National Commentary

The Year of the Fatally Absurd

Never did we consider the world so sane and normal during the two terms of President Obama. Not until recently, when the sheer madness of the Twitter-happy Infant Terrible of the White House since January has spun the nation and much of the world on its head. This is like Alice in Wonderland, and while the altered perception of that author accounted for it, it remained in the realm of fantasy. This world we live in now is quite reality-based and unprecedentedly dangerous.

The U.S. is under siege from multiple sides. From the west comes the new danger that an H-bomb on a missile can reach our shores. From the east comes the month’s second deadly hurricane. From within comes the danger of a government shutdown, an instant trigger for another Great Recession. Then there is the willful move to unsettle and potentially expel almost a million of the nation’s young, skilled and motivated “Dreamers.”

True, the current president can’t be blamed for all this in the short span he’s been in charge. But it’s been years of the same kind of very bad policies he represents that can be singled out.

Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma have and will wreak a level of destruction on the human infrastructure of this nation as has never been seen before. This is the result of years of ignoring warnings about the consequences of inaction in the face of overwhelming evidence of climate change, and the current White House continues to elevate climate change deniers into important policy making agencies.

As the Washington Post’s Robert O’Harrow Jr. documented this week, taxpayers have been subsidizing – by way of tax exempting – multi-millions in efforts to quash legitimate climate science by “non-profits.”

It has also led to ignoring what could have mitigated the impacts of these latest and worst weather catastrophes, such as policies to limit the development of impervious surfaces by such things as requiring porous alternatives.

It has also led to terribly misguided development priorities, as the Post’s Kevin B. Blackstone has documented this week under the headline, “Houston Spent on Stadiums But Not Dams,” a story strangely relegated to the sports section.

According to Blackstone, in the last 20 years, Houston spent $1.2 billion, including $605.5 million in public taxpayer money, on new stadiums and arena for football, baseball, basketball and soccer, while waiting until just two years ago to begin expending a meagre $72 million in federal money on the repair of two critically eroded dams in the area. Also, plans forwarded by the news site ProPublica for massive floodgates at the entrance to Galveston Bay or at a location closer to Houston to protect the region from storm surges, were ignored, as was the Houston Chronicle’s urgent appeal last year for using federal funds to protect the city from flooding of its bayous.

We await with Hurricane Irma how this same trend will contribute to the misery in Florida and wherever else it may plow, and who’s to say it will stop there? Juan and other named catastrophes are getting queued up. The climate change threshold factors have obviously been breached to introduce new levels of radical weather which may now become the “new normal.”

Who can say that anything can turn this trend around at this point? But emergency steps are required on a global stage. Next to that, investment in the kind of infrastructures to mitigate impacts to come cannot be delayed. That would involve a lot of money and resources and, by the way, create a lot of jobs.

It has been a sad reality in the U.S. that the only meaningful new large scale construction has gone to stadiums and prisons, reminiscent of the old crumbling Roman empire and its mass slavery and “bread and circuses” distractions.

President Obama sought to reverse that trend with his “stimulus” programs to kickstart a recovery from the Great Recession. But too soon the Republicans stalled that effort and began turning the nation back to its pre-Recession priorities.

Moreover, the breakdown in trust and goodwill from America’s allies in the last year has been stunning, and with this president, who knows what’s next?


Nicholas Benton may be emailed at