While San Francisco alternately grieves the death of Mayor Ed Lee and schemes its next moves, I’m missing out on the excitement, watching from afar in Cuba.
My column is on hiatus for a few months because I’ve done the most on-brand Nato Green thing possible by departing for Cuba. My wife is doing her medical anthropology Ph.D. dissertation research, studying Cuban practices of medical and scientific innovation, and the kids and I are tagging along.
In November, the Chronicle ran an article that criticized our current cohort of supervisors for focusing too much on mundane district issues without a bold vision. The article almost exclusively quoted men for dispassionate expert analysis of The City. (If you’re a reporter in need of a hot take on politics, but there aren’t any women in your contacts, please email me for a long list of suggestions rather than returning to the same old sausage fest.)
The Chronicle needs to get its story straight. It spent the 2000s dragging progressive supervisors for neglecting the serious business of governing and their constituents, rather than pursuing a “nanny state” and empty symbolism. Supervisor Eric Mar was mocked about Happy Meals while more recent similar efforts to tax soda and regulate flavored tobacco were not.
On many fronts — like The City’s medical plan covering transgender health, the plastic bag ban, divesting from sweatshops and sanctuary city itself — our progressive supervisors anticipated and shaped national trends. On the other hand, I somewhat agree with Chronicle but think the problem it identifies isn’t a local one.
From my perch 90 miles away from the United States, what I’m most struck by is the smallness of political ideas at every level. Politics may be the art of the possible, but the possible keeps getting simultaneously more dramatic and more stupid.
Politics are always petty, but the failure of our current system to meet the challenges before us is starker than ever. Our political debates are reduced to tribalism, with lofty rhetoric hiding behind nihilistic policies of destruction on the right or technocratic tinkering to ameliorate calamites from most Democrats.
What if, instead of the posturing we have now, we began political conversations by asking what it would take to actually solve the problem? What policies, however ambitious or unrealistic, would be necessary to fix it?
Today, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are worth more than the bottom half of the U.S. population. At some point, claims that market incentives motivate innovation and entrepreneurship become grotesque. If turning all the billionaires into mere millionaires could pay for free college, affordable housing and clean water in Flint, Mich., wouldn’t we all take that deal in a heartbeat?
Anyone who says they need $1 billion instead of $900 million is a sociopath who needs to wash some dishes and pipe down.
Right now, I’m on an island that will be shrunken by the sea in a few years, thanks to climate change. Socialism in Cuba didn’t stop capitalism everywhere else. Maybe the CIA didn’t need to try 600 times to kill Fidel Castro; Exxon was doing it for them. Meanwhile, the Caribbean and the Gulf Coast are still recovering from multiple hurricanes of the century. And California is still burning.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse found increased efficiencies in just two horsemen: climate change and inequality. Smart people say those two keep getting more catastrophic and threaten to drag down all of civilization. Our politicians aren’t responding with the urgency or agenda appropriate to a global systems failure.
There are people who know what’s necessary to deal with our existential threats; it’s just nobody who is in charge of anything. I’m using my sojourn in Cuba to reflect on how I can help our politics rise to the occasion history has violently placed before us. I hope you all figure it out before I get back.
Nato Green is a comedian, writer and union organizer. His new stand-up comedy album, “The Whiteness Album,” comes out in January.