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Rosenblum writes: "I should be in the Mediterranean now tracking refugee flotillas and Mafia fleets poaching the last bluefin tuna. But my back porch, where the birds and the bees duke it out over drops of water, offers an alternate view of a world facing endgame."

Joe Biden. (photo: Andrew Harnik/AP/Shutterstock)
Joe Biden. (photo: Andrew Harnik/AP/Shutterstock)

Our Looming Referendum

By Mort Rosenblum, Reader Supported News

20 October 20


UCSON — I should be in the Mediterranean now tracking refugee flotillas and Mafia fleets poaching the last bluefin tuna. But my back porch, where the birds and the bees duke it out over drops of water, offers an alternate view of a world facing endgame.

America’s referendumb will determine soon whether sentient citizens can rescue democracy from an unhinged megalomaniac who ignores its Constitution, sides with its enemies, and encourages people to die in droves for his own political advantage.

Donald Trump praises terrorists who plotted to behead a governor and armed militias bent on civil war. He embraces QAnon candidates who believe Democrats torture and eat children in satanic rites. With Hitlerian tactics, he has assassinated truth in America.

Joe Biden, he thunders at rallies, should be jailed for running an “organized crime family.” And so, even now, should Hillary Clinton.

Yet that’s not the worst of it. If he thwarts global action against climate collapse for four years more, we will near the tipping point. As T.S. Eliot foresaw a century ago in “Hollow Men,” the world we know would end not with a bang but with a whimper.

This is not apocalyptic doomsaying, simply observable fact. Only the time frame is in doubt. Soaring temperatures shred Earth’s ecological web. Oceans rise, storms rage, forests burn, crops shrivel. Crocodiles and cockroaches will survive, but humans won’t.

Meantime, as the lone superpower committed to personal freedoms and human dignity cedes its dominant role to China, Russia, and despotic regional powers, Americans increasingly need survival training to venture out into much of the world.

Arizona, a crucial swing state, is a telling vantage point on how America got to be where it is today, ripe for a bombastic con man devoid of scruples or human empathy.

I bought this place in the 1980s to settle in eventually after roaming the world, rootless as a hydroponic tomato. Covid-19 planted me here for a while ahead of schedule in an altered state that has changed beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations.

Back then, Jacqueline Sharkey, as perspicacious as journalists get, sat on my porch and explained what she’d just seen taking root in Central America, where Ronald Reagan’s “freedom fighters” and rightwing generals were shaping corrupt, vicious societies that today force so many people to seek asylum at our border.

I saw that worsen in 1989, reporting on CIA recruits who sent cocaine to Homestead Air Force Base in Florida on the same aircraft that brought them arms. Mitch McConnell blocked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from holding anyone to account. I moved on, but Jacqueline kept watching the evolving process.

During the Reagan years, she saw David and Charles Koch set out to shape kids’ minds with a long-term strategy to reshape society. They targeted local school boards across America, then funded state legislators who appropriate funds and approve curricula.

“Rightwing thinkers and politicians developed a plan for getting as much control as possible of all levels of government,” Jacqueline told me. “By starting at the grassroots, they could control what young people learned — and did not learn.”

Civics and geography were distractions; critical thinking was dangerous. They wanted a work force with basic skills, while private schools and elite colleges shaped a ruling class. Later, they paid for libertarian philosophy departments in American universities.

Early on, they targeted the University of Arizona, where I returned each winter from Paris to teach international reporting. One year, I had to move my office in the Latin-American Studies Department. The Kochs’ Freedom Center colonized the whole floor.

Before David Koch died in 2019 with a fortune of $50.5 billion, he said his plan achieved more of its aims under Trump than in all the years since Reagan. He scorned Trump’s antics and isolationism but saw him as a useful tool for conservative control.

Dumbed-down schools, social media, and partisan broadcasters that blanket rural areas update Abraham Lincoln’s dictum: You can fool lots of people all of the time. When Trump says “socialism,” his cultists think Stalin, not Social Security or Sweden.

Long-time Arizonans are leery when Trump evokes herd immunity; they know what happens when crazed stupid beasts stampede. But they fear godless commies coming for their guns. Newcomers demonize “Mexicans” who have been here for centuries.

Polls show the state leans blue, but voters may be swayed by protests across America, which Trump’s zealots provoke into violence. Phoenix suburbs are rock-ribbed Republican. Biden-Harris signs prevail in Tucson. But there are plenty of others.

The other day, I drove out to a hilltop in the Tucson Mountains I sold long ago while in France. The realtor described the buyer as “a Border Patrol guy.” He had built an imposing home, gated and topped with an enormous American flag.

I couldn’t read the huge red banner beneath it, so I drove between two stone pillars for a closer look. It said, “Trump.” I slammed my jeep into reverse in case anyone opened fire. Unnecessary perhaps, but that’s the mood as our referendumb plays out.

Martha McSally’s fight to keep her appointed Senate seat epitomizes today’s politics. She is a fierce ally in Trump’s war on healthcare and preexisting conditions but claims the opposite. She touts her Air Force past while trying hard to cut veterans’ benefits.

Her preposterous assaults on Mark Kelly would be laughable in a society that deals in facts. Kelly, a combat pilot and astronaut, turned to successful business ventures to support his ex-congresswoman wife, Gabby Giffords, shot in 2011 by a deranged Tucsonan.

Transparent deception is the new norm. Long after Tony Fauci called out Trump for twisting his words in a campaign commercial, the ad still runs unchanged. Clumsy splicing has Fauci saying that Trump could not have done better against Covid-19.

With so much at stake, the national discourse mires in the weeds over domestic issues — healthcare, the Court, race relations, police reform — which all depend on a united opposition against legislators and governors who allow Trump to run amok.

But Democrats quarrel over where Biden stands on their specific issues. As all of this plays out on the TV indoors, the real world’s most pressing needs are plain to see from my back porch.

Those honeybees that dispute water rights at the hummingbird feeder are called Africanized or, unkindly, killer bees. They’re not a threat if you let them be. If you mess with them, they’ll chase you in a giant swarm for a half a mile.

One could make much of that metaphor: African-American bees brought across an ocean without being asked now asserting legitimate equal rights. But I’m not touching that. Look instead at the larger picture.

All species, Homo sapiens included, are interlinked with variations and overlaps. Nature pays no heed to manmade laws. This is the stuff of endless discussion. But as Americans cast the most crucial votes of our lives, this is no time for polemics.

Police who murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis touched off pent-up righteous outrage across America against systemic brutality toward off-white Americans. Pro-Trump thugs turned peaceful protest into violent clashes, which Republicans now exploit.

That triggered a national focus on identity politics. Kamala Harris is a well-qualified candidate for vice president. But she is also pegged as an Indian-American black woman whose Jamaican father says his forebears owned slaves. Nothing is simple.

In Biden’s ABC Town Hall, a young man wanted evidence he wasn’t racist because of an online interview in May with a guy named Charlamagne tha God. “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump,” he said then, “then you ain’t black.” Most people missed the rest: “Look at my record, man.”

Was that a gaffe, an insult, or just Biden banter? That can be hashed out after November, along with all other domestic issues. If Trump is turned loose to add more heat in a world on the boil, nothing else will matter.

From my porch, I can see pines in the Catalinas, where we skied in winter and camped by mountain streams in summer. Lightning-sparked fires just burned 120,000 acres of forest, dried to tinder by 20 years of drought. We need to get our priorities straight.

Mort Rosenblum has reported from seven continents as Associated Press special correspondent, edited the International Herald Tribune in Paris, and written 14 books on subjects ranging from global geopolitics to chocolate. He now runs

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