William Safire was a conservative speechwriter who served both Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon; it was Safire who coined the ‘nattering nabobs of negativism‘ phrase that worked so well for Agnew. For many years, Safire wrote a column titled On Language* for the The New York Times and it was always entertaining and informative, on language at least. Oh, that column was about much more that language; Safire was a clever one and a brilliant writer who would use the topic to serve up a sickening dollop of his conservatism but I never swallowed a mouthful of that stuff. I went for the writing and the wit, the container, if you will.
In these difficult times, when I find myself confronting a national epidemic of illiteracy, I often think of Safire, especially on a day like today, when I encountered a word of particular power. The word is Resilience. It’s is defined as the ability to recover from misfortune or change; a substance, like rubber, is resilient in its ability to absorb the energy of a blow and then to release that energy as it recovers its original shape. Say what you want about our President, Donald Trump, (and at times I’ve had a lot to say about that individual) you must give him credit for his resilience. Less credit though, for his divisiveness.
Trump ran on his appeal to an enthusiastic minority with some very strongly held beliefs but his star-power endowed him with cross-over appeal. I don’t want to get mired in an analysis of the last election now but let it be understood that he was able to split the Republican Party and divide the electorate into warring factions. Today, many of his supporters do not endorse his opposition to the idea of Climate Change, the term under which scientists collect several natural processes that involve the warming of the Earth and the concomitant changes to the Environment. Trump has dismissed Global Warming as “a hoax.”
It’s no secret that the upper echelons of the Trump Administration comprises a congeries of short-sighted, money-grubbing privateers and when they sing the praises of Reconstruction of the Infrastructure, a popular song these days, it’s to the accompaniment of a cha-ching! chorus of cash registers. Hell and Highwater are coming, and we’re going to have to rebuild America, our roads; our bridges; our railway lines; water distribution systems and our electric grid. The Climate Deniers want to eschew environmental considerations both in the design and construction of these essential elements of the national infrastructure. The scientists and their more level-headed fellow- citizens are advocating caution and foresight and speaking of Climate Resilience. They want to build an infrastructure that considers the expected changes in things like the sea-level and the frequency and severity of storms.
But some of these advocates, considering the broken and divided condition of the political body, have suggested that all mention of Climate Change be dropped from the discussion and that the way forward is to consider Resilience as a common sense element of design. Using the word, ‘Resilience’ isolated from the divisive phrase ‘Climate Change’, has been effective in helping local governments to move past political confrontations and to take effective action to solve local problems. In Miami, where sea-level rise is wreaking havoc with the water-supply (sea-salt leaking into ground-water) and the tourist industry (as beaches get washed away and basements flood),
“Creative local leaders have navigated this dilemma by translating the thorny political question of climate change into the palatable language of resilience. In 2015, Miami established its first Sea Level Rise Committee … .The committee emphasizes the effects, not the causes, of sea-level rise when “mak[ing] recommendations to the City Commission for increasing the City’s resilience to rising sea levels.” Even the resolution establishing the committee omits any reference to climate change (City of Miami 2015City of Miami. 2015. “Miami City Commission.” Resolution Establishing the City of Miami Sea Level Rise Committee, R-15-0072.http://miamigov.com/sealevelrise/docs/R-15-0072SeaLevelRiseCommittee.pdf.).”
Seems like a good way to get a useful conversation going. Find the common ground and work together from there.
I’m all for Resilience. The way things have been going for me lately, I need it.
* I’ve tried to create a link to the Times archive of Safire’s work but it might be behind a paywall.