One of the more disturbing aspects of a potential Trump administration for me personally is the concern over climate change and the fact that Trump initially claimed that the phenomenon is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I wonder if he thought that the Chinese had actually caused the climate to change as a part of the conspiracy to perpetrate such a hoax, or if he meant that the Chinese simply made up the data somehow and are in that way creating a fictitious tale about climate change. Regardless of the fact that we now have to guess at what outlandish and remarkably thoughtless tripe this guy is going on about in his 140 character trumpery, the fact remains that we have no godly idea what his statements mean in relation to policy. This is what I am finding to be a major problem with the man, but moreover in the way the media handles it. Climate change, or global warming is tragically a wedge issue, and for me it speaks to the larger problem of the fundamental divergence in how we look at the world, how politicians fail to act, how we leave ourselves vulnerable to threats and dangers that warrant consensus and demand action, and how we essentially fail to press the ignorant into obscurity where they belong.
One idea that is fully articulated in my physical body is the outrage I feel for the wholesale decay of GOP politics in this country, but I have trouble putting into words the idea that in the face of the fundamental denial of reality that now characterizes the right, the backlash against such dangerous ideology has been so largely ineffective. I have to ask how we have arrived in a place where basic truth is even open to ideological debate, and the politicization of these realities only makes that truth more fuzzy, where it becomes somehow negotiable and malleable. Climate change is a term that I would assert is the linguistic political mutation of a concept that should be so much more dire in its connotation and impact, but one can see where the “we’re all going to die” issue is better replaced by more friendly nomenclature. Global “warming” might, to the less astute, imply a nice fuzzy feeling, not striking the sort of imperative to pay much heed. The use of language to influence the consciousness of American voters is deceptive and terrifying. Since the consensus at present, and until we can reprise with a more useful term, is to use ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming,’ we are stuck with it. Most unfortunately, climate change as a social issue is mistaken for something to believe in or not believe in. This is a fatal error, and one that must be quickly reckoned with and dispensed with. Objective reality is not something that is open to belief. I might not believe you when you tell me the sun is 5,777 degrees kelvin, because that seems really hot, despite the fact that I have no concept of a kelvin. I won’t believe that the sun is also about 2.7 million miles around, either. I mean, that little ball is so small in the sky. But people with more inclination to investigate the sun itself have used things like science and instruments and tools and basic physics to measure it, so when presented with these facts, I in my utter amazement, must re-evaluate my world view. The sun is hot, and really big.
Admittedly it is very difficult to keep up with the outrageous shit being pulled by the Trump administration, for every day some new maneuver adds to the list of things that require measured response. One wild and tragic decision after another seems to pile on to the litany of potentially fatal and confusing actions, it is seemingly impossible to keep up. Each deed seems to load the cargo heavier and heavier, such that we appear to be chasing the momentum of this insanity rather than putting on the brakes. And until some force stands in the way effectively, this is how the operation will proceed. It is critical that the web is untangled, and that the steps toward madness are halted and retraced to the point where the train itself became unhinged. I have observed the reactions, from surprise to outrage, but I have yet to see someone or something put a stop to the madness. The first place I would look is to the government itself, but they are handicapped. The opposition to Trump, in terms of physical votes in the House and Senate by party alliance, is nearly powerless. The next place might be his own party, where I always wonder where the voice of decency and reason must lie, but I never see that. The next hope for a switch on this crazy train is with the press, whose duty to uncover truth is under tremendous threat, both from a public that is weary and mistrusting of mainstream media, and from the Trump administration itself.
If you study history or government in school, you learn about certain concepts in the abstract. The significance of ideas can often be lost as abstractions because they lack connection to empirical reality. The idea of the First Amendment to the Constitution when taught as an abstraction might seem quite a different notion until one can see actual threats against free speech, or free assembly, or a free press. The idea of free expression seems like a good notion, a friend to creative types and Instagram users, but to fathom its necessity as an operating tenet of a democracy is perhaps lost in a cloud of academics, a mere abstraction without anything grounding it to the Terra-firma of practical application. When you see the First Amendment come under threat, unless our citizenry has a working knowledge of why a free press is so critical to our democracy, it is too easy to undermine, too easy to miss the denigration as it happens, too easy to dismiss or ignore the threat as the structure of our rights sinks away gradually and in a most sinister fashion, like coastal erosion but with our freedom. Trump has made his typically thoughtless and perhaps calculated attacks on the press, and it has been met with derision from his detractors, but unfortunately there is a complex narrative in the country that is willing to go along with the idea that the press is simply a propaganda machine, lacking any credibility, and therefore lacking any utility. The press exists to expose truth where it lies obstructed, to bring sunlight to corruption, to prevent government from acting against the interest of the people it exists to serve. The danger of Trump tweeting that the press and media is crooked and dishonest, and his casting doubt on their veracity and honor only promotes the notion that he is the arbiter and only reliable source for truth. It also makes it very easy for Trump to basically lie about anything that serves his purposes, and this should scare the holy hell out of us. Were he demonstrably honest, this would still pose constitutional threats, but he has demonstrated a propensity for immense mendacity, which is just a bunch of big words to say the same thing as he lies his ass off with such frequency that his trustworthiness among people that know actual facts can’t be polling very high at all. The press must be able to both gain access to, and have the ability to question the actions of those in power for the good of the people. Trump has already started to create an environment where access is controlled and limited, while the press is not showing its teeth enough. Consider the bizarre spectacle on Thanksgiving week when Trump made a great show of going to the New York Times to negotiate in his art-of-the-deal manner a more cooperative relationship with a news outlet that was hurting his feelings by reporