Do Better Better #8: The Choices We Make

Quinn Emmett
October 12, 2020
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The choices we make often involve fairly simple math. 

For example, when there is a pandemic, and you choose to repeatedly go maskless among thousands of people, you have a very good chance of catching the virus, even if you are the President of the United States.

I am an upper middle class cis white man born into enormous privilege, which is not a choice I made, but is a situation from which I’ve benefited enormously. People who look like me chose to pursue power at all costs, and so designed a comprehensive system of racism and exploitation that has held up for four hundred years, and which continues to touch every part of Black, Brown, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous lives. People who look like me chose to use up Earth’s ecosystems to build and benefit our industries, and to make convenience the default option for everyday white life, from free BIPOC labor to land use to fossil fuels and antibiotics.

These choices add up to not only an atmosphere bursting with greenhouse gases, but also a white supremacist president who endorses white supremacy on live TV. A president who is actively trying to steal the election for himself, for white men, and for industry, with every tool at his disposal.

These things are connected, because those people intended and perfected them to be so. COVID, the climate crisis, and Trump -- these are the sum of the choices our ancestors have made. As Ed Yong said, the cracks in our society were already there; COVID and Trump are just capitalizing on them.

211,000 dead Americans is the result of decades of ignoring science, not just nine months of Trump doing the same. Forty-seven months of Trump exploiting presidential powers is the result of forty-plus years of conservatives exploiting every opportunity to consolidate power until the day they could finally capitalize on their efforts.

That day is today. And the rest of us have a choice to make. How far will we go?

***

The past will soon cease to predict the future more than ever, but we can still learn from it. We once allowed Nazis to party at Madison Square Garden, but then hastily built 300,000 planes and 10,000 ships, and used them to land 150,000 troops and 50,000 vehicles on a beach in Normandy. 

In this case, our foe is internal, and “radical” means choosing not only to encourage and take part in record voter turnout, but putting our bodies in the streets when the president almost inevitably calls that turnout illegitimate. 

“Radical” means not just ending the oppression and persecution of Black people in 2020, but making reparations for the centuries of compound interest put upon them, taken from them. 

“Radical” means building not only clean energy but massive work campaigns to fast-track cleaning the air, water, and food of BIPOC Americans. 

“Radical” means not just winning this election in a landslide, up and down the ballot, but immediately overhauling how our democracy works -- from statehood to voting registration to filibusters to redistricting to publicly funded campaigns to age and term limits for elected officials and judges everywhere -- because the next iteration of Trump will be younger and significantly more focused, the culmination of so much work.

“Radical”, for the next month, means accepting that almost half the country’s population is dependent on this America, and thus lost to us. It means focusing exclusively on those who still might respond to what could be.

***

The version of our country that we’re fighting for has never existed before. America isn’t broken, it was designed to work the way it does, by white men who only ever wanted white landowners to vote, whose descendants gave centuries of effort towards a single goal: the profitable preservation of white supremacy.

They have pulled every lever of power to steal this election, and now, with everything they’ve built on the line, they have made a final choice. They have decided that, should they fall, they will take the rest of us down with them.

To ignore their willingness to do so is to remain ignorant in the face of a long history of deliberate choices. They might have built America on a different set of beliefs than the rest of us hold, but philosophy in action has costs: our passports don’t work, our children don’t have clean water, the air is unbreathable wherever we go, the seas are rising. The situation is lucid, even to them.

Despite this, America as they built it teeters on the precipice -- complete success on one side, and catastrophic failure on the other. It has never been so powerful, and yet so vulnerable.

You and I can end it, to make something new. What will you choose?

— Quinn

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