Death of Democracy with Adam Serwer | Crooked Media
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June 03, 2022
Death of Democracy with Adam Serwer

In This Episode

Today on Hot Take, Amy and Mary talk with The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer about the future of US politics and how the path to climate justice requires a functioning democracy.

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

 

Amy Westervelt: [AD]

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: This episode was recorded before the heartbreaking mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. So just a heads up that there is a couple of things in our conversation about eco fascism and democracy that might sound a little out of step with the news cycle. It happens.

 

Amy Westervelt: Hey, hotcakes, welcome to Hot Take. I’m Amy Westervelt.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: And I’m Mary Annaïse Heglar. And I don’t know if you know this, but our democracy is in trouble.

 

Amy Westervelt: Yeah. I don’t know what rock you think I’ve been hiding under Mary. But, yes, yes it is.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Okay. Smart ass. It bears repeating. Goddamnit. And we have the perfect guest today to talk about it. Adam Serwer.

 

Amy Westervelt: Yes. Adam is a staff writer at The Atlantic and might be most famous for his 2018 essay, The Cruelty Is the Point. He writes and thinks a lot about the future of democracy, and I can’t wait to talk to him about all of the ways that that intersects with climate.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Me either. I’ve been admirer of his work for a long time, so I’m really excited for this conversation.

 

Amy Westervelt: Me too. So without further ado, I think it’s time.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: It’s time to talk about climate. Welcome. Adam, sir, how are you?

 

Adam Serwer: I’m good. How are you doing?

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, hanging in there and in there? Yeah. We’re really excited to have you on the show. And so while you’ve been really prolific and been writing for a really long time, I think most people probably know you for your essay The Cruelty As the Point, which came out in 2018 and the book in 2021. When you wrote both of those, really? Because a lot has happened in between both amount of time. Did you see the state of American democracy reaching the point that it’s at right now?

 

Adam Serwer: I think it’s very easy to be like, oh, yeah, I totally saw this coming, you know, because it’s difficult to like go back to your mindstate a few years ago. But I do think that at least on election night or as soon as Donald Trump really started running and was a serious contender, I do think that the risks to American democracy were actually quite clear. I certainly wasn’t the only person to see them. I think when someone really starts building a campaign around the exclusion of certain communities from the sort of fundamental rights envisioned in the Declaration of Independence, then I think, you know, that’s a real risk because it’s something that has happened previously in American history. And American history is a long series of events in which people have earned those rights and had them stripped away. And so when you hear someone talking like that, to me it was a familiar echo of these previous periods in American history where there had been a backlash to the expansion of American democratic rights to communities that previously had been denied them. And Donald Trump was a manifestation of that.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Mm hmm. Yeah. I would say for me, I think that I. I expected it to be a lot worse by now than it actually is. I thought we would have, like, a nuclear blast within his first year. So.

 

Adam Serwer: You know, I didn’t think that would happen. I mean, I think obviously it was out of the realm of possibility given some of his exchanges with Kim Jong un early on. I mean, I think the thing that I think people are sort of starting to realize is that, you know, living in an undemocratic society, it’s not like a dystopian movie, right? I mean, people go around, they go out and drink and have fun and have dinner and go to concerts. They live their lives not entirely differently from the way they would in a democratic society. The reality is that there’s not a switch that flips and everything turns into into The Hunger Games. On the other hand, a couple of years ago, there was an attempt to violently overthrow the constitutional order of the government in United States and install Donald Trump in power. And he pursued that goal through several different means in which he was supported, not entirely, but by a significant chunk of the elite of his party. And we are still discovering new ways and new details about that effort. It was a failed coup, so it did not succeed. And so we’re not living under that kind of regime. But the fact that it even happened speaks to the tremendous weakness of our political system at this moment.

 

Amy Westervelt: I wonder I mean, this makes me think about I keep seeing all of this conversation about being in a constitutional crisis in the U.S. And I’m curious what you think about that and whether you think that that Congress, as it’s current currently constituted, is able to kind of deal with that. Like what? I don’t know. What do we do with that?

 

Adam Serwer: No, I was going to say, I think calling it a constitutional crisis is actually optimistic because a constitutional crisis implies a conflict in which two parties have a certain amount of leverage over the other. But I think, you know, based on what we see today, the Republicans are going to take back Congress. They’re going to have control of the Congress, are going to have control of the courts. They’re going to have control of a number of state legislature, glaciers and state governments. With that power, they’re going to attempt to immunize themselves against electoral majorities in the states so that even if Democrats outvote Republicans, they will not be able to obtain legislative majorities in these states such as is already the case in Wisconsin, due in part to gerrymandering and in part to the geographic distribution of Democratic voters in these state legislatures. The Supreme Court, if you read Alito’s draft opinion, one of the things in it is he says pretty explicitly, if you’re a state court, you can’t second guess the legislature, which is it just basically renders the court meaningless. But the point is, you know, when we gerrymander these Republican courts so that they’re election proof, they’re going to be able to do whatever they want. And you, little judge, should do nothing. And so, you know, a constitutional crisis implies in some ways that the Democratic Party has some way to retaliate. But looking at the way the party has responded to the hand it was dealt in 2020, there’s no sense in which it seems to me that the Democratic Party is prepared to contest power in a way that would imply a constitutional crisis. What we’re really looking towards is the possibility of a period of prolonged conservative dominance over a political. A majority that opposes their ideas. But the thing about something like that is, is when a party is in that kind of control for a prolonged period of time, you know, who knows how long that popular opinion majority is actually going to last? It’s not inconceivable. And especially given the economic situation that inconceivable, the Republicans make tremendous gains. And a lot of people who would be inclined to agree with the Democratic Party are apathy out of politics, making the Republicans advantage even greater. This is a very long and I’m sure depressing answer to your question for your listeners. But.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Adam, we talk about climate change.

 

Amy Westervelt: We deal in depression. It’s fine. Yeah.

 

Adam Serwer: Well, you know I just want to emphasize that, like, you know, this situation with the RO, you know, there’s a lot of people who are looking at it like if Ruth Bader Ginsburg had retired and if Democrats had won in 2016, people need to understand that was a that is a project that has been going on for decades. And one thing that Republicans, pro-life Republicans, the conservative legal movement didn’t do was when they lost an election or they accidentally appointed David Souter, who turned out to not be as pro-life as they wanted him to be. What they didn’t do was like, Well, I guess I’m never voting again, or I guess I’m just going to give up on politics. Or I guess I’m just, you know, I’m not going to do anything. They worked extremely hard and lost a lot of fights and kept working for 50 years. It’s one of the great ironies that the Republican Party has turned so sharply against democracy because they actually really good at it and they are in part reliant on this kind of apathy from the left in general, where people are just like, well, if something happens like I’m going to despair, I’m going to give up. Instead, these people get angry and they work for decades to achieve their goals. And I think, you know, if you’re looking at something like Roe, if Roe’s overturned in the fashion that is being overturned, it looks like it’s going to be overturned based on a draft. That’s not a battle you’re going to win in the next election. That’s a long term fight. But of course, you can’t win long term fights if you don’t want to have long term fights. If you if you simply are not willing to have that kind of patience and drive.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Right. With a short term strategy.

 

Adam Serwer: Are we in a constitutional crisis for. I’ve already explained why I don’t think that’s the case, but I also don’t think, you know, nothing lasts forever. And to some extent, if there is a period of Republican dominance, the extent to which that lasts is really dependent on how Democrats, liberals, the left in general respond to it.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: I feel like I haven’t heard the term constitutional crisis since the early days of the Trump administration.

 

Amy Westervelt: Constitutional crises.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Right? Because this is like, oh, we can’t do that, because then we’ll have a constitutional crisis. Like, yeah. And it became very clear in the Mueller probe that folks really didn’t know what that meant. But also thinking back to those early days, I’m remembering how the press covered the early days of the Trump administration and even the campaign, and they kind of really dropped the ball. So I’m wondering for both of you, how do you think the press is doing in covering this topic now?

 

Adam Serwer: You know, Fox News remains the assignment editor for the industry. Fox News is the most popular news channel, but not a lot of people watch cable news. The reality is that is that the entire industry chases whatever bright, shiny object gets thrown out there. And so Fox has an agenda setting power that goes far beyond the physical eyeballs that are glued to the TV set every night. You know, I want to attribute too much power to the press. I think there’s like a lot of other things going on. It’s not just press coverage, but the press is sensitive to perceptions of bias. And one thing that the press really wants, I think the objective press really wants is to win over the trust of conservative voters. And their idea for doing that is to frame things at least as sympathetically as they can while maintaining what they consider objectivity. But that creates an asymmetry, right? Where they feel like they have liberal readers. They can dismiss criticisms from liberal readers, and they have to be very sensitive to criticisms from conservative readers because those are the readers that they’ve lost and the ones that they want to gain back. So there are a lot of asymmetries in the press that are favorable in terms of coverage of the Republican Party, despite the fact that many I think many in the media are secular and culturally liberal and sort of like an urban sense, like they may not go to church much and they may have gay friends, but they don’t have like strong ideological beliefs about the role of government in society or something like that, too, where in the way that Republicans seem to think that creates a situation where they are to some extent not very sensitive to liberal criticism because they know liberals will buy the paper anyway and very solicitous of conservative concerns because they want to win over that trust, which is an impossible task, because part of the way the conservative movement works is that its members are part of their identity, is not trusting outside sources unless that information is favorable. So conservative politicians, Republican politicians, are immune to negative media coverage in a way that Democratic politicians simply are not, because Democratic voters actually listen to what the objective press says about. The people they vote for and they trust their judgments. And so while there is this perception that the media is liberal, that that dynamic doesn’t actually work the way that I think a lot of conservatives think it works. Again, this is not the entire reason for the situation that we’re in right now. I think more than anything else, the macro macroeconomic situation, the issues with inflation, I think those are the big issues driving the political climate for Democrats. I think a lot of people think Republicans have like a kind of dark magic when it when it comes to, like, political issues. And I don’t think they’re unskilled at it. But I also think that if the economic situation were different, if inflation was not so high, but the unemployment rate was still low, if the pandemic had really ended last year the way everyone thought it would at that moment, I think the political situation would look very different. And these attacks that Republicans are doing would not look as effective as they seem to look right now.

