This was President Trump on Monday night in El Paso, addressing the Green New Deal—both the concept and the specific House resolution sponsored by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:
It was his first time field testing this particular line of attack—and judging by the hooting and braying of the yokels, certainly not the last—but he was already laying the groundwork two days earlier on Twitter:
He’s not alone—as usual, conservatives seem to have received the bat signal in unison, and they’re marching in lockstep to kill what they see as a fledgling political nightmare before it can grow into a movement. Mitch McConnell is even planning to bring the measure to a vote in the Senate, confident not only that it will be defeated, but that he’ll force key Democrats to vote against it and kill any chance of passage in the future.
Of course, the unified response largely a collection of lies, as the Washington Post’s Salvador Rizzo ably pointed out. Far from ending cars and trains and making beef illegal, here’s what’s actually in the resolution:
The Green New Deal is a manifesto calling for sweeping changes to American society. Key goals include cutting greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero over 10 years and guaranteeing jobs for all. The plan has prominent Democratic backers, including Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), all of whom are running for president. Many liberal and environmental groups are on board. Republicans say it’s a non-starter that reeks of socialism.
There are real questions about the feasibility of the plan, and the rollout itself was not above criticism (was it really necessary to complicate the issue by promising “economic security to all who are unable or unwilling to work” in a now-deleted blog post, even if the intentions were good). But the larger issue, and the one everyone should be talking about, is not whether 100% percent of the GND’s aims will succeed, or whether there will be any bumps in the road. What we should be talking about are the stakes. The big, dangerous, apocalyptic stakes.
The brilliant Naomi Klein laid it out in stark terms at The Intercept:
Back in October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a landmark report informing us that global emissions need to be slashed in half in less than 12 years, a target that simply cannot be met without the world’s largest economy playing a game-changing leadership role. If there is a new administration ready to leap into that role in January 2021, meeting those targets would still be extraordinarily difficult, but it would be technically possible — especially if large cities and states like California and New York escalate their ambitions right now. Losing another four years to a Republican or a corporate Democrat, and starting in 2026 is, quite simply, a joke.
As Klein noted, FDR’s original New Deal was a constantly evolving program, and the GND would be no different. Which is why it should be seen right now as a framework—the resolution, even if it passed, would be a signal of intent rather than anything binding—that will set the stage for actually doing something.
Republicans know this, and their strategy is a simple one: Try to force “perfect” to be the enemy of good, where the notion of “perfect” is actually a strawman they build up by distorting their opponents’ language. I mean, if the GND is about grounding all airplanes and banning cows, obviously it’s a big calamity. Right?! If America is the only country to sign on, we’ll just be suckers with a defunded military while the Chinese or Russians or ISIS or god-knows-who takes over. Right?!
The extent to which this convinces anyone could, legitimately, decide the fate of our planet. Sixty-nine percent of our nation is concerned about climate change, and young people in particular overwhelmingly support the idea of a Green New Deal. It’s imperative now that we see conservative distractions, and even minor progressive errors, as the irrelevant noise they really are. The pressing truth is that if we don’t strive for net-zero emissions, if we don’t strive to end fossil fuel use, and if we don’t build a clean-energy infrastructure, chances are good that we will lose everything. Every. Thing. This resolution, and all that springs from it, is—to quote Klein again—a badly needed “tool to build power.” Without that tool, we’re defenseless.
The real, practical action has to start now, and it has to be ready to launch in 2020 when (hopefully) Trump gets voted out of office. Even minor delays will be debilitating, and the first battleground has become apparent. If we let conservative propaganda define the debate, even the opening step of establishing a framework will be impossible, and the process will play out like a depressing war of attrition—full of Pyrrhic victories and devastating setbacks—while we kill our only home.