Emulating Goebbels—but through Deafening Silence
Anyone acquainted with propaganda’s sordid history will recognize the words “big lie”—capitalized for emphasis in my article heading—as associated with Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. The words form part of an often cited passage (in fact probably a forgery wrongly attributed to Goebbels):
If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.
While it’s reasonable to believe a skilled propagandist like Goebbels would not have so publicly given away his propaganda game, the “big lie” passage captures his actual practice (and perhaps more importantly, his boss Hitler’s) so convincingly that it’s easy to understand why the attribution persists. But the spirit of Goebbels is clearly alive in our day; unsurprisingly, numerous writers have (with good reason; see here, for example) accused Donald Trump of practicing the big lie.
A vastly more important form of the “big lie” in today’s USA is the conspiracy of silence—often a bipartisan and mainstream media conspiracy of silence—about critically important issues our power elites don’t want discussed or emphasized. No power elite conspiracy of silence has been more perilous for our nation—and far more importantly, for humanity itself—than the deafening bipartisan silence surrounding climate change, now evolved into a full-blown climate emergency precisely because of the unconscionable silence and foot-dragging of global power elites.
While global power elites (based on shared selfish economic interests) have behaved criminally on all matters climate, US climate activists should focus predominantly on what we as US citizens can in theory control: the utterly despicable behavior of our own power elites. By emphasizing the words in theory, I mean to stress the well-documented political powerlessness of average US citizens under our electoral system’s normal functioning; only extraordinary levels of grassroots movement organizing—fortunately visible in the Poor People’s Campaign and the youth climate movement, for example—offer any hope of throttling our reckless power elites. By emphasizing the words our own, I seek to rebut the criminally irresponsible propaganda that claims it’s useless for Americans to take action on climate until other nations do their part. Besides self-servingly ignoring what other nations are actually doing, this lame excuse reeks of utter hypocrisy when mouthed by politicians and journalists who normally exalt our role as “the indispensable nation.” If anything, climate action provides for once a potentially admirable use for our superpower’s routine global bullying.
Lest anyone mistake my purpose here, I want (updating Richard Nixon) “to make two things perfectly clear”: 1) that Trump’s climate policy is an unprecedented crime against humanity, beyond genocidal in its potential scale and 2) that the Democratic Party, by its silence, has been unconscionably complicit in that unprecedented crime. Indeed, by obsessively insisting on a vastly overblown Russian election interference narrative, pro-Democrat media (irresponsibly unchallenged by Democrat politicians, who perhaps know better) have distracted public attention from an unprecedented global emergency, from Trump’s and Republicans’ criminally insane worsening of that emergency, and from Democrats’ own indefensible climate foot-dragging.
The failure of US politicians and major media to seriously address (or even mention) these two staggering facts is the “big lie”—as sinister as any told by Hitler or Goebbels—now framing US public discourse as we enter the 2020 presidential election cycle. Our “big lie” in effect normalizes Trump’s criminally insane climate policy, making it seem routine behavior unworthy of notice when it’s in fact an unprecedented crime against humanity. Since the Green New Deal (if its policies are kept properly strong) is a radical policy package designed precisely to address a public emergency, anything that undermines a widely shared sense of public emergency is sure to castrate an effective Green New Deal.
The “big lie”—that Trump’s way-beyond-criminal climate policies are in any way tolerable or normal—is guaranteed to sabotage the Green New Deal. Since our bipartisan power elites (who hate and dread the Green New Deal) reap handsome rewards from the “big lie” and the status quo it protects, only organized grassroots movements can overthrow it. As I’ll argue shortly, their best weapon against it is a loud, united call for Trump’s climate-based impeachment.
Shaming Democrats into Climate Impeachment—to Save Humanity from Trump
With humanity’s climate crisis now in emergency mode, it’s hard to imagine anything more unconscionable than Trump’s climate policy. Beyond criminally irresponsible failure to address a global emergency, it embodies almost vengeful outright embrace of climate destruction. If anything, it’s comparable to a mass-murdering terrorist, on scene at a raging neighborhood fire, spraying accelerants on that fire to guarantee its spread to several neighborhoods and an absolute maximum of death, suffering, and property devastation.
Seeing that the “several neighborhoods” here are actually the whole planet, the consequences of continuing Trump’s climate terrorist “arson” are potentially genocidal—but with casualty, totals dwarfing those of all previous genocides. And for those rightly concerned with Trump’s racism—as in his disgraceful tweet that Democrats’ “squad” of four young Congresswomen should “go back” to their home countries—Trump’s climate policy is the crowning gem of that racism, the point where his racism and anti-science vendetta meet the genocidal road. It’s well-substantiated that poor people of color will suffer first and worst from humanity’s climate crisis; already, over 600 million people in India face acute water shortages, to which climate change has substantially contributed. If Trump’s murderous climate policies are allowed to continue, the dark-skinned victims of the callous indifference he already showed to Puerto Ricans—and shows daily in his border policy—will grow by orders of magnitude, leaving Trump as arguably the most genocidal tyrant in human history.
Trump’s climate policy exposes him at his absolute worst: an ignoramus megalomaniac scorning even his own administration’s science experts and likely committing an unprecedented act of racist genocide. Accordingly, one would think Democrats—especially Democrat presidential hopefuls—would be tripping over themselves to denounce Trump’s climate crimes. One might fully expect Democrats to have long ago demanded Trump’s impeachment for the heedless mass murder of his climate policy. One might expect them, confident in the ever-more-certain science, to have recognized Trump’s climate impeachment as a perfect final showdown with Republican climate change denial: a globally televised “high noon” where expert sharpshooters leave climate denial as dead and discredited as flat-earth theory. One might even think Democrats would imagine Republicans’ near-universal climate science denial, increasingly disproved by nature itself, as a GOP terrorist suicide vest that must explode either the planet or the party—and gleefully seize this chance to explode the GOP before it’s too late.
One would think wrong—and that fact casts Democrats in their own worst, most irresponsible light. Wishing to confront humanity’s climate emergency as little as Republicans, while paying lip service to the science, Democrats have wasted precious time and staked virtually all their credibility on an always-shaky, self-serving narrative of Russian election interference and Trump’s collusion in that interference. Assuming for argument’s sake Russian election interference is really “a thing” (veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern and journalist Aaron Maté have made plausible cases to the contrary), it’s an utterly trivial thing compared to Trump’s ongoing, unchallenged climate crime against humanity.
If we’re talking about the Internet Research Agency’s juvenile social media memes (the weaker pillar of the Russian interference claim), it staggers belief such feckless stuff, buried amidst literally trillions of Facebook posts, were seen by and influenced enough voters to swing the election to Trump. More importantly, a US District Court judge, cited in the McGovern piece above, has ordered Robert Mueller to stop claiming the Russian government had any connection with these memes, since his report offers no credible evidence of that.
As to the more serious charge of Russians hacking the DNC and Podesta computers, it’s still fairly normal spycraft, which our own nation routinely practices, but far exceeds in “election interference” terms by actively overthrowing governments we dislike. To cite Russia’s fairly mundane misdeed—where no one died—as a new Pearl Harbor or 9/11 is insanely irresponsible hyperbole, needlessly ramping up hostilities with a fellow nuclear power and giving literally dozens of nations legitimate grounds for declaring war on the US for our far deadlier “election interference.” Only our nation’s bullying 800-pound-gorilla status—and nothing connected with law or justice—prevents an international just war to punish our vastly greater crimes.
And what Democrats persistently refuse to mention—what makes their Russiagate excuse narrative so vile—is that ultimate upshot of purported Russian hacking was better-informed US voters, who now knew important, relevant information about sleazy, behind-the-scene misdeeds by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Even if the best argument for voting for Clinton was that she was a lesser evil than Trump, voters with restricted choices still gain much by knowing how evil that lesser of two evils is. Among other things, it gives us strong motivation to organize movements against a system where neither party represents our interests.
Democrats’ collusion in the “big lie,” by crowding out all talk of Trump’s unprecedented crime against humanity by their self-serving Russiagate excuse narrative, proves just how little even the better of our two major parties represents us. Only by a massive, united shaming of Democrats can our climate movements force them to address the inseparable topics of Trump’s unprecedented climate criminality and humanity’s climate emergency. If Trump’s assault on climate isn’t a crime beyond all telling, there’s simply no emergency. And if the public thinks there’s no emergency, best of luck passing a radical emergency program like the Green New Deal.
Wrapping Climate Activists in the Flag—as Our Patriotic Distress Symbol
As needed shaming, demanding Trump’s long-overdue impeachment for his way-beyond-criminal policy—and asking Democrats the embarrassing question of why they’ve never thought of it—goes far toward accomplishing the trick. But Democrats (especially in the face of party donors, many tied to fossil fuels) are cowards, so (if you’ll pardon me the pun), climate activists demanding Trump’s climate-based impeachment must ourselves stand on unimpeachable ground.
In the final section of a previous article, I’ve already rebutted one false perception of shakiness in our position: that perverse climate policy, no matter how lethal in its consequences, is simply not an impeachable matter. The consensus of scholarly opinion seems to affirm what US Rep. Justin Amash claimed: that impeachable offenses need not be statutory crimes. What’s more, statutory legality aside, the Constitution’s “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard (a phrase from British common law familiar to the Framers) is, like British common law itself, deliberately vague about the subject matter of such offenses. As legendary Supreme Court Justice John Marshall explained, “[the] constitution [is] intended to endure for ages to come and, consequently, to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs.” If anything is a “crisis of human affairs,” it’s got to be the existential crisis of humanity’s climate emergency, so Trump’s unconscionable worsening of that crisis preeminently meets the Constitution’s standard for impeachment.
But calling for Trump’s climate-based impeachment is admittedly an outside-the-box “shock” idea, by that fact alone upsetting the perceptions of normal (or perhaps better for our purposes, normally brainwashed) US citizens. Pretty clearly, my contention that the bipartisan failure to denounce Trump’s unprecedented crime is a “big lie” equates with saying that it is a form of mass brainwashing. Counteracting brainwashing inevitably involves giving shock, but it helps those giving shock to maintain as much respectability and high ground as possible, since the power elites benefiting from the brainwashing will surely use their propaganda weapons to denounce its counteractors. Consequently, my concluding suggestion is that the US climate movement, united to demand Trump’s climate-based impeachment, should “wrap ourselves in the flag”: but in the US flag flown upside down, as a widely recognized distress symbol.
In my view, climate activists adopting the upside-down flag as our symbol gives precisely the right blend of shock and respectability to people hell-bent on forcing general acknowledgment of our climate emergency. The right-wing has gone far toward co-opting our national flag as their symbol; I’d venture to guess that the vast majority of those now flying flags are Trump supporters, since openly displaying the flag implies pride in our nation—factually headed by a president engaged in racist climate genocide (to name simply the worst of his offenses). In such a circumstance, normally displaying the flag is generally a conscious (though perhaps in some cases unwitting) piece of pro-Trump propaganda. Why allow Trump supporters a totally undeserved claim to patriotism, when Trump is committing precisely the “high crimes and misdemeanors” for which our nation’s founders provided the remedy of impeachment?
By adopting the upside-down US flag as their symbol, US climate activists would signal that we alone are answering the call of patriotic duty, seeking to impeach the racist, megalomaniac tyrant who has committed our nation to racist climate genocide. No one who accepts the deadly “big lie” that Trump’s climate policy is normal—that it is anything but a crime against humanity—is fit to be called a patriot in these deeply troubled times.
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