The U.S. senate fiddles while the planet burns | The Triangle

The U.S. senate fiddles while the planet burns

Photograph courtesy of Kirk McKoy at Tribune News Service.

Donald Trump’s impeachment trial now begins, with a travesty cast of lawyers including Kenneth Starr, whose conduct during the Clinton impeachment led to the abolition of the Office of Special Counsel, and Alan Dershowitz, a once-respected figure who now claims there’s no such thing as a president abusing his powers.

It’s a script whose ending has already been written and which polls say will give the majority of the public the opposite of what it wants and certainly what the occasion demands of. It will be, at least primarily, a diversion for the country as it waits for the Superbowl, and secondarily, a chance to see whether the party of Abraham Lincoln will finally expire in the arms of a racist demagogue.

Personally, I’ve felt that every president we’ve had going back to John F. Kennedy gave grounds for impeachment, Clinton included and Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter alone excluded. Only Clinton and Nixon (almost) got it, and not particularly for the most important reasons. Richard Nixon unleashed a lawless war on Cambodia whose ultimate consequence was the extermination of over a quarter of its population, but when that came to a vote as an item before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, it was defeated 12-26. I didn’t have to look the number up because I’ve never forgotten it.

A majority of those voting apparently thought it was okay, or at least not impeachable, to rain hell on a small country that would suffer a genocide per capita that would ultimately almost rival that of the Holocaust. Nixon was instead forced from office by what he — not inaccurately — described as a third-rate burglary that appears not even to have been ordered by him. No one ever said impeachment was a perfect process.

Donald Trump faces impeachment now on two counts: trying to coerce Ukraine’s president into making a bogus announcement of an investigation into a political opponent, Joe Biden, and obstructing Congress’ own investigation of that act.

Trump’s offenses — both of them — are impeachable enough, and he is certainly guilty of both of them. But putting the screws on a hapless foreign leader to smear a rival, like covering up an attempt to swipe some Democratic Party files, isn’t the worst offense I can think of. How about Ronald Reagan making a private deal to release the American hostages seized by Iran behind Jimmy Carter’s back, upending American foreign policy? Or George W. Bush lying us into a war with Iraq where, 17 years later, Americans are still being killed?

No, I can think of worse things Trump has done. Such acts include tearing children from their parents’ arms and locking them up in cages, some to die; or denying life-saving relief to hurricane victims and then lying about the needless loss of life (among 15,000 other lies duly chronicled by The Washington Post); or arming Saudi Arabia to indiscriminately kill civilians in Yemen; or willfully costing lives at home by hamstringing Obamacare and scuttling controls over lethal pollution. I could go merrily on, but you get the idea.

Some of these things may not fit the Founders’ idea of an impeachable offense, but then none of them, surely, imagined someone like Donald Trump becoming president, and they did try to imagine the worst they could. Trump’s ultimate crime as the world’s most powerful and influential man, however, has been not only to deny but to ridicule the greatest disaster that human civilization has ever faced, climate change. Trump would have done incalculable damage even in the best of times, but he is the worst of all possible men at the worst of all possible moments.

The news of the world, right now, is not what is going on in Washington, D.C., but what has been going on for weeks now, half a world away. The fires in Australia, burning out of control and combined by raging winds and so-called weather bombs, have consumed an area the size of Romania. So far, 26 people have been killed, far fewer than the 87 who perished in the Paradise fire in California two years ago. But it is estimated that between half a billion and a billion animals have also died in the blazes. We can add to that figure the recent calculation of nearly a million seabirds who perished in a giant heat blob that formed in the northeast Pacific not long ago to realize that we are in the midst of great extinctions, many of them unrecorded, with unreckonable effects on food chains and other natural balances.

Donald Trump has not caused these events, of course. But he does his best daily to minimize, distort and misrepresent them, to egg on the fossil-fuel consumption that aggravates them with a frightening multiplier effect and to reject every effort to meet climate disaster before it overwhelms us. No single individual has ever behaved so destructively on a planetary scale in the face of such unparalleled crisis. It is true that you can’t impeach someone for arrogance, ignorance, stupidity and bloviating narcissism, but it is beyond appalling to think of a man blocking four if not more of the preciously few years we have to rally the world community to at least try to mitigate the effects of what it is now sure we will have to endure.

Sixty years ago, a film called “On the Beach” came out, which depicted the aftermath of an unintentional but fatal nuclear war — the apocalypse we feared then, and which almost came to pass shortly after in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In the film, Australia is untouched by the direct destruction of the bombing, but the worldwide atomic fallout is headed inexorably toward it, and human extinction is certain. The government hands out suicide pills to the population so that it can avoid the horror of death by radiation, with instructions for how and when to take them. Australians being stoic, at least in the movies, there is no mass panic or violence. At the end of the film, a tattered banner appears on the screen reading, “There Is Still Time.”

The message is obviously for us, and Australia is now not the last but one of the first frontiers on which disaster has appeared. We can still, of course, incinerate ourselves by nuclear war, and the wars that climate crisis will spawn may make that more likely. But right now, on the floor of the United States Senate, the best thing we can do for human survival is to get rid of Donald Trump, even if his bill of impeachment makes no mention of it.