President Mike Pence at a retreat on Sea Island, Georgia, last weekend in front of an exclusive audience of Republican donors. The annual retreat is sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, where President... Read More

The Dangers of Big Ideas and Small Tent Politics for House Democrats Opinions
The Dangers of Big Ideas and Small Tent Politics for House Democrats
March 6, 2019
by Anne Kim

Emboldened by their conviction that the national zeitgeist is on their side, the progressive left is taking a harder line against House Democrats reluctant to embrace their agenda. Groups like the Justice Democrats, for instance, have signaled their intent to primary moderate members who don’t espouse signature liberal... Read More

Police Suicide Is the Toll of Unaddressed Post-Traumatic Stress Opinions
Police Suicide Is the Toll of Unaddressed Post-Traumatic Stress
February 15, 2019
by Mary Sanchez

The black silhouettes posted to BlueHelp.org are immediately recognizable as police officers. Nameless and faceless, each outline represents an officer who took his or her own life. Three police suicides are listed for February 11, the day that the Kansas City Police Department announced the death... Read More

Congress: Listen to Young People on Gun Violence Opinions
Congress: Listen to Young People on Gun Violence
February 8, 2019
by Mary Sanchez

President Donald Trump neglected to mention gun violence in his State of the Union address. The following day, the congressional stalemate over what to do about the killing and mayhem played out at a House Judicial Committee hearing on gun violence. Most of the news coverage... Read More

Straight From The Well
scroll top