Lessons from Beirut

In the aftermath of the deadly Beirut blast that killed or injured thousands of people, if we are tempted to think something similar couldn’t happen here in the U.S, we should think again.

“So, rather than war or terrorism, this blast brings to a head … the deep paralysis, official corruption and unaccountability that Lebanese demonstrators had been protesting in huge numbers for months before the coronavirus pandemic shut them down.”

Sound familiar?

As much as anything, the Beirut “accident” is a story of corruption and spectacular regulatory failure; and the U.S. is headed down that same road at breakneck speed.

Over the past half century, there has been a growing backlash against government regulation in this country, that says regulation is an unnecessary intrusion into private business, ignoring the legacy of death and destruction that caused the country to adopt regulatory practices in the first place just to keep its citizens safe and its natural resources for future generations of Americans to enjoy.

This anti-regulatory bias has sadly come to define the Republican party, once a champion of environmental protection as well as fiscal responsibility. With the election of the most Ignorant president in our history, it has been elevated to the driver’s seat of public policy.

No one likes to submit to regulation themselves, but events as various as the Triangle Shirt Fire, the Love Canal, and the 1929 Stock Market Crash have succeeded in mustering a majority to demand limits be placed on even private industry in the interest of public safety.

Having long chafed under a regulatory system that attempted to protect citizens from grifters and cheats, in his 2016 campaign pitch, Donald Trump vowed to strip away regulations of almost every kind.

This is one promise he kept. 

Characteristically, the Trump administration mocked environmental concerns and characterized science as “elitist,” succeeding in undermining even undisputed fact among the followers of his cult of ignorance.  Apparently, when given the opportunity to embrace reality, a sizable portion of the American people willingly choose to believe the wholly unbelievable.

It was easy to pick-away at the underpinnings of the American regulatory system because he kept us all distracted with a daily pageant of outrage and violation that left little time for more subtle concerns.  

We’ve become accustomed to Donald Trump’s “opposite speak,” in which he characterizes anyone who stands against him as guilty of his own vices.  We’ve come to learn that when he lies, his “tell” is to repeat that lie over and over again and blame “fake news” for obvious discrepancies.

While autocratically grabbing for powers wildly beyond his constitutional scope, he refuses to accept responsibility for anything.

It’s an elaborate smoke screen to veil his uninterrupted self-dealing in fog.  He doesn’t care about anything other than his own preservation and vanity.

 We probably should be grateful that he has gotten so little done in his term as president.  If he had actually undertaken infrastructure “improvements,”  we could be looking at decades of public peril as shoddy workmanship, counterfeit materials and other products of corruption slowly revealed themselves in some spectacular, and possibly deadly infrastructure failures.  As bad as our bridges may be, can you imagine what Trump-era replacements might be like in ten years?

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.