Back in 2019, pre-COVID, I had been looking forward to an election season where the Green New Deal as the centerpiece of a platform from which to defeat Trump and his GOP enablers with. I see it as a 2-for-1 package where you can both save the planet and strategically jam an 800-pound needle right into where the neo-fascist right is at their most vulnerable at the same time.
Donald Trump’s steadfast denial of the climate crisis, marginalization of scientific experts and rollback of environmental protections is perhaps the area where his actions (not rhetoric) are most out of step with the positions of voters (plus COVID putting this on fast forward).
Notice how the far right’s pundits and campaigners can talk on and on about their favorite wedge issues like guns, abortion and immigration. Yet the ever-worsening climate crisis is the one topic in particular which they have nothing to say about other than to pretend that it does not even exist in the first place and try to awkwardly change the subject. This is an admission where they are vulnerable. It is the same reason why the Fox News crowd has been working overtime to smear the Green New Deal out of existence, because it would put them on the defensive.
If we had a Green New Deal campaign that was robust enough to set the narrative for what the election issues are, then it would force the far right to answer for key questions on climate which would send them into a profound crisis. The far and neo-fascist right are so wholly unequipped to rise to this challenge of climate emergency.
Predictably, this year’s RNC, made no mention of global warming – it all fell behind an “Oil-Well-ian” veil of silence. In actuality, polls show solid support for regulating CO2 emissions, even among Republican Voters. Concern for Climate hasn’t gone away just because COVID happened. We have seen a surge in young Republicans worried about our environment. Yes, there are young self-identified conservatives too who actually place some importance on the issue.
A POWERFUL NARRATIVE
But where credit is due. the Neo--fascist right has been able to channel international discontent over neo-liberal economic globalization into political success at the nation-by-nation level in a way the global left has thus far failed to match. The neo-fascist right has had a simplistic story to offer that can be effectively replicated across so many nations. It is the story that there is some “great replacement” where some group of invading minorities are usurping the privileges of the pre-existing dominant group, at the behest of the so-called “globalists”.
What we saw in 2018 with the international school climate strikes in favor of the Green New Deal provides the framework that could defeat this new right global-scale narrative. If a global Green New Deal is given a chance, it will create enormous numbers of well-paying jobs and thus concretely benefit populations who were left behind by the relentless rush toward economic globalization. The progressives can use the Green New Deal to champion infrastructure financing, job retraining, and targeted subsidies for green industries. That would be a way to win back voters disillusioned by neoliberalism. This new narrative would undermine the new right’s anti-globalist rhetorical appeals while offering up a positive vision to rally around across many nations.
It is important to adopt the language of young people and tap into their grievances before the far right gets to them. May Boeve of 350.org speaks to how the climate strikes had been a good vehicle for that. “To have very young people publicly shaming political leaders for doing nothing has struck a moral chord now that’s really quite powerful.
Overall, a vision that is apocalyptic and critical without the positive narratives that give hope will not win against a ‘Make America Great Again’ type message.
A chief problem is that activism needs activists and we lack any international institutions that can employ or otherwise support the activists on the scale that is needed, with one likely exception. Labor Unions are the strongest institutional power base which could do so. But as the institutional powerbase of labor unions has gradually eroded, working class and blue-collar middle-class voters started to feel anxiety about their declining status. This anxiety about declining status was, in turn, a great predictor of support for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. From this standpoint it is understandable how the narrative put forth by new right has resonated most strongly in rural areas and small towns that have not benefitted from recent economic growth as much as the more culturally liberal and cosmopolitan urban centers.
When the political establishment only allows a centrist opposition to the new right and uses institutional inertia to blocks a progressive left response to the new right at every turn, then how can we uproot the problem?
A centrist opposition to the new right is defined as proposing watered-down versions of the same neoliberalism that is only narrowly differentiated from what the establishment center-right offered. Such an approach may have been relevant in earlier times, but it outdated now given how we could have a more convincing message on protecting people from the harsher side of free market system.
The transnational left has been good at publishing manifestos, issuing laundry lists of demands and creating policy papers. But that is no substitute for getting more adept at telling stories that are linked to a vision, connecting at an emotional level which touches people’s hearts as well as minds, and boiling down sometimes complex ideas down into simple messages. “America first (or fill in the blank nation first)” is a prime example of what encapsulates the shared story and vision among the new right. It begs a positive alternative narrative that combines messages of hope and urgency while mobilizing people of different backgrounds under a common banner. Because the new right is tapping into primordial fears and hatreds, we need to make a visceral analysis. The people we need to persuade to come over to our side don’t have time to read long documents. Perhaps it is necessary to communicate a paradigm shift into a sound bite in order to get traction.
But first, what does the opposition say against the Green New Deal?
Even before the Green New Deal became a household phrase, the opponents of Green New Deal type policies used a particular rhetorical sleight-of-hand.
