This story originally appeared in The guard and is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration that strengthens reporting on climate history.
ONE A year ago today, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy fled for their lives when a violent mob swarmed the halls of the U.S. Capitol. With their own personal security, the two most powerful Republicans on Capitol Hill finally turned against Donald Trump. In a heated phone call, McCarthy, the minority leader in the House of Representatives, unsuccessfully pleaded with the President to call the mob. Senate Majority Leader McConnell later called the rioters “Terrorists“And said Trump was” morally responsible “for the violence.
But McConnell and McCarthy soon sneaked back on facilitating Trump’s attacks on democracy. They were silent while Trump insisted that the 2020 elections were stolen and that anyone who disagrees should be removed from office. They remained silent as Trump supporters threatened violence against election officials and Republican-dominated state parliaments rewritten laws and procedures to prevent a fair vote.
McConnell and McCarthy shamelessly put the party before the country and ambition before duty, creating alarming consequences for the future. Scientists have said for years that humanity is confronted with a climate emergency and that only rapid and far-reaching measures can preserve a planet worth living in. On the first anniversary of the January 6th attack, it is clear that the United States is also facing a democracy emergency. Only swift, far-reaching action can maintain a government that is from, by, and for the people.
The democratic emergency is closely linked to the climate crisis. Each is based on a big lie – that climate science is a hoax Trump won in 2020 – pushed by the same right-wing politicians and propaganda “news” media, and embraced by Trump’s supporters with cult-like devotion. If left untreated, everyone is in danger of catastrophe. If Trump’s armed forces change enough electoral rules and personnel to guarantee victory in 2022 and beyond, there is no chance the U.S. government will take the vigorous climate action needed to avert global catastrophe.
Defusing the global climate emergency therefore depends on protecting democracy. The United States is certainly not the only country where anti-democratic trends are hindering climate progress. Most of the worst stragglers at the Cop26 climate summit in November were countries where authoritarianism is either firmly entrenched or on the rise: China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, India, the US. But the collapse of US democracy would have particularly damaging effects on the climate. A halving of global emissions by 2030, as science says, is indispensable, would be impossible if the largest economy in the world and the leading historical CO2 emitter refuse to help.
How the democratic emergency can be defused is too big a question to answer briefly. President Biden and the Democrats certainly need to do more; Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has a voice promised by January 17th on filibuster reform to pass fair voting laws. A mobilized civil society is also crucial. With Trump’s supporters trying to install partisans on electoral bodies across the country, The Atlantic‘S Barton Gellman Notes that democracy activists at the local and state levels can also work to prevent such atrocities and ensure fair elections.
A free press is the foundation of democracy, and journalism too must face this opportunity with open reporting. Monika Bauerlein, managing director of Mother jones, calls on the media treat the “war on democracy” as the “big story” of 2022. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin says Political reporters should “stop … hiding that only one party is campaigning to suppress votes” and “demand that Republicans” [officials] defend their participation in the big lie of a stolen election ”- and when Republicans try to evade, keep the question going.
Aside from Trump himself, no one deserves such a journalistic barbecue more than McConnell and McCarthy. As senior Republicans in Congress, they have the stature to oppose Trump’s campaign for one-party rule. Double profiles in cowardice, they have instead broken their oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
McConnell and McCarthy want the world to forget that Trump’s mob chased them a year ago today, making everyone briefly advocate democracy. But the world must not forget. In particular, the press must not allow McConnell, McCarthy, and most of the other Republicans to cover up the fact that they are enabling the greatest threat to American democracy since the Civil War – and thereby promoting a hell of a climate future.