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Trump Lit the Match for an Attempted Coup, But Decades of Misinformation Supplied Fuel

The dangerous attempt at a coup of the Capitol didn't happen in a vacuum. A culture of misinformation — even from those who should know better — has played a role in distancing too many people from the realities our country faces, including climate change.

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces, as they storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021.

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces, as they storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

This week’s violent invasion of the Capitol by pro-Trump insurrectionists was the latest and starkest example of the damage caused by decades of right wing conspiracy and misinformation campaigns. A straight line runs from the deregulation and consolidation of the media in the 1980’s which gave rise to Fox News to the conspiracies about the Clintons in the 1990’s, through 9/11 “trutherism” and Obama-era “birtherism,” to the unhinged belief by about a third of Americans that the 2020 election was “rigged and stolen” from Trump. Trump’s actions have not occurred in a vacuum; they are a symptom of a right wing that has relied on lies and conspiracy to undermine our democracy and threaten our collective future. 

Trump Lit The Match, But The Fuel For Insurrection Was Building Up For Decades

While Trump lit the match by inciting the thousands gathered in support of his lies to riot and sack the Capitol, the fuel for the fire was built by decades of lies spread by right wing elected officials and media. Now, significant segments of the population do not believe basic facts. In a poll taken in December, 72% of Republicans did not trust the 2020 election results. When such a large segment of the population disregards the legitimacy of our democratic processes, the system cannot function.

The only way to combat these false beliefs is to address them head on, boldly embrace the truth, and expose and hold perpetrators of misinformation accountable for the situation they created. That is why it is so important that Speaker Pelosi and others in Congress engage in a full investigation of how the sack of the Capitol was allowed to happen, pursue all measures to remove Trump immediately, expel complicit Congress Members, and hold others who contributed to this accountable.

That’s not enough, though. 

The Distorted Lens Behind The Coup Attempt Has Long Affected Other Urgent Matters 

The warped view of reality that permeates large segments of our society regarding the election is mirrored in other spheres, from the spread of COVID-19 to racial justice. And significantly for the future of all people living on our planet, climate change. 

The overwhelming scientific consensus is definitive: climate change is real, it’s caused by human activity, and it’s escalating out of control. It has been proven to supercharge fires, hurricanes, droughts, and floods that have killed or displaced millions of people and caused hundreds of billions of dollars in economic damage already. And we know that runaway climate chaos will ensue if we do not take dramatic, bold action now to move off fossil fuels within a decade. 

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Despite this objective reality, there is division and confusion about what we should do.  The fossil fuel industry and their allies in the right wing media and Congress have waged a well-documented, multi-decade campaign of climate denial. They promote junk science to sow doubt about the fact that human activity is warming the planet. They greenwash their dirty products as clean and sustainable. And they promote false solutions like “clean coal,” “renewable natural gas,” carbon taxes and trading schemes, and carbon capture and storage, all of which help pump carbon into the air while securing oil and gas industry profits. 

Many Democratic Leaders Have Also Added To Confusion And Inaction On Climate Change

While the right wing has fully embraced junk science denying the human impact of climate change, large segments of both Republican and Democrat elected leaders have embraced these false solutions in order to accommodate their funders in Big Oil and Gas and Wall Street. By embracing  schemes and false solutions,  they give people a false belief of what’s necessary to address this existential crisis. They leave people vulnerable and unprepared for the harsh reality that’s coming and they put our climate on a path to runaway chaos. 

To rebuild our democracy and avert the worst of climate change, our elected leaders must fully embrace reality, be clear about who’s responsible for harm and hold them accountable, and level with the American people about what it will take for us to work together to address these existential crises. 

We Must Demand Leaders Operate From A Place Of Truth In All Matters

From a climate perspective, this means it’s time to stop enabling the fossil fuel industry, stop pretending that we can continue to have both fossil fuels and a livable planet, and rapidly develop and implement a plan to ban fracking, shut down dirty power plants and pipelines, and initiate a fair, just and robust transition to 100% renewable energy now. 

The attempted coup at the Capitol was a jarring wakeup call to everyone who cares about our democracy. But how we move on needs to extend far beyond exorcising Trumpism. We need a media, politics and policy program rooted in reality. The future of our country and planet depends on it.

Mark Schlosberg

Mark Schlosberg is the Organizing Co-Director for Food & Water Action. Follow him on Twitter: @mschlos

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