The American political hard right is accustomed to denying any reality it doesn’t like – denial of unpleasant historical truths like slavery and the slaughter of native peoples; denial of unfavorable election outcomes like Trump’s defeats (twice in the popular vote, once in the grossly undemocratic electoral college); denial of failed neoliberal market economics and the harsh realities of skyrocketing American poverty and systemic class/race/gender inequities.
But two of the right’s most cherished targets – climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic – have dealt devastating blows to the reality-suppressive potency of denial. For one, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes it unequivocally clear: Human activity has severely damaged the planetary systems underpinning climate stability and a life-sustaining biosphere, and the destabilized climate is directly linked to the severe weather events – heat waves, floods, droughts, killer storms, out-of-control wildfires – grabbing headlines all around the globe. As to the pandemic, denialism-drenched resistance to vaccines and masks have allowed breathing space to an ever-resilient bug that was on the wane a mere two months ago; in its Delta variant, it’s now once more rampaging, driving up hospitalization and death rates, sparing no demographic, least of all young adults and school-aged kids, and straining already-weak health care systems to the point of collapse.
A broad awakening of the public is underway, fueled by a rising tide of fear mixed with anger. Even in the deeply red southern states, citizen demands for government action to address the mounting crises of climate and health are escalating. No doubt things are likely to get worse – much, much worse, I fear – on both fronts before they get better. Whether they ever get better depends less on the rational response of our elected leaders (they have already failed the rationality test many times over) than on the sustained mobilization of an enlightened public.
Social workers should be leading the people’s charge for change.