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The Greatest Crisis Facing the Nation May Not Be Climate Change (2)

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By Joel B. Stronberg

· 11 min read

  • American democracy is broken.
  • What good are answers if the system can’t implement them?
  • Senate Minority Leader McConnell and Chief Justice Roberts are telling us something We the People need to consider as we vote in 2022 and 2024
  • Before climate change or any other issue of the day is adequately dealt with, the political system must be repaired.
  • The “fix” can only come about when rational truth-based debate replaces the slings and arrows of today’s political tribalism.

The culture wars have become so heavily partisan that they now spill over into institutions that previously were thought of as not partisan at all. - Daniel Drezner


This is the second installment in the occasional series The Greatest Crisis Facing the Nation May Not Be Climate Change.

Part 1 of the series focused on recent Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decisions, particularly on abortion and environmental regulation. The high court’s conservatives have made clear their disregard for the stare decisis doctrine.

The doctrine is about overturning previous decisions—especially landmark decisions like Roe v Wadeand Massachusetts v EPAin a measured manner. However, it no longer appears to be in working order.

As crisis laden as Earth’s warming is, neither the nation nor the globe lacks the information to understand and respond to it. The missing element, as usual, is a collective political will.

Many of the problems touched on by the high court in its just-concluded term could be solved easily enough with a few tightly-worded amendments to existing laws. Easily that is until you think of the state of American politics and the unwillingness of partisans to work with other partisans. Extremes beget extremes.

Part 2 highlights the rise of the American First movement. It also begins a discussion on how Chief Justice Roberts and Senate Minority Leader McConnell may be giving some advance warnings on things to come—not unlike the proverbial canaries in a coal mine.

An American First(er) is much like any dyed-in-the-wool supporter of former President Trump. One distinguishing feature is that some American Firsters have formed an identifiable group running in various states to gain oversight authority on their state’s elections. (See here for more information on American First candidates)

Based on the public statements of the candidates and the former President, it is reasonable to wonder whether they are capable of shedding their hyper-partisan skins to govern fairly and evenly. It’s a question that should be asked of all candidates—of whatever persuasion. However, it is particularly pertinent to today’s Republicans because of the platforms on which some are running.

The question voters should be asking themselves is this—

Would an American First Secretary of State act like Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s​ Secretary of State, or the way Trump would want them to?

I’m not a fan of political litmus tests—whether of the right or the left. Their binary nature ends up turning independent voters, like myself, away.

I don’t think it’s too much to expect of people in power or candidates who aspire to it to have a grasp—a very tight grasp—on what’s real. At least then, we could talk about the same problems even if we have different opinions about their solutions.

But can they govern honestly and fairly?

The most diehard Trump Republicans—often called America Firsters—are digging in for the long haul. Their dig sites are federal, state, and local governments—including runs for secretaries of state and other positions involved in securing the sanctity of US elections.

American Firsters are filling spots left vacant by the retirement of moderate politicians, and dedicated poll workers are throwing in the towel because of the vitriol that now poisons those positions and threatens their families [1].

Testifying before Congress Georgia poll worker Ruby Freeman described her experience.

There is nowhere I feel safe. Nowhere. The [former] president of the United States is supposed to represent every American. Not to target one. But he targeted me.

As reported by the Washington Post, voters in places that cast ballots through the end of May have chosen at least 108 candidates for statewide office or Congress who have repeated Trump’s lies. (See Conservapedia for listing of candidates by state)

The number rises to 149 winning candidates [2], including those who have campaigned on a platform of tightening voting rules or more stringently enforcing those already on the books, despite any evidence of widespread fraud.

Voters have now nominated election-denying statewide candidates in four of the six battleground states—Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan—where Trump contested the 2020 results.

Doug Mastriano is the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania. In the Commonwealth, the Secretary of State is appointed by its chief executive. Mastriano has been running on a platform with these central planks:

  • Reject unconstitutional edicts by Biden Administration and the CDC (mask-wearing)
  • Expansion of access to off-label early treatment drugs for COVID (Ivermectin)
  • Immediately end all contracts with compromised voting machine companies
  • Appoint a Secretary of State with experience in securing elections from fraud
  • Create a task force to work to introduce legislation that eliminates Property Taxes for all homeowners
  • Establish “strike force” teams at each state agency to cut statewide regulations by at least 55,000 in the first year.

Mastriano organized buses to Capital City for the January 6th demonstration. He has admitted to being in Washington, DC, on the 6th for a “peaceful protest” and to show support for Trump. He claims that he and his wife left when things turned violent.

Nevada Republicans have nominated two American First candidates—Adam Laxalt for the Senate and Jim Marchant for Secretary of State. Marchant is the organizing force behind a coalition of “America First Constitutional Conservative” candidates.

Marchant has pledged to overhaul Nevada’s “fraudulent election system” and said he would not have certified Biden’s more than 33,500-vote victory had he been secretary of state in 2020. Laxalt and Marchant speak openly about deep state cabals and subscribe to the Great Replacement Theory.

How do you convince Republican politicians that the Great Replacement Theory is nothing short of... preposterous? Reuters describes Replacement Theory this way:

[The theory] fosters the belief that leftist and Jewish elites are engineering the ethnic and cultural replacement of white populations with non-white immigrants that will lead to a “white genocide".

Notable believers of the theory include Texas Governor Greg Abbot (TX), Representatives Scott Perry (R-PA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Lauren Boebert (R-CO). It’s also espoused by the White supremacists that marched in Charlottesville and the shooter that murdered ten Black people in a Buffalo supermarket.

