Yesterday Was Earth Day! – A Response To One of Your Peers

Posted: April 23, 2018 in Uncategorized

STUDENT: Why are environmental issues so divisive, left/right, currently but seemed to be more nuanced and not as “political” in the 70’s? Or am I romanticizing the past? If is is true, why now? Is it because of a change in education or media? Is money or power at stake more now than previously? With the rise of PACs, are industry priorities being bought or heard more? Do people take the environmental gains that have been accomplished so far for granted?

TEACHER: There’s been a lot of political drift in the two major political parties since the time I was a kid. Though many people might imagine that Republicans and Democrats have existed in their present form since their creation, such has hardly been the case. Regional tendencies have changed as well. For instance, I can still recall when most of the rural South was still Democrat, as that party had, at the time, a strong commitment to agriculture. Meanwhile, Republicans, such as Nixon, showed a strong commitment to centralized government and federal agencies such as the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts). I can’t say there is one cause responsible for the shift to our present situation, or one specific moment at which it happened. Nevertheless, the Republican party took a major step toward its current shape through the relentless efforts of Barry Goldwater. You can read about his influence in the excellent scholarship of U of U History professor Bob Goldberg.

While there were considerable differences between the two men, Goldwater clearly paved the way for the success of Ronald Reagan, under whom the Republican party ceased to be a haven for Ivy League elites. It was under Reagan that mainstream “American” and evangelical “Christian” values began to play an increasingly powerful role in national policy. For example, it was during the Reagan years that prominent senators, such as Jesse Helms, began calling for an end to the federal funding of the humanities.

The argument was that the art the government found itself funding was both offensive and unpopular – originated as it did from queer and other marginalized communities. Instead of government-funded ‘pornography’, senators reasoned, we should let the market ‘naturally’ decide what should and shouldn’t be allowed to flourish, or at least survive. As I said elsewhere, this is basically a formula for mediocrity and the preservation of the status quo. Anything questioning or running contrary to mass culture is left to whither and die – often quite literally, as this was the era of the AIDS epidemic. Who needs classical music and jazz on the radio anyway, or any other kind of alternative broadcasting? Shouldn’t we be content with commercial broadcasters such as KBER and X96? In a word: Give the people what to want!

On my way to school today I found myself listening to a Fresh Air (National Public Radio) interview with a renowned writer whose father was left unemployed when Reagan fired, en mass, the entire air-traffic controllers’ union. The overall deregulation of the FAA was supposed to force airlines into competition, motivating them to offer customers better service fewer dollars. I don’t how old one has to be to recognize it, but let me assure you that didn’t work out so well for 99% of us. Free of federal restrictions, airlines in general raised their rates and lowered the quality of the services, and passed the savings on to their chief executives. Most other industries, including and especially the car manufacturers and oil companies, did the same.

If you think back to recent readings, you’ll notice the tremendous rage Douglas Crimp feels toward Reagan and his fellow neo-conservative Republicans. Why all the ire? Because the defunding of the arts has forced museums to seek funding from other sources, and these were primarily major corporations, massive oil and telecommunications corporations, such as AT&T and Exxon.

While it could seem a blessing that these companies stepped in to pick up the government’s slack, Crimp points out how these companies immediately began to use the museums and similar liberal institutions as outlets for their corporate propaganda: The Art of Africa, brought to you by Exxon Mobile, one of the biggest exploiters and polluters of that continent; or, Great [i.e., a-political] Painters of Today, brought to you by AT&T, a massive conglomerate profiting massively from trade deregulation and paid advertising.

If you combine the license given to these corporate interests, with the revival of “Christian” values and apocalyptic thinking, within newly Republican rural America, you soon enough get a political climate which is perfectly suited to the likes of Scott Pruitt, Rick Perry, Ryan Zinke, and even Betsy Devos. The Earth is here not to tend, but ruthlessly to exploit. As the ‘prosperity gospel’ now preaches: God loved me so he made me rich! And anything the suggests otherwise should be removed from our public schools.

President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos make “U” symbols
with their hands while posing with the Utah Skiing team at the White House.

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