Skip to main content

Why are the billionaires always laughing?

Because they know the corporate media will never call bullshit on their bullshit.

Why are the billionaires laughing?

It’s easy to laugh when the corporate press treats you as a glorious success instead of the epitome of a broken social order. They laugh because they know the corporate media prefers to fawn over them rather than hold them to account.

Today, we ask you to support our nonprofit journalism because we are not impressed by billionaires flying into space, their corporations despoiling our health and planet, or their vast fortunes safely concealed in tax havens across the globe. We are not laughing.

We are hard at work digging out the truth. Please support this independent journalism today by donating to our critical Fall Campaign. We cannot do it without you. Thank you. -- Craig Brown, Co-founder

Support Our Work -- Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Every donation—large or small—helps us bring you the news that matters.

A young activist holds a sign during a rally for action on climate change on September 20, 2019 in New York City. Thousands of young people across the globe are participating in a day of protest calling for urgent action to fight climate change in what organizers are calling the Global Climate Strike. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A young activist holds a sign during a rally for action on climate change on September 20, 2019 in New York City. Thousands of young people across the globe are participating in a day of protest calling for urgent action to fight climate change in what organizers are calling the Global Climate Strike. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Questions "Too Puny" for Our Dire Circumstances

The unanswered question is whether we have the political will to do what is required to prevent Earth’s climate from spiraling out of control.

David Orr

After four years of presidential malice and incompetence, a Trump-incited insurrection, two impeachments, and a pandemic what else could go wrong? Many things actually. Just below nuclear war is the growing threat of a rapidly destabilizing climate. The 45th president and his enablers wasted four years that we did not have to waste to avert the worst outcomes. Instead, they diverted the USA down into a fact-free rabbit hole of tweets, QAnon, FOX, Newsmax, and Sinclair news—each spreading lies that fed on gullibility and political cowardice. Meanwhile back on planet Earth here is what we know.

Climate change is entering a new and more dangerous phase. The primary cause is the burning of fossil fuels. A hotter more capricious climate will cause economic, political, and social chaos and cascading systemic failures worldwide. Because of the long residence time of CO2 in the atmosphere and the massive amount of latent heat now stored in the oceans—matters of physics and chemistry—this is not a short-term crisis, but a “long-emergency” measured in the time required to re-stabilize the climate system and restore Earth’s energy balance. Geoengineering the atmosphere would be, at best, a planetary version of Russian roulette. Our failure to respond is attributable in large part to the power of unprincipled and unaccountable money to override the public interest. Perhaps we still have time to avoid catastrophic warming but we have none to spare.

Can a grossly unequal, quasi-democratic society, that long ago ceded much of its power to corporations, summon the discipline, solidarity, compassion, discernment, and practical wherewithal to confront the climate challenge ahead and remain a democracy?

We know too, that our failure to forestall the worst-case outcomes resulted from leaders who did not lead, public institutions that did not act, media that did not inform, social media that pedaled conspiracies, and ideas inadequate to the systemic challenges posed by a de-stabilizing climate and  deteriorating ecosystems. The consequences include larger and more frequent storms, killer heat waves, longer droughts, new diseases, rising seas, and massive fires with more to come. Unchecked, these will cause famine, energy shortages, future pandemics, economic collapse, domestic terrorism, authoritarianism, and nasty collateral effects. As in the COVID-19 pandemic and hurricanes, millions will need help from the Federal government—one weakened and disparaged for decades by those believing “government is the problem, not the solution.” 

The unanswered question is whether we have the political will to do what is required to prevent Earth’s climate from spiraling out of control. Can a grossly unequal, quasi-democratic society, that long ago ceded much of its power to corporations, summon the discipline, solidarity, compassion, discernment, and practical wherewithal to confront the climate challenge ahead and remain a democracy? Unlikely I think in large part because as Rev. William Barber puts it: “our questions are too puny for our circumstances.” So when the fever of Trumpism breaks, as it will, and after we do the obvious things to repair damaged institutions of democracy, what else should we ask that is appropriate to our circumstances? Of many possibilities, here are a few:

1. Can Americans plan for the long-term? Can we rebuild cities, farms, transportation systems, industries, and electrical grids powered by sunshine and solve multiple problems with smarter design and better technology.

2. Can we create a resilient, fair, and sustainable 21st century economy that harnesses the vast reservoir of talent, energy, and creativity of 331 million Americans including a new generation willing to repair, rebuild, and restore the nation’s infrastructure, lands, waters, and forests. Why should we not create the 21st century equivalents of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration?

3. Why not update the Constitution? What does “original intention” mean if it does not start with preserving a habitable planet? If the founders knew then (1787) what we now know about the Earth works as a physical system, how would they have written a Constitution for a world of leads and lags, stock and flows, and positive and negative feedback loops? Why do we select justices to the Supreme Court who know a great deal about the law but are ignorant of its effects on the Earth?

4. Why not restore the integrity of our public language? How did words like “conservative,” “liberal,” “patriotism,” “public service,” “taxation,” “rights & responsibilities” become unhinged from reality? What does it means to “take my country back”? What does that mean to Native Americans?

5. If we truly believe that democracy is “the last best hope of earth,” why not educate all citizens to understand and cherish government that competently protects human rights, public health, and the dignity of everyone with malice toward none and charity for all, including posterity?

6. And, did any of the January 6th insurrectionists attend the resulting funerals? Will they comfort the grieving? Will those who incited them—the president, the 140 Senators and members of Congress, the blow-dry pundits on FOX, the radio hate talkers, the QAnon folks hiding in anonymity, and merely the sycophants doing the work of others—own up to the consequences of what they caused? What will the inciters do with the money made by sowing lies? Will those so adamant about liberty without responsibility be present when the consequences arrive? Or will they just shrug and move on? Where will they go? Where will America go? Where do the arsonists, lynchers, deniers, haters, evaders, and warmongers go in the cold light of consequences?

So many questions, so little time. 

*quoted from Rev. William Barber’s talk at the State of American Democracy Conference” Oberlin College, November 17, 2017.

**Paul Sears Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Oberlin College. Co-editor, Democracy Unchained (New Press, 2020)


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
David W. Orr

David Orr

David W. Orr is the Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies at Oberlin College. He is the author of numerous books, including "Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse" (Oxford, 2009). And is co-editor of "Democracy Unchained" (The New Press, 2020).

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Schumer Endorses 'Inspiring Community Leader' India Walton as Buffalo's Next Mayor

The U.S. Senate majority leader's move comes as some key New York Democrats refuse to back the democratic socialist.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Who Will You Throw Overboard?' Manchin Targeted for Trying to Sink Democratic Agenda

West Virginians gathered at the senator's yacht to demand that he stop blocking the "popular and needed" Build Back Better package.

Jessica Corbett ·


'We Shouldn't Do It at All': Manchin Admits He's the Enemy of Democrats' Ambitions

The right-wing West Virginia Democrat and fossil fuel investor has previously confessed his intent to quash his own party's sweeping $3.5 trillion Build Back Better package.

Brett Wilkins ·


After Getting 'Stealth Bailout' During Pandemic, US Corporations Try to Kill Proposed Tax Hikes

"When it's time to finally put workers first, big businesses are spending millions to maintain their advantage and preserve the status quo," said Kyle Herrig of Accountable.US.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Disgraceful': Just 9 Republicans Join With Dems to Hold Steve Bannon in Criminal Contempt

The vote "reveals just how far the Republican Party has fallen" since Trump took control as GOP's de facto leader, said one pro-democracy advocate.

Jon Queally ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo