May 18, 2018

By now, you have probably heard that my congressman, Rep. Mo Brooks, challenged climate scientist Philip Duffy of the Woods Hole Research Center with the notion that sea level rise may be just a result of falling rocks instead of greenhouse gas emissions.

"Every time you have that soil or rock or whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise, because now you have less space in those oceans, because the bottom is moving up," Brooks opined at the Wednesday hearing of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

Of course, that is utter nonsense. But it is exactly the sort of fake folk wisdom that makes conservatives in Alabama's 5th Congressional district so happy with Mo Brooks.

Since 2010, when he was elected to Congress on the Tea Party wave, I have talked to Mo Brooks in person and interviewed many of his supporters. All of them emphasized his total commitment to conservative, small-government values. As an example, more than one of them has cited a particular anecdote from his days on the Madison County commission.

You see, the county waste collection fee was due for a $3/month raise. That this was during the period when the entire garbage business was transitioning to plastic wheeled bins and automation, so it's not like the garbage cartel was just ripping off ratepayers.

But Mo Brooks found it intolerable. He demagogued that $36/year fee hike, demanded justification, held hearings, and obstructed passage. In doing so, Brooks made himself a hero to local conservatives.

Which is not to say that Brooks had succeeded in lowering the price of garbage collection. Madison County residents were still hit with a $2.50/month fee hike, so Brooks had only saved households about $6 a year.

But his ardent supporters were not really worried about money. Instead, Brooks was upholding a key principle of conservative politics, playing to the right wing gut, and they ate it up.

For if you truly believe that taxation is theft, and that said theft must not benefit anyone who does not share your values or is not like you, then it does not matter what the tax is, or what it supports. You just oppose the tax, full stop.

Mo Brooks has pandered to this visceral hatred every time I've seen him talk. During his 2010 campaign, Mo Brooks would discuss immigration with everyone he met; then, when he spoke to a group, he would always say how everyone he met was eager to talk about immigration.

Brooks was hardly the only Republican running on an anti-immigration platform in Alabama during 2010. Upon seizing control of both chambers in the state house for the first time in 136 years, the very first priority of Alabama Republicans in 2011 was to pass HB 56, a draconian anti-immigration bill they called the "Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act."

Because God forbid any (white) citizen should pay a single farthing of tax money to collect the garbage of an undocumented immigrant. See how that works?

Mo Brooks is exactly the sort of person who, when presented with overwhelming evidence of shrinking ice and rising temperatures, demands that we count all the rocks falling in the sea first before we draw any conclusions that might lead us to spend one thin dime on solutions to rising seas.

It's not just that Brooks disagrees with the science of global warming. The thing that really freaks him out is the word "global," and that is key to understanding why he became so popular with white, rural voters in Alabama's 5th congressional district.

Huntsville had changed a lot by 2010, becoming the fastest-growing city in the state, with a thriving black middle class and new immigrant communities. Many white Madison County residents envied this success and resented the new diversity. The whole world had come to take the jobs, the food stamps, the health care, and the free garbage collection, all at their expense.

Before he became Donald Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions was the only senator openly calling for reduced legal immigration. Before Trump held his first big campaign rally in Alabama, Mo Brooks was a leading advocate for ending immigration diversity programs. Sessions is a climate change denier. Brooks is a climate change denier.

This conservative tribe has had enough of interdependence and borderlessness and global economies. They would put a stop all this nonsense about a shared responsibility for the planet. Madison County Republicans are tired of being the world's garbage dump when the world is rightfully their garbage dump, thank you very much. Pinching pennies is how you pander to them; counting rocks is how you relate.

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