Al Gore on Trump: ‘Despair is just another form of denial’

Jul 27, 2017 by

The former vice president sat down with ThinkProgress to discuss reason, refugees, and the future of American democracy.

Al Gore during a 2007 book signing. “The Assault on Reason” was rereleased in March with new material on President Trump. CREDIT: AP/Kevork Djansezian

Former Vice President Al Gore has a message for progressives who are in despair over Donald President’s Trump’s daily assault on reality, climate, and democracy: “We don’t have time for despair. We have work to do. Despair is just another form of denial.”

But the founder of the “Climate Reality Project” is not in denial himself about any of the challenges we face: “Just as the next 6 or 8 months are going to be particularly challenging for American democracy, the next several decades are going to be a test of character and courage for humanity.”

I had a chance to sit down with the former vice president after attending a screening of his new movie, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,and talk about some of the challenges we face in the era of Trump, whom Gore calls “an absurdist president.”

In 2007 you wrote a book called, The Assault on Reason, and you probably thought — we all thought — that 2007 was the height of the assault. But we’re now at a completely different level where we don’t even talk about reason. It’s an assault on reality.

Well, that’s why I named the NGO the Climate Reality project. But, yes, we have an absurdist president now, and it is a challenge for all of us. I think of the months ahead are going to be particularly challenging because we may see this come to a head in the next six months … but we’ll get through it.

Looking at the deeper, underlying causes for how we have this rise of unreason, a willingness to just spout obvious untruths one after another, I’m hopeful. As I’ve laid out in The Assault on Reason — that just as the big transition from the information ecosystem built around print to the one built around television led to unhealthy changes in our democracy — a similar transition is underway now from the ecosystem of broadcast to the ecosystem of the internet. Even with all its obvious glaring problems, it is nevertheless re-empowering individuals with the ability to use the best available facts — and cogent reasoning, too — to win adherence to a point of view that is passionately held.

And so this year, for the first time, aggregate advertising revenue on the Internet surpassed revenue on broadcast channels — and I see that as is a hopeful sign. Yes, there are all kinds of problems with these echo chambers and Russian hacking and invasions of privacy, but there are some self-correcting mechanisms. And there are now measures being taken by some of the content providers and distributors, and I look forward to the day when we once again we lift up reason to its proper place in American discourse.

One of the hardest things for climate activists and progressives is to stay motivated year after year, when there are so many disappointments and you’re fighting for almost lost causes. As I say in my review of your movie, there are not many people who’ve been through as many highs and lows as Al Gore, and you’ve remained very optimistic, even with the election of Donald Trump and his pulling out of the Paris climate deal. So, what would you just say to my readers or any progressive who is in a little despair over the way things are going right now?

We don’t have time for despair. We have work to do — despair is just another form of denial.

The late Nelson Mandela said of the anti-apartheid movement, “It is always impossible until it’s not.” Another great saying that I remember frequently is from the late economist Rudy Dornbusch. He said, “Things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.”

We see that with these technology exponential curves, but we see it in politics, too. If somebody told me even five years ago that in the year 2017 gay marriage would be legal in all 50 states and accepted, honored, and even celebrated by two-thirds of the American people, I would have said, “I sure hope so, but what are you smoking?” I wouldn’t have thought it possible — but it happened, because that debate was boiled down to a binary choice between right and wrong. And that’s the point were getting to right now.

We saw that 2 or 3 million refugees from Syria turned politics upside down, not just in this country but across the world. You talk about Syria in the movie and the impact of the drought, and we’re talking about the potential for tens of millions of refugees —

Or more.

What will have to do to deal with what’s coming?

The Max Planck Institute and others are now saying that some significant regions of the Middle East and North Africa may become uninhabitable because of the rise in both the temperature and humidity. And that will increase the flows of refugees. Africa by mid-century will have more people than either China or India, and by the end of the century more people than India and China combined. And subsistence agriculture is being hit harder than any other vital system in our civilization, because of the timing of the rainfalls, the concentration and timing of the big [extreme weather] events, and the problems of drought. Right now, the U.N. has warned of the worst humanitarian disaster since 1945: 20 million people on the verge of famine. So, we’re going to have to prepare for it, and that means insulating our structures of governance against the kind of disruption that we have seen in some European countries.

UK Independence Party pro-Brexit poster features “Syrian refugees being escorted along the Slovenian border during the migrant crisis last October. CREDIT: UKIP

The Brexit vote was partly affected by this. The most powerful billboard was one showing endless lines of swarthy-looking refugees on the border of Europe. This is a major, major challenge. Just as the next six or eight months are going to be particularly challenging for American democracy, the next several decades are going to be a test of the character and courage for humanity.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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