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In the following text, what does it mean by "can't it at least be over a real problem?"

Climate change. Most scientists — and nations — see it as the mother of all crises. Mr. Trump’s approach thus far: champion fossil fuels and, when the weather gets chilly, tweet a joke about how the nation could use more global warming. Compromise on how to address the climate crisis will be hard to come by. But if the nation’s leaders are going to have a showdown, can’t it at least be over a real problem?

My translation: If leaders are committed to tackle climate change, it can be over a real problem.

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  • It's referring to the fact that top officials in the government have had highly public confrontations and "showdowns", including shutting down government services, over a variety of things that the author of this piece does not consider "serious enough" to warrant that level of provocation and response; the author says that if there's going to be a big political confrontation, it should be over something that the author considers to be a worthy issue, like climate change. – Hellion Feb 5 at 14:01
  • It is confusing, but I suspect it's saying that if we're going to have a fight, can't it be about a real problem such as climate change rather than the fake "border crisis"? – Hot Licks Feb 5 at 14:06
  • Thank you Hellion and Hot Licks, and the others for the useful answers. – Mankak Feb 5 at 23:59
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I think the author of the text means to say that if world leaders are going to clash, let it at least be because a legitimate reason and not because of Trump's provocative nature. The word"showdown" refers to war or maybe a state of international tension, which is a completely unnecessary reaction to one man's stupidity.

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Context: the United States just came out of the longest government shutdown in its history. This shutdown was caused by the president refusing to sign a budget that did not include billions of dollars to fund a wall on the border with Mexico. The author of the editorial writes,

One certainty: There was not — and is not — a border emergency meriting the infliction of such pain and damage, or the waste of billions on a futile wall.

The difficulty in interpreting this text comes in large part from the author eliding quite a bit.

A wordier way of making the same point may have looked like: "Compromise on how to address the climate crisis will be hard to come by. [It will likely cause a showdown. Showdowns are difficult to bear b]ut if the nation’s leaders are going to have a showdown, can’t it at least be over a real problem [like climate change, instead of a fake problem, like the lack of a wall spanning the entire US-Mexico border]?"

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You are commenting on what is known as a 'rhetorical question'. It is a way of saying that showdowns like this OUGHT TO be held over serious problems, rather than non-problems. It is obvious, even from the context provided in the question that what is meant is not that climate change is not or might not be a real problem but that the question of whether climate change is really occurring and whether (by the way) it is in fact human-made and so human-preventable is no such a problem: it is scientifically proven. From the context, the writer is saying, in other words, that instead of arguing over the non-problem of the reality and cause of climate change, we should all be concentrating on climate-change or at least on some "real problem", such as how to slow or arrest it (i.e. over which genuine disagreement and so argument is sensible).

In the same way, the frazzled parent, finally driven beyond endurance by the quarrelling kids in the back of the car might exclaim: "Can't you kids just stop shouting and be quiet for one minute?" The exasperated parent is not asking about their capacity to keep quiet, and, if the children want to drive their irritated parent into a true paroxysm of rage, all they have to do is to say "yes, Dad/Mom, we can" and carry on after exactly one minute!

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Showdowns among global leaders are a costly thing. To fight about something big excuses that cost, to some degree.

I'd expect the phrase 'can’t it at least be over a real problem' as referring to something the author does not believe to be a big problem, so the excerpt you showed leaves me puzzled (as the quote seems to show that the author considers global warming to be a legitimatly big issue) - Is there somehting preceding this, where the author quotes something trivial that gets an inordinate amount of attention?

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