IT’S NOT ABOUT TRUMP;
IT’S ABOUT SURVIVAL
“I’m over here, behind the bush,” the tiny voice came back. “I’m finishing my supper, a rather exquisite main course of rotting mouse brain, followed by a dessert of tick that’s so fresh it ‘Still Has a Kick.”
Eager to tell him my message, I ran toward the bush.
“STOP! Not so fast, Big Canine,” the opossum yelled at me, as he scampered to the top of a fence post.
“Why so skittish?” I asked.
“You may be a sweet lady, Phoebe,” Mr. O said. “But we haven’t known each other that long, and you being a certain size, and me being smaller, I’d rather be safe than sorry, if you catch my drift.”
“I thought we were friends,” I said, a little taken aback.
“We are,” Mr. O said. “It’s not personal; it’s about survival—mine.”
“That’s what I wanted to tell you,” I said. “That’s what this whole election is about: survival.”
“I thought it was about getting rid of a psychopath, a bully, a pretender, a demagogue, a liar, a man with strange hair and a foul mouth – a dangerous, cruel man that you wouldn’t want as your kids’ role model,” Mr. O said. “Have I been wrong these past three-and-a-half years?”
“Oh, no, Mr. O,” I said, “you’re not wrong. But replacing Trump is all about survival. It’s not the only thing we have to do – as a society, a country, a planet – to survive. It’s just the essential first step.”
“I’m just a simple backyard opossum,” he said. “And I have a hard enough time concentrating on one thing at a time, which happens to be the election. And now you’re going all cosmic on me.”
“Stay with me, Mr. O,” I said. “All of the Big Problems of the Universe that we’ve been worrying about lately have the same basic theme; it’s survival.”
“As an opossum, besides worrying about becoming someone’s supper, what’s the hugest, most terrifying danger that keeps you up up nights, or whenever it is that opossums are supposed to sleep?”
“Climate change,” Mr. O said, without hesitating. “Whether you live in somebody’s backyard, like I do, or in an actual house, like certain privileged dogs, no one is going to survive if Earth turns into Mars.”
“Precisely,” I said.
“It’s getting harder and harder to ignore,” Mr. O said. “The wildfires in California, melting glaciers in Iceland, double hurricanes in the Gulf, rising sea levels in the Ocean State. Deadly heat, and not just in Death Valley. And if we don’t turn things around 10 years or less, we’re toast.”
“You’d think all of us – Yellow-headed Blackbirds, South American Crab-eating foxes, Red State Republicans, Barbados Black-bellied sheep, Norwegian Forest Cats, stray dogs from Missouri, Yellow-dog Democrats, North American opossums – just wouldn’t let that happen,” I said.
Mr. O agreed: “By what we all know by now, you don’t need to be a Red-whiskered Bulbul to understand the urgency of reducing greenhouse gasses, becoming carbon neutral.”
“I’m not sure I follow you there, egghead dog,” Mr. O said.
“You know the old saying,” I said: “‘It’s the economy, Stupid.’”
“Whoa, no need for name-calling,” he said.
“It’s a political cliché left over from a the last century,” I said. “Simply speaking, Humans who vote care more about jobs than anything else, especially jobs that pay enough to support families.”
“Why would animals care whether Humans have living-wage jobs?”
“It’s about survival,” I said. “I live with Humans; you live in their backyard. If they have jobs, they can earn enough to paint our house, keep the refrigerator full and pay my vet bills - you should see the size of those.”
“I get it,” Mr. O said. “Humans are part of the complex food chain and all that. So whether you’re a naked mole rat from Massachusetts, or a South American anteater, you want full employment.”
“Which will be undone by artificial intelligence, robots, automation,” I said.
“The end of work?” Mr. O asked. “How can Humans earn money if they don’t have jobs?”
“That’s one of the Big Questions,” I said. “And nobody has an answer.”
