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What Are We Really Doing Here?

The infrastructure bill is breaking down. So is everything else.

Robert Couse-Baker

The Biden Administration’s flagship infrastructure bill is stalled again in the Senate as negotiations reportedly broke down on Monday afternoon. What an utterly, soul-suckingly, abysmally boring sentence that is. Let’s do it again:

The Biden Administration’s flagship infrastructure bill is stalled again in the Senate as negotiations reportedly broke down on Monday afternoon.

What are we doing here, man? I don’t mean with the infrastructure bill, although that is certainly one symptom of whatever all this is that’s going on. I read news like this and it fills me with a deep existential dread. Some days you can hold that at bay. There are bright spots here and there. The success or failure of the Biden infrastructure bill is not going to be the straw that breaks our camel-Republic’s back. But every day I log on and I read through the news and I see a trend that frightens me more than any one boring or frustrating or evil news item can: that things are actively getting worse and the people in charge do not care.

This isn’t a new observation. I’m not the first person to get doom-pilled by the news, not the first to make the tired observation that politics have stagnated into a largely useless pattern of partisan infighting that only take concrete action to protect the interests of the capital-owning class in this country and across the world. For most of us on the left, this is the starting position.

What I’ve been thinking about a lot is what happens next. Where do we go? It seems to me that the general political strategy of both parties in Washington is to continue to play their little game. A good metaphor could be that they’re the band on the Titanic that continues to play as the ship goes down, except in this case the band has also made sure they have personal lifeboats sitting right there for when the water actually reaches them.

Because where we’re headed is going to involve a lot of water, probably. The most pressing existential fear that I have is of climate change. Right now, I’m trying to convince my parents to move somewhere closer to me in the city but also a few thousand feet above sea level and in a climate that isn’t often ravaged by forest fires like the ones that burned down their other retirement plan last year and gave them semi-permanent lung damage from smoke. If you’re reading this, Mom, keep watching Maine Cabin Masters—they seem to have it figured out.

But it’s also entirely possible that something else will get us before the floods or fires do. We saw that this past year with the whole global deadly virus thing, which officials say could happen again but that Congress is still refusing to adequately prepare for.

What I’m finding is that it’s largely impossible to hold all of this knowledge in your head and still look at politics in a “normal” way. In order to cover politics for The Hill or Reuters or The New York Times or really anywhere that has to do the day-to-day coverage of events on Capitol Hill, you have to push to the back of your mind that The Biden Administration’s flagship infrastructure bill is stalled again in the Senate as negotiations reportedly broke down on Monday afternoon and everything that story entails does almost nothing to address the looming, dark, horrific trend of irreversible climate change and rising resource inequality that threatens to fundamentally rupture our general social contract within most of our lifetimes.

The people in power can do this easily because they have ensured that, for the most part, they will be insulated from the consequences of their actions—or at least they think that they have. I don’t doubt that the vast majority of Republicans and Democrats in Washington understand that climate change is real and believe in it. The smart ones do, for sure. I also believe that there are at least nominally some members of the Democratic Party who want to do something about it, and at least try to spare some lives in whatever disaster comes next. But I’m not sure they believe they’ll ever find themselves stranded on their roof when Kalorama floods. And that insulation from reality means there is no urgency to get these things done, and what I cannot quite imagine is what it would take to give them that sense of urgency. What does it take to get something done?

Because as easily as I can imagine us all drowning or burning or just generally suffering and wasting away slowly in gradually increasing heat while the most vulnerable among us die in greater numbers and the life expectancy dwindles, I can also see a world where we we get our shit together and little things like a sorely-needed infrastructure bill become no-brainers. Where the massive resources of the United States of America are redistributed to ensure healthcare for every one of its citizens and our planes no longer bomb countries on the other side of the planet for nebulously-defined reasons of “national security.” What’s getting harder and harder to suss out is how we get there. I don’t know! My ideas are pretty much bunk. But I do know it doesn’t happen while the people in DC stay comfortable and insulated—so anything we can do to help them feel the heat is a place to start.