It’s fair to question whether Mastriano, Laxalt, and other Trump-centric Republicans can reasonably perform their functions believing in unproven conspiracy theories they do. Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan could be the deciding factors in the 2024 presidential election—that is likely to be as close and fraught as the 2020 election.

It would be different if there were any evidence to support the positions of the Stop the Stealers. There have been dozens of legal challenges to the 2020 election—not one of the more than 60 cases was found to have any merit. Many were tried before judges that Trump or another Republican president has nominated.

It’s concerning that for all their talk of the Constitution, so many on the right have chosen fake interpretations of its clauses to meet their own ends. Representative Laurent Boebert speaking to worshippers at a Colorado church, said about the relationship between church and state.

The reason we [had] so many overreaching regulations in our nation is because the church complied. The church is supposed to direct the government. The government is not supposed to direct the church…I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk.

In part, the Amendment states Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The intent of the clause is to disestablish the link between church and state to guarantee religious freedom to worship as one pleases.

The Colorado Congresswoman claims that the concept of church-state separation was something in a letter by Thomas Jefferson and not contained within the Constitution. The letter she’s referring to was from Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association, in which he declared that when the American people adopted the establishment clause, they built a wall of separation between the church and state.

Let me be clear. I’m not saying Trump or anyone else who meets the requirements isn’t entitled to stand for election—whether to a school board or the White House.

Once ensconced in positions with authority over elections, how will Trump-centric Republicans perform their constitutional duties? Will they refuse to certify the 2022 and 2024 elections on the advice of counsels like John Eastman or Rudy Giuliani because Donald Trump didn’t like the outcome?

Lawyers aren’t supposed to give the kind of advice for which they would need a presidential pardon.

A crisis of faith

Americans’ belief in major US institutions is waning. (See graph). Within the last year, trust in Congress dropped from 16 to 11 percent. Congress sits at the bottom of the list—for good reason. The presidency faired a little better, going from 38 to 23 percent, while the US Supreme Court went from 36 to 23 percent.

The downward direction of confidence in governing institutions does not bode well for the future. It’s up to both parties—to all parties—to find a way to work together.


The average confidence in 14 of the institutions that Gallup asked about is 27 percent — the lowest point since the pollster began the survey in 1979.

The secular faith of Americans in government—all three branches—is critical to the workings of democracy. The tie that holds the nation together, through thick and thin, is not simply the rule of law but the willingness to accept outcomes that may not serve our individual interests.

Tweet, tweet, tweet?

Mitch McConnell and Chief Justice Roberts are the canaries in our nation’s coal mine. We, the People, would do well to pay some attention because they seem to be wobbling on their perches.

Chief Justice Roberts has spoken out about the public’s perception of the high court at least as far back as Trump’s election. In a 2016 Law Day speech, Roberts indicated that criticism of the court doesn’t bother him—with a caveat—only as long as it is not based on a misunderstandingof how the court differs from the political branches.

It’s telling and sobering that the Chief Justice couldn’t convince his five conservative colleagues—two of whom are believed by Senators Collins and Manchin to have lied to them—to go slower.

Roberts appears not to be the hoped-for moderating force of an otherwise very conservative high court. Justice Coney Barrett has also expressed a concern that courts—especially the Supreme Court—not be thought of in the same political light as the other two branches. However, that train seems to have left the station.

There’s justifiable concern that the Supreme Court has peppered the past term’s decisions with questions it intends to answer in the coming term. It’s now thought possible SCOTUS will decide a coming case in a way that may prompt FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] to take a less aggressive approach toward regulating greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas facilities than what FERC's majority initially proposed, according to legal experts.

Senate Minority Leader McConnell is more of an enigma than the Chief Justice. On most days, the Kentuckian and former President Trump are arch opponents—on other days, not so much. McConnell is also on record opposed to the Trump-centric agenda of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

McConnell is the actual architect of the now conservative high court. As Senate Majority Leader, he blocked Obama’s nomination of Attorney General Garland. Had Garland been confirmed, the conservative complexion of the Supreme Court would be a fairer representation of Americans than it is today.

There are no shades of gray in today’s politics. It means that most policy discussions are binary—red or blue—and incapable of compromise. It shouldn’t be that way. If it continues this way, the consequences will be enormous.

The differences between the political parties are not simply matters of degree. They speak a different culture-based language. So different are we Americans that the real-estate brokerage Redfin predicts the deepening political polarization of the country will drive political issues deeper into community life. Sociologists have a name for it—the Big Sort.

In the next installment of the series, I’ll discuss how some Republicans in Congress are attempting to return the political debate to a more constructive exercise capable of successfully addressing the nation’s major issues. I’ll also address how the Supreme Court’s recent decisions put the onus of policy making on everything from climate change to abortion and voting rights on states.

And finally, I want to leave readers thinking about the words of Jeffrey Berry, a professor of political science at Tufts University.

We want to live in a society where there’s protest, and...where people have the right to use outrage...[but] where there are some boundaries and some norms of civility. So even if you’re animated...passionate and angry, you still don’t do things that are disruptive to the whole general.

Illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.


[1] Thirty-one Democrats and 18 Republicans have announced their departure from the US House of Representatives.

[2] — Out of more than 170 races —

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About the author

Joel B. Stronberg is a senior executive and attorney and the founder and principal of The JBS Group, a Washington, DC consulting firm. Joel is currently advising the Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization project at Columbia University’s Sabin Center along with his other clients.

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