SPEAKING OF HUMANS,” Mr. O said, “The poor things, they’re dropping like flies all over the world because of the coronavirus pandemic. You’d think that if they want to continue as the ‘dominant species’ they’d do something about Covid 19.”
“Like I said, it’s all about survival,” I said. “Trump’s screwed up the pandemic like he has everything else. He didn’t listen to medical experts, so the country got off to a fatally slow start in dealing with it. There’s still no national policy to control it; Trump promotes unproven remedies, discourages facemasks, pushes for fast development of a vaccine, by which he means, in time for him to boast about before the election, which might mean it won’t be safe.”
“So, we’re back to the election,” Mr. O said.
“Whether you are talking about getting control of a pandemic,” I said, “keeping the Post Office going, making sure someone doesn’t hit the nuclear launch button, making college affordable, welcoming asylum seekers, repairing Interstate bridges, reforming police, promoting better race relations, telling the truth, Trump has made everything worse.”
“But what’s the election have to do with survival?” Mr. O asked.
“Everything,” I said. “This election is all about survival. If Trump is reelected, he’ll keep on what he’s been doing for what seems like the last three-and-a-half centuries, which is tearing the country apart, which is why so many people are worried that democracy may not survive.”
“What’s different this time?” Mr. O said.
"TRUMP HAS DONE TERRIBLE things to government,” I said. “He appoints cabinet members who are the proverbial foxes in the chicken coops: an education secretary who despises public schools, a housing chief who doesn’t care about the poor, an attorney general who protects the president’s buddies and goes after his enemies.”
“Playing the devil’s opossum here,” Mr. O said. “You have to admit there’s been a lot of push-back. Trump’s been impeached by the House; judges have blocked his orders; the media has been all over him, cataloged his lies, tracked his tweets. His own sister is on tape calling him a liar who ‘has no principles. None.’ And Republicans are creating hilarious attack ads.”
“The big threat,” I said, “is that Trump has exposed the weakness of the Constitution and brought the country as close as it’s ever come to one-man rule. Our democracy was designed as a system of checks and balances – the Congress, the Courts and the presidency keeping each other from having too much power.
“But Trump has cowed the Republican Senate into doing whatever he wants, including appointing hard-hearted judges – so that he is coming close to controlling all three branches. And with the Senate exonerating him after he was impeached, there’s nothing to hold him back if he and his Senate sycophants are reelected.”
“Which is why you say the election is about the survival of democracy?” Mr. O asked.
“I’m hardly the only one who thinks that,” I said. “A second term for Trump is curtains for the climate, curtains for the economy, curtains for public schools. If Trump wins and Biden loses, kiss the postman goodbye, say so long to peace, justice, science, well-being and democracy.”
“Really, Phoebe?” Mr. O said, incredulously. “Solving all the Big Problems of the Universe depends on whether one guy or the other one wins one election?”
“It’s a terrible coincidence,” I said. “A lot of the Big Problems are reaching the critical point all at once. The United State is still big enough, still important enough to make the difference about whether we go forward or backward.”
“And you’re telling me that if Trump is defeated, that Biden can save the world?” Mr. O said, laughing at the absurdity of the idea that it’s all come to either one old guy named Don, or a slightly older one named Joe, is elected president.”
“I don’t run the world,” I said. “I just think about it.”
“Electing Biden gives us a fighting chance to reverse all the things that threaten our way of life, and ultimately, our existence,” I said. “But our survival doesn’t depend on Joe Biden; it’s actually about everyone else.”
“I thought you said the election is about survival,” Mr. O said.
“It’s about the will to live," I said. "Will we allow our planet simultaneously fry and drown without trying to stop climate change? Will we sit still for a no-jobs economy that gives us no way to earn a living? Will we use democracy’s basic power – our votes – to destroy democracy?”
“Do you think enough voters really agree that this election is about survival?” Mr. O asked.
For a while, I didn't say anything.
"Well?" he said.