An American Mud Bath
The ground finally froze this week in upstate New York. For the past month, the ground had become so saturated with rain that every single step my dog or I took churned the grass and produced mud. I’d even resorted to redistributing the piles of leaves that I’d raked, in order to cover the muddiest spots. Spreading hay would’ve been my next step. Instead, a couple of inches of snow fell, and the ground is now crunchy instead of sloppy. Apocalypse averted.
Only not really. As I looked out on the newly wintry landscape, I worried about all of those plants and shoots and seeds frozen under the snow and scheduled to spring back green (and yellow and purple and red and blue) in three or four months. Evolution has adorned our planet with many miracles — but if those miracles are repeatedly trampled into mud, as they were this autumn, their comeback, I fretted, will be chaotic, if it happens at all.
So it goes with our planet and with our politics.
I heard on National Public Radio this morning that two out of five Americans were directly affected in 2021 by climate change disasters — fires, floods, mudslides, super-tornados, hurricanes, etc. Thousands of us had our lives churned to mud. Two out of five — that’s a lot!
That’s as many as believe that Trump won the election last year, and who are refusing to be vaccinated!
I also heard on the radio this morning one of their rightwing avatars, Larry Kudlow, speaking on WABC-AM for at least fifteen uninterrupted minutes — without a single ad, jingle, or station identification — about inflation and unemployment and how well the economy fared under Trump and how supply-side, trickle-down economics do work and how Big Government means Socialism and high taxes and how race-based affirmative policies are unAmerican and on and on. I almost yelled at the radio, yet I found that listening actually humanized the “fascist enemy” for me — not the demagogues like Kudlow himself, but the old white people who listen in and believe. Kudlow had a calm, deep voice and sounded like your most trustworthy coach from your favorite high school memories, and there was an unhesitantly patriotic, pro-working-class bias behind every lie he told.
By comparison, when I listen to New Yorker radio or Morning Edition I feel like I’m listening to young Brooklyn Bohemians who know more about food, hip-hop, social media, and lifestyle than I will ever know or ever want to know. There is no equivalent on the left to the media experts of the right — besides, perhaps, Stephen Colbert in some of his opening monologues . . .
Listening to Kudlow reminded me, too, of how the Democratic Party has gravely let down the American working class — white, black, brown, and purple — over the past three decades (NAFTA, deindustrialization, the abolition of welfare and federal housing programs, etc.), which allowed Trump to rise up as a mud-slinging demon. Pushing leaves back onto the lawn — pace, Joe Biden, I loved the speech — is not likely to stop him. Alas, our side seems to have no media savvy, no class consciousness, and no charismatic worthies under age 75.
Nevertheless, if you’re one of the many who fear a fascist takeover of America, listening to rightwing radio might set you straight: What you’ll hear is just the old Republican economics and old-fashioned patriotic racism dressed in populist rags. We’ve been through worse — World War II, for instance.