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Opinion: From global crises to demagogues, pondering life at 80 – Austin American-Statesman

I will turn 80 in August. I have seen the best and worst of America in those eight decades.

I watched in awe as Apollo astronauts shot for the moon. I interviewed researchers who made amazing advances in medicine, technology, engineering and clean energy. I’ve seen geniuses develop magical devices like cell phones, driverless vehicles and other technologies right out of science fiction stories I read as a kid. 

Bill McCann is a contributing columnist for the Advertiser.

I’ve seen strangers risk their lives to rescue fellow humans during natural and man-made disasters. And neighbors helping neighbors after damaging storms. And kind-hearted people offering food and comfort to the needy, the elderly and helpless animals. 

But I also have witnessed racism and war, and interviewed parents of teenagers needlessly killed and injured at Kent State. I have seen people blinded by hate threatening peaceful protesters who were marching for women’s rights and racial equality. 

Half a century ago I sat glued to the TV watching congressional hearings as a shocked nation learned about crooks in the White House. Congressional members of both major political parties actively sought the truth. In the end, Richard Nixon quit the presidency in disgrace, thanks to principled Democrats and Republicans.

Last month I sat rapt again watching hearings where I learned details about a would-be despot, Donald Trump, trying every sleazy trick he could — including a coup — to cling to the presidency. Although he lost the election (the results weren’t close), Trump has kept whining, without evidence, that he won, while begging for money from his followers. Somehow, they keep believing his nonsense and he continues to wield political power among Republicans. Many Republican politicians fear that if they stand up to Trump, they risk his wrath and may have to find a real job. So, the enabling cowards sit silent.

Thanks to Trump and others like him, the radical haters are out in force. They are spreading disinformation and lies, with the goal of turning our democracy into a dictatorship by the minority political party. If they succeed, our democracy may not survive. 

They continue to try to distract from real issues facing this country and the world, especially global warming. Whether you believe it or not, the climate crisis is here. It will get worse, especially if we keep dragging our feet over solutions. 

In the early 1970s, I interviewed scientists and wrote about their fears of catastrophic impacts of a warming planet if we did not reduce carbon emissions caused by burning fossil fuels worldwide. As those warnings got louder over the years, some of our leaders downplayed the threat or denied it existed. Many Americans, with their busy lives and big cars, have tried to pretend that global warming isn’t real, or if it is real, it’s too far in the future to worry about. 

But the future is now: killer heat waves globally. Wilder wildfires. Nastier hurricanes. Bigger floods. Melting glaciers. Rising seas. Thousands of species in danger of disappearing worldwide. The planet just had the third warmest June in recorded history, as heat waves set temperature records in the U.S., Europe and Asia. 

Still, we dawdle. Too many of us still believe the foxes in the henhouse — the fossil-energy companies and their kiss-ups in Congress. We need more time, they say. But time is running out.

At age 30, or even 60, I could not have guessed that our country and world would be in such peril. I thought we were smarter. At 80, I could be around to see our democracy fall to demagogues. I probably won’t see the worst of the global warming-induced damage to the planet, however. But my grandchildren and future great-grandchildren, and yours, likely will. What a horrific legacy we will leave them.

McCann is a contributing columnist for the Advertiser. He is a retired journalist and may be reached at Easywriter12345@yahoo.com.

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