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In more ways than one
Two tragic news stories out of Florida this week challenge us to consider how we frame current events. It may feel unseemly to discuss the messy world of politics in the midst of acute pain. But to ignore what is happening in places like Florida, and elsewhere, is to avoid a reckoning with reality. Whether it’s willful ignorance or cynical gaslighting, if we don’t deal with the truth, we will make ourselves only more vulnerable in the future.
The two stories we are focusing on today might at first seem to have little in common, besides the loss of innocent life. But they bear a closer look:
On Saturday, in Jacksonville, Florida, a racist shooter targeted Black people, first at a historically Black university and then at a local store. He murdered three victims before taking his own life.
Yesterday, a deadly hurricane hit northwest Florida before carving a path of further flooding and destruction across the Southeast.
Our top priority must be extending help to those who have lost loved ones and are otherwise in need. But we must also see each of these distinctly heartbreaking events as parts of broader patterns. Both are byproducts of destructive currents roiling our nation, currents being amplified by Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, and other elected officials in the Republican Party.
In recent years, there have been two hallmarks of Republican rhetoric as championed by Donald Trump and parroted by the legions of sycophants and acolytes who now dominate his party. These hallmarks are: an attack on racial justice (so-called “woke culture”) and a denial of our climate crisis, including hostility toward any proposed efforts to contain greenhouse gas emissions.
These trends preceded Trump. Indeed, racism infected the birth of this nation, and antagonism to science has been long-standing. But Trump and his Florida imitator have ramped up divisiveness and a know-nothing mindset so much that they now define a political movement driven by culture wars and grievance.
Defenders of DeSantis, Trump, and others would undoubtedly reject this line of argument. We’ve always had violence and hurricanes, they’d likely say. It is unfair and biased to blame a lone gunman or an act of nature on the words of politicians.
It is true that it is often difficult to draw direct lines between events like the ones we are discussing and a sole, definitive cause. But it is also true that climate matters — whether it be the climate that promotes a social acceptance of racism and absence of gun restrictions or the climate that produces warming oceans.
In the wake of the murders, Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan said:
“I’ve heard some people say that some of the rhetoric that we hear doesn’t really represent what’s in people’s hearts, it’s just the game. It’s just the political game. Those three people who lost their lives, that’s not a game.”
The climate of racism matters. It increases the likelihood of hate crimes and death.
Now take analysis of tropical cyclones in a warming world from the nonprofit news organization Climate Central:
Warming oceans fuel stronger tropical cyclones that bring more heavy rainfall and higher storm surge when they make landfall...
Although the frequency of tropical storms is not necessarily increasing, sea level rise can amplify the storm surge potential when storms do occur, putting coastal residents at particular risk. Higher tropical cyclone rainfall rates are expected with further warming. Greater rainfall intensity can increase the risk of inland flooding, which accounts for more than half of past U.S. hurricane deaths.
Earth’s temperature matters. Warming might not make hurricanes more frequent, but it makes them more deadly.
In both of these tragic cases, it is essential that we consider how politics shapes the plight of people and the planet. When politicians rail against a “climate hoax,” they make future flooding more likely. When they avoid teaching unpleasant chapters of history in schools, they perpetuate a culture in which some Americans’ stories — and consequently, their worth — are deemed more important than others. This dynamic also makes people who are minorities in the country less safe. Especially those who are Black or brown, Native, and of Asian heritage. When people in political power — whether Republican, Democrat, or otherwise — refuse to pass popular commonsense gun laws, they make the use of a firearm in a deadly attack more likely.
There are always going to be violent bigots. Just as there are always going to be hurricanes. And just as there will probably always be guns. The question before us is, do we allow those with a public megaphone to exacerbate these threats?
There are those who say that a tragedy’s aftermath isn’t the time to discuss these matters. But now is exactly the right time. Because politics built on delusion, division, and destruction is a big part of the story, and the problem.
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