It was a sort of binocular trick of feigning crocodile tears over all the lost jobs in established industries while turning a blind eye to the much greater job creation power of green jobs that could be created if the GND were given a chance.
We saw it during the RNC when speakers did not seem to mention the topic of environment at all except when playing their latest episode of cynical jobs-versus-environment divide-and-conquer.
The jobs-creation capability of these clean and renewable sectors has overpowered that of fossil fuels by a factor 3 to 1. So, in terms of substantive policy discussion the conspirators against the GND had to find some other bugaboo to latch onto.
Their newer rhetorical sleight-of-hand is to simply claim the price tag of the GND is simply too high and that we can’t afford it. But this is another binocular trick which involves turning a blind eye to the far more astronomical costs we face if the powers-that-be deny us transformational action to get GHG emissions under control. In this case, austerity means extinction.
Whenever the “can't-do” opponents try to wave fear of financing as their excuse to say no, it is a red herring intended to divert attention away from the true issue at hand. The real issue at hand with funding the Green New Deal is to shift the burden of underwriting the transition onto those who are most responsible for creating the problem in the first place, onto those who profit from using the atmosphere as a free dumping ground. Going after the profits of those most responsible for the mess can be accomplished via legal damages, higher royalties, having their subsidies slashed, a transaction tax, and shutting down tax havens. Whenever a propagandist shrill tries to put a chill on having public discussion on the GND, those accountability measures just mentioned are the possibilities which these elitist mouthpieces do not want to be on the table for consideration. Let me emphasize, those conspiring against the GND are the real elitists, not the ones who are campaigning for it!
As scary as such a discussion would be for a small group of narrow-interest elites, the GND will be catharsis and provide a sense of relief for a far more, particularly for young people. The biggest obstacle is hopelessness and a feeling that it’s all too late. Mobilizing for a Green New Deal would inspire hope by providing something to be in favor of, not just something to rail against.
Centrism brings a bit more insidious and sideways type of challenge to the GND principles. The Thomas Freidman sort of centrist approach considers the economic and social justice components of the GND to be add-ons to the more immediate, objective and narrowly-focused priority for making emissions cuts.
Those who share this approach often presume that calls for economic and social justice would make an already hugely uphill battle against intransigent conservatives an even harder political sell than it currently is. That is rooted in the old assumption that change in general has to be as minimal and unchallenging to the big donor establishment as possible for efforts to get emissions reductions to not to be sabotaged outright.
But social and economic justice is precisely what lifts the GND. Excluding the vectors of social and economic justice is what led to some recent and failed neo-liberal attempts at climate policy which that pass on the costs of making the transition onto working people.
Marcon in France tried to raise funds for carbon reduction initiatives within the confines of a classic free market agenda. It came about in the form of a fuel tax designed to make driving more expensive. France’s working class, even many of whom in fact identified as environmentalists, came to see that approach as an attack on them given that at the same time the super-rich were still able to have their tax havens and private jets. This disparity enables the conservative resistance to transformative climate policy an opening to play their selective game of divide-and-conquer and drive a wedge between economy and environment.
The GND meanwhile, will not generate this sort of backlash because it is intended to lower economic strain at the same time as meeting climate goals.
***(This is why my own work focuses heavily on trying to get Inclusive Financing for energy improvements) ***
The technocratic approach to get climate policy that which blew up in Marcon’s France was also the same one which failed to get cap-and-trade passed in 2009 and 2010 when we had a near Democratic supermajority Senate under the first two years of Obama. These past uninspiring approaches did not have the power of an intersectional mass movement mobilizing behind It that was needed to overcome reactionary and conservative opposition. But the GND could if it is given a chance.
Given COVID-19, we have on our hands what could be a second great depression. Support for the Green New Deal will not melt away like support for other green initiatives have done during past recessions because it is a large-scale stimulus modeled on FDR’s approach to the original New Deal.
The centrists are driven by this a defensive fear that that linking climate action with just about every other progressive policy goal would provide cannon fodder for reactionaries and some conservatives who have for decades accused calls for climate action as being some Trojan Horse plot to smuggle in socialism.
But if the GND is actually given a chance, it would undercut this fear associated with socialism. Nothing heals ideological divides faster than an actual concrete project that brings jobs and resources to economically hurting communities such as offering decent paying jobs with ecosystem/ land regeneration and building infrastructure. During the original New Deal, FDR clustered his New Deal projects in rural and/or conservative areas so that they see the concrete benefits to their daily lives. The people who benefited were no longer susceptible to fearmongering about a socialist takeover of government. Elite attempts to either attack or slow the original New Deal did not succeed because it was actually helping people’s lives in concrete and tangible ways. If the Green New Deal creates good jobs and detoxifies the environment, then who cares if the climate crisis were a hoax? (It is not though for the record!)
The GND could become the collective purpose that finally overcomes these alienating ideological divides and provides some sort of a shared mission and shared destination that we need so desperately right now.