 

Amy Westervelt: That’s interesting. Okay, so we’re a climate show, so we want to talk about. How. How climate comes into play with all of this, both in terms of, you know, the ever dwindling chances of passing climate policy and then also in the very real terms of, you know, how the climate crisis exacerbates sort of all of these things. So I’m just curious what you think of that in general, of of where where does climate come into play here and what you kind of see in the years ahead in terms of of any kind of ability to pass policy, but also the ways in which kind of increasing extreme weather events might exacerbate some of the things that are driving the situation we’re in right now as well.

 

Adam Serwer: I want to be careful about you know, I know I’m talking about, you know, dynamics that I see happening based on the politics of the moment. But I want to be careful about making long term predictions. Yeah, I think it’s very likely that at some point when when the effects of climate change really become undeniable, Republicans will switch from denying climate change to a politics of scarcity and how liberals want to take away your nice stuff and give it to blah blah, which is just a terrain in which they’re very, very comfortable. So I think at the moment, as this happens, the fact that they deny that climate change was even happening will just be memory hole. That will just be something that they don’t talk about anymore.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Wait, but don’t we think we’re already there?

 

Adam Serwer: I mean, like, I think there are a lot of people who still call it a hoax, but I think we’re sort of in the process of it’s not a hoax, but it’s the libs fault.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Hmm. Interesting.

 

Adam Serwer: You know, while theoretically you could imagine a universe where it’s like, Oh, well, these people lie to you for years and years and years about what was happening. You shouldn’t trust them anymore. But actually what’s going to happen is they’re going to figure out a way to explain that whatever issues you are suffering because of climate change are actually the result of something liberal. Interesting because it goes back to political identity, not to, you know, rational argument.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: That’s interesting because I feel like we’re definitely already there, like in the in the ways that I listen to the right wing, which is like, I’m not going to lie. I don’t watch Fox News. But what I do like I read the profile on Tucker Carlson that came out in New York Times last week. He wasn’t denying that climate change was happening. He was just making the case that Democrats don’t actually care about it. They’re just using it as an excuse to take things away from you and I. I look at the way that they talked about the Green New Deal and how it was all about like taking away your cars and taking away your hamburgers. It’s all about this politics of scarcity and also the way that they talk about immigration to poison the well against refugees and immigrants. I definitely feel like the right wing is already there in terms like I don’t really hear climate denial anymore. But what I also think is really interesting is the way that QAnon, as a conspiracy theory, has morphed and changed even when Donald Trump didn’t get the presidency again. Right. The lie just changed. The conspiracy just changed. People on the left have been waiting on this moment for like folks on the right to realize that they have been lied to. And I don’t think that moment’s ever really coming or if if it does right and they realize that they’ve been lied to, they’ll just jump to another lie, because at the root of all of these lies is really just white supremacy.

 

Adam Serwer: So I think it’s more complicated than than white supremacy because having talked to these people a lot, they do not think of themselves in that way, like there’s an ideological vanguard in the conservative movement that is absolutely white supremacist, explicitly, but in terms of like the rank and file voters, they actually think liberals are the real racists. Like that’s how they rationalize it to themselves. It doesn’t surprise me that Fox is already sort of pivoting to approaching it in this way. I mean, I guess I suppose I thought they would still be on the whole, climate change is a hoax idea. But I think what’s important about this also is that as far as the Supreme Court is concerned, which you’re going to see and you’ve seen it already with certain issues, what you’re going to see is they’re going to chip away at whatever means the federal government has to regulate emissions. They are foaming at the mouth to narrow the ability of the federal government to deal with this problem. And conversely, you know, they’re perfectly fine making the state the final arbiter of whether or not a woman carries a pregnancy to term. But, you know, allowing the federal government to regulate emissions would be fascism. And that’s is their perspective on it. So it’s not just that there isn’t going to be new policy. It is almost certainly the case that the Supreme Court in the coming future is going to make it harder and harder and harder for the federal government to even deal with this problem using its existing powers. And if you look at the Supreme Court’s decision in the vaccine mandate case for workers, you know, in that case you had an explicit statute with language about, you know, regulating airborne toxins that they just disregarded because they were like, well, you know, conservatives don’t really like vaccines anymore and they don’t like vaccine mandates. So actually, like this law doesn’t say. Doesn’t say what it explicitly says. Mm hmm. These decisions are going to depend far more on my conservative identity, mediated through things like Fox News than they are on. Like what the explicit language of the law says, what the Constitution says. They’re not going to be deciding based on those things, even if their explanations attempt to square their policy preferences with what it says on the page.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, it’s interesting. I’m so glad we’re having this conversation about democracy because a lot of people say our democracy is a la trash fire right now. And did you hear about the circus fire?

 

Adam Serwer: I heard something vague about it, but I did not. I did not. I don’t know the specifics of the story.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: It was in-tents.

 

Amy Westervelt: Oh, no poor Adam has been.

 

Adam Serwer: Wow, that is an impressive dad joke. I really should have seen that coming.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Wait, Back up. Is there a real circus fire?

 

Amy Westervelt: I mean, there could be. It’s a climate show. They’re fires are called all kinds of things. Yeah.

 

Adam Serwer: When you asked me that, I was literally thinking, oh, yeah, there was a fire at a circus. Now, maybe that was just my brain tricking me. I was like, Oh, yeah. Or maybe it was like me like having skim some story on Twitter and.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: There is a literal trash fire in India going on right now in the heat. So thats true

 

Adam Serwer: Maybe that’s maybe that’s what I was I don’t know. I definitely saw like a big news story about a fire. And I was like, I don’t you know, I saw something about it, but I don’t really know.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. We throw in dad jokes once in a while to lighten the mood.

 

Adam Serwer: I’m not against it. I’m a big fan of dad jokes.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: So look out for that.

 

[AD].

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Back to the gloomy stuff.

 

Amy Westervelt: Yes. Yes.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: So the fact that climate action has taken this long to pass, even with the vast majority of Americans supporting it, I feel like that’s evidence that we don’t live in a democracy and never really have. So if Joe Manchin has the power to singlehandedly torpedo climate action, how is this a democracy?

 

Adam Serwer: I’m going to dissent from the view on that. Look, I don’t like the Senate, but the Senate exists and it speaks to a specific structural issue in American democracy, which doesn’t mean it’s not a democracy, but the issue is that extractive industries are very powerful in the United States, especially on a state level, like if your industry, if you represent a state that depends on extractive industries for jobs, then you as a representative of that state are going to be solicitous of that industry. That’s part I mean, that is part of democracy. I mean, I’m thinking about, you know, a lot of people got mad at me for this, but this was like the debate in 2020 when they were asked and Biden was asked something about taxes and energy and he was like, you know, we’re going have to phase out the oil industry, something like that. That really hurt him. I live in San Antonio, which is like sort of the beginning of south Texas. South Texas is this border industry and those extractive jobs. In November 2020, people were looking at how the Rio Grande Valley had trended so strongly Republican. And those were two of the big reasons why. I mean, I think the filibuster is certainly an undemocratic rule, and I would like to get rid of it. But the fact that Joe Manchin, who represents a state that relies on extractive industry and has lots of jobs in extractive industry and is solicitous of those concerns, that does not I’m not sure that that in itself is a threat to democracy. It’s bad for other reasons, if that makes any sense. I think it’s a little different from, say, like the Electoral College, where you can have like an explicit majority of citizens who vote for one guy and then the other guy wins the election.

 

Amy Westervelt: Yeah, that makes sense. I also I mean, I feel like the the partizanship of the Supreme Court is is a bigger problem on the democracy front, too.

 

Adam Serwer: Well, it’s actually it’s representative of the thing we just discussed. I mean, if if if there’s no Electoral College, if Gore gets elected in 2000 or, you know, Hillary Clinton gets elected in 2016, you know, we’re looking at a very different Supreme Court. Then there are very few justices on the Supreme Court who are appointed by a president who won the popular vote. And that’s one of the reasons why it’s so unrepresentative of public opinion.

 

Amy Westervelt: Yeah, yeah, I know. I know that we talked earlier about how, you know, these are these are big problems. And also that, like all the things that we’re seeing now are the result of of a sort of decades long project. Right. That’s not going to go away in one election cycle. But like, I’m curious what you think about the idea that, you know, the U.S. is headed for civil war or there’s going to be some kind of uprising or we’re going to be living in a fascist dictatorship. Any of those things that, you know, you see people saying on Twitter, like, do you think that this is the sort of layered crises that we’re facing right now are things that can resolve peaceably. What do you think the likelihood is of that?

 

Adam Serwer: Yeah, I mean, I think unless a Democrat wins the Electoral College and loses the popular vote, I think violence is unlikely. Mm hmm. I think, however, that the the American tradition of unfreedom is one of semi competitive authoritarianism. Like, I think it’s possible that we could be living in a democracy where, you know, for all intents and purposes, one party is in control for for long periods of time and in most of the country. And where people, you know, like I said, people can can live in a state where, you know, they might actually Democrats might win more votes than Republicans, but the state legislatures and representatives will not be representative of those majorities. And I think for at least the near future, that is going to mean that these representatives do not reflect public opinion. You know, is there going to be a massive backlash to this? I think the Democratic Party is entirely too reliant on inertia. They think if we do something popular, then we’re not going to get in trouble for it. Or, you know, if the economy is good, then we won’t have to engage the Republican Party on their attacks on public goods like public schooling, you know, but the truth is that you have to actively fight this stuff. And to the extent that there’s going to be a backlash to a situation where the people who are in office are unrepresentative of the electorate, the United States, what happens there is people subjective decision. They have to decide if they want to do something about that. And I have yet to see the kind of reaction that would lead me to believe that there is going to be a kind of massive backlash. Over the long term that might actually make the kind of necessary structural changes to American politics to make it more democratic. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. I don’t see evidence of the kind of movement that would need to emerge against this that would actually make those changes. You know, you can really almost see the opposite, that Republicans are far more motivated than Democrats. And so, you know, again, this is just right now, you know, things change. Things are really unexpected. I doubt many people in 2012 thought that. Watching Barack Obama make fun of Donald Trump assume that Donald Trump would be sworn in in 2016. Things can change really fast, but I do not see a movement on the center left that is effective or capable of dealing with the problem that is emerging. I’m not even sure what that would necessarily look like. I just think we don’t see it. And that’s reflected in the political situation that we’re currently in.

 

Amy Westervelt: I wonder I mean, we talk about climate as a global problem all the time, but I think that this you know, some of some of the things that we’re seeing in the U.S. on the political front and on the democracy front are pretty global trends, too. And I’m curious what you’re seeing on that front in terms of, you know, Bolsonaro and Brazil and not quite Le Pen in France. So that’s good. But, you know, it’s it’s just something that we’re seeing. That we’re seeing everywhere.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: I mean, she’s not gone away.

 

Amy Westervelt: Yeah.

 

Adam Serwer: Le Pen got, was beaten soundly, but she also did better than she did the last time.

 

Amy Westervelt: Exactly. yeah

 

Adam Serwer: And the last time she did better than she did the last four.

 

Amy Westervelt: Right. Exactly. So this sort of like creeping, you know, authoritarianism seems to be happening in lots of places. And I don’t know. And like the fact that it’s happening at the same time that the climate crisis is worsening and there are resource issues and natural disasters and refugee crises and all of these things just and a no, it seems like a a heady mix. I’m curious what you. Yeah. What you think

 

Adam Serwer: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, educational polarization is not just an American trend. I’m not a political scientist. So I want to be careful about making judgment calls about why certain things are happening in other countries. I think, you know, the evidence suggests that right wing populism is it offers answers for people who are feeling unmoored in a society that has few fewer certainties than their parents or grandparents societies had. I mean, I think like nostalgia is like an important aspect to this. I think when you look at, you know, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there’s such a fixation on trans people who are my new percentage of the population or that you can see Republicans talking about this crisis with men. I mean, I think there is a gender there’s like a big sort of gender backlash, too, that envisions sort of the gender traditionalism of the fifties as an ideal universe to which people should aspire to return, in part because it gives a very well-defined role for men who may be unsure, you know, not just conservative members, but men in general who may be unsure about their role in a society where a gender is a lot more fluid. And I think that’s something that doesn’t just appeal to men. I think it actually appeals to a lot of women as well. I think there are a lot of women who prefer their men to be manly in a particular way. So I don’t think it’s it’s like it’s just like a bro backlash or whatever. But I do think this sort of gender nostalgia is a huge aspect of this right wing populism that I think is happening not just in the United States, but obviously in Europe and other places.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Mm hmm. Yeah. So what do you think a horse’s number one priority at the voting booth is?

 

Amy Westervelt: At the voting booth? Is that what you said?

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. Yeah. 1, 2, 3. A stable economy.

 

Adam Serwer: You know, I really I was like sitting here thinking it wants to be a shoe in. Like, what are shoes like? I was like, you know, sounds like what I really should have thought. A stable.

 

Amy Westervelt: Stable economy. So good. So good.

 

[AD].

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: So one of the most overlooked elements of the democracy crisis is how it’s influenced by the climate crisis. I think it’s well-documented that people tend to rely on strongmen in times of chaos and uncertainty, and there’s nothing more destabilizing the climate change. Do you think people are trying are who are trying to understand the democracy crisis right now are also thinking about the climate, how the climate crisis exacerbates it? Like, who do you think is doing a good job of making that connection? And that’s for both of you.

 

Adam Serwer: I think whenever is is a young writer, I think is he’s actually quite good at writing about both. I’m hard pressed to think of a specific piece of his that I could be like, You should read this which which connects both. But he does write about both issues very eloquently. My colleague Rob Meyer writes a climate change newsletter. That’s very good. It’s not focused on the explicit connection of climate change to democracy, you know, but it’s a very good climate change newsletter and obviously deals with the political dynamics of climate proposals and policies and stuff like that. I mean, I think, you know, to a certain extent, I mean, like, you know, just to bring it back to Texas after living in the Northeast, the oil companies own this place. Like people think like you have to drive everywhere in Texas just because it’s like, you know, we’re like rugged American individualism and it’s like, no, like these these companies have an interest in making this place as unworkable as possible and having as little public transportation as possible. And just like making it impossible to navigate the state without having a car because they want you to buy their product. You know, again, like it goes back to this issue which, which is, you know, people’s jobs and livelihoods depend on these industries. And then those industries use the power that they have to basically prevent any kind of mitigation efforts for these issues that seem that they are far in the future, even though they are not, because, you know, they’re they have a profit motive. That is a genuine democracy problem. I think, you know, to some extent, when you have a unionized workforce, even though a union may have like a similar motive in terms of wanting a particular industry to do well, I think unions in general can function as an effective check on corporate power. But but I think in general, one of the biggest issues is that these people, these companies have a lot of power. They have a lot of sway over, you know, basic infrastructure questions. And it is possible for them to put the issue of climate change out of people’s minds as something that they’re not going to have to deal with until later. Even though that’s not true, even though your listeners, of course, know that’s not true. I think, you know, that is like sort of a major issue even, you know, going beyond some of the obvious ones, like the fact that you can’t get anything through the Senate without 60 votes.

 

Amy Westervelt: Yeah, I think Naomi Klein does a pretty good job on this front to of connecting climate and and democracy and and policy and and all of these things and just looking at how climate crises in particular, kind of exacerbate other political issues. You know, it’s interesting that you mentioned the like the the way in which the industry really owns certain parts of the country in particular, because I feel like this comes up every year. Well, every every time there’s an election, it comes up around Pennsylvania. And whether whether or not you can talk about regulating fracking in Pennsylvania. And there, again, it’s like I think the latest poll showed something like 70 to 80% of people there are in favor of some kind of regulation, mostly because they’ve had some kind of personal issue with like water being contaminated or property values going down or whatever. But yet the state politicians and the industry are so entwined that like it doesn’t seem to matter what the public wants, which I feel like is a recurring theme in this conversation. I don’t know. I just I guess I guess what do we what do we do about that? Like, what do we how can the public sort of regain some voice in this system? Is it getting rid of the Electoral College? Is it community level stuff, state level stuff?

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: There’s a start.

 

Adam Serwer: I mean, I think obviously, you know, obviously the Electoral College makes the manner of electing the president more democratic. But I think like the problem, as you as you pointed out, it’s not just a national problem. It’s local power. I mean, like last year, we had this big freeze in Texas. And, you know, I was in here in the middle of my house with my two year old daughter. And it’s 50 degrees in the house in Texas. And like it was like this this insane discourse about how the big problem was that the wind turbines froze. But that wasn’t the issue. The natural gas pipelines froze. And then when it came time to be like, let’s make sure that we get these companies to actually winterize their systems so that this doesn’t happen again. All they wanted to talk about was wind turbines because they wanted to deflect attention to extractive industries. These companies didn’t necessarily want to spend the money to winterize their stuff. They wanted to change the subject. Like, I’m genuinely not sure how you deal with that problem because it’s not just cigar chomping executives in a back room. It’s like all these people who have jobs working for these people who are just, like, trying to feed their families. Mm hmm. That’s a much more difficult problem. And to some extent, I’m not sure how much you can deal with it without, like, a fundamental shift in, like, what employs people in a given state. Right. So like, you know, people talk about the green transition as it’s important in another way in that people are not reliant on these industries for their livelihoods. They can have good jobs doing something else. And therefore these industries have less sway over the democratic process, both in the inside game and in the outside. Yeah.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. I can’t hear you talk about the Electoral College and talk about, like, all these different ways that people are employed by the oil and gas industry without also thinking of slavery. You know, because I also live in the South, I live in New Orleans, and I see these these oil refineries and how they’re, like, situated just like plantations used to be like in almost in the exact same places. So I think in a lot of ways, the climate crisis and the hollowing out of our democracy could have been averted if we created an actual democracy after the abolition of slavery or, you know, maybe with the founding of the country or maybe not family the country at all, because that’s colonialism. But anyway, do you think we’d be in this increasingly dire climate crisis if reconstruction had been successful in reshaping democracy and society?

 

Adam Serwer: I don’t know. I can’t I can’t really answer that question because the issue is, you know, democracy doesn’t always produce the ideal outcome. Mm hmm. You know, in some cases, you know, maybe we would actually be dealing with the climate crisis better if we were a dictatorship, because then you wouldn’t have to. You know, there would be one guy who would tell everybody what to do. That’s obviously not ideal. Nobody wants that.

 

Amy Westervelt: Mm hmm.

 

Adam Serwer: The point of democracy is that people have a say, and sometimes. And when people have a say, sometimes they make the wrong decision. And so, you know, it would be better if reconstruction had not failed, if we had a more representative democracy, if the Electoral College didn’t exist. But it’s not clear to me that if all those things were true, we would also have the optimal policy outcome. Yeah. You know, I don’t think it necessarily follows sometimes people make bad decisions. People are flawed. They don’t always do the right thing.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah. Well, I mean, I’m going to take the liberty to also take a crack at this question. So I’m of the opinion that in order to have the fossil fuel industry become as strong as it became, you had to put that fossil fuel infrastructure somewhere. And it’s deadly at the at the site of it. That meant you had to put it near people who didn’t have a lot of power. I mean, you had to disenfranchize. Mm hmm. So I’m of the opinion that if we had had a representative democracy, you wouldn’t have been able to to do that. And I’m also of the opinion that, like, if money is being kept out of politics, when climate change became apparent as a problem decades ago, the oil and gas industry would not have been able to poison our political system to prop itself up. And so I’m also of the opinion that, like in order to dig up oil all over the world, you had to have oil, colonialism. And that meant you had to think that certain people’s lives didn’t matter and you had to structure allies, white supremacy in the way that that we have both here and around the world. So, yeah, I don’t think we would have had the climate crisis the way that we do today, like the United States is not the world. And the Industrial Revolution didn’t even start here. Start it somewhere else. So that’s not to say that everything that happened here would have influenced the world the way that it does today. But I just don’t think it would look the way it does. And I think there’s a very good chance we wouldn’t have the climate crisis. I don’t know. Amy, what do you think?

 

Amy Westervelt: I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean, the point you made about like being able to cite fossil fuel infrastructure in places where people don’t have power is is really key because like. Because that’s really tied to. Yeah, that’s obviously true. Yeah. Like, that’s really tied to what we were just talking about. Right. Is that then because it’s not just the infrastructure, it’s also that then those are the companies that people in those places work for. So so you have the people who are most directly impacted most immediately, who have the the most kind of grievances with the company are also reliant on that company. I think my my only hesitancy is just whether or not reconstruction working would have stopped that, because I’m just not sure. I’m not sure that like, you know, I certainly would like to have seen what would have happened had reconstruction worked. I’m not not at all saying it doesn’t matter, but I’m just not sure what like what system would would give people the the power to fight capitalism, I guess, is what we’re talking about.

 

Adam Serwer: Yeah. So I think Mary makes a very compelling argument that the structure of fossil fuel industry in United States. Took a particular say because of the nature of racial capital capitalism, United States. It’s also possible that a a more social democratic type system, one with stronger organized labor and other countervailing forces, might have limited the ability of the fossil fuel industry to have the influence it has over our politics. I think that’s a perfectly fair argument. I’m skeptical that it would have eliminated the problem only because, as any suggest, like if we have a fossil fuel industry and we have cars and and airplanes and all this stuff, there’s no way to sort of avoid the fact that that industry is going to be influential. It’s possible that the racial stratification that you’ve observed and I’m talking about, which is very real, it might not have been in the same way in our society, might have been able to deal with it better for the reasons that you describe. But I’m not sure that we would have avoided this problem altogether.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Yeah, I mean, I definitely going back to the idea of like maybe a dictatorship would have been better. What concerns me about dictators.

 

Amy Westervelt: Like let me.

 

Adam Serwer: Say I’m not saying it would have been better.

 

Amy Westervelt: Adam Serwer wants a dictator.

 

Adam Serwer: Adam Serwer – pro dictatorship.

 

Amy Westervelt: Breaking!

 

Adam Serwer: Theoretically, hypothetically, in a system where you don’t actually have to consider the needs of stakeholders, you can make it. You could be more decisive. But the point is that, you know, democracy has other virtues that are more important than that. All right. Anyway, now that we have a disclaimer and everybody knows that I’m not proposing a dictatorship, please continue. Sorry.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: But. But I do like my instinct is that you can’t have climate justice without democracy, but you can’t have climate action. And you wind up in a situation where it’s like where China, they have, you know, slave labor making solar panels and things like that. So I do think it’s really critical to save our democracy, to save our planet, and to save democracy, period, not just here but around the world and to create it where it doesn’t exist. If we actually want climate justice, because even like what we want is a livable future, not just a stable planet. Right? Like, I think that it’s impossible to get back the old world that we had before, but it is possible to make something better. And that’s. That’s what I think of as the goal.

 

Amy Westervelt: Yeah. Yeah. So I have a question. Adam, why did Eminem prefer the Johnson and Johnson vaccine?

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: This is Amy’s first dad joke ever. This is history right here.

 

Adam Serwer: I give up. Why? I don’t get it.

 

Amy Westervelt: You only get one shot. Do not miss your chance to win.

 

Amy Westervelt: You only get one shot.

 

Adam Serwer: Eminem.

 

Amy Westervelt: You know, the song?

 

Adam Serwer: When you said M&M’s, I thought you meant the candy. Not the. Not the rapper.

 

Amy Westervelt: You only get one shot. Do not.

 

Adam Serwer: That’s good. No, I like it.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: I’m so proud of you.

 

Adam Serwer: You know, I was thinking about, like, the the M&M mascots that like M&M’s that have, like, arms and legs. The sexy M&M that they got rid of because of wokeness or whatever, you know.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Oh, they killed her? She’s dead?

 

Amy Westervelt: The sexy. The sexy M&Ms.

 

Adam Serwer: I don’t know that that actually happened. It’s like, what? What?

 

Amy Westervelt: Oh, my God.

 

Adam Serwer: Kind of a society are we living in where, like, people don’t want to have sex with a candy mascot? I mean, it’s really political correctness run amok.

 

Amy Westervelt: I don’t know. Tucker Carlson warned us that it was going to happen. That’s all I know.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: I am so glad I missed this moment. I’m so glad I missed this.

 

Adam Serwer: Oh, yeah. There was totally a thing, by the way, that was totally a thing about the green man and Eminem not being sexy anymore. I did not imagine that. It seems like a fever dream, but it was real.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: We have seen so many strange moments over the past four years. Oh, my God. Or six.

 

Amy Westervelt: That was real. That’s not a dad joke. That’s real. Yeah.

 

Adam Serwer: By the way, do not Google Green, Green M&M.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Do not?

 

Adam Serwer: Do not see what comes up when you do that.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Okay. I am absolutely going to do that right this minute. Oh.

 

Adam Serwer: I warned you. I warned you. I said, don’t do it.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: And I did it. I straight u did it. Wow

 

Adam Serwer: Listeners do not do not do this trust me. You cannot unsee what you see.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Wow.

 

Adam Serwer: When you Google.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: No, I saw it. So you guys need to see it. So Google. It.

 

Adam Serwer: The internet is is a dark place.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Is very much so. Oh, my gosh.

 

Amy Westervelt: But anyway, well.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Thank you so much for having this conversation with us.

 

Adam Serwer: Thank you so much for having me. Thank you for talking to me, letting me rant for the dad jokes. Sorry I like kazamed myself into a false memory on your show.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: No, worries.

 

Amy Westervelt: Very good. Very good. Awesome. Thank you so much. Have a good rest of your week.

 

Adam Serwer: Thank you. Take care.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Hot Take is a Crooked Media production.

 

Amy Westervelt: It’s produced by Ray Peng and mixed and edited by Jules Bradley. Our music is by Vasilis Fotopoulis. Thimali Kodakara is our consulting producer and our executive producers are Mary Annaïse Heglar, Michael Martinez and me, Amy Westervelt.

 

Mary Annaïse Heglar: Special thanks to Sandy Girard, Ari Schwartz, Kyle Seglin and Charlotte Landes for production support and to Amelia Montooth for digital support.

 

Amy Westervelt: You can follow the show on Twitter at Real Hot Take. Sign up for our newsletter at Hot Take Pod.com And subscribe to Crooked Media video channel at YouTube.com slash Crooked Media.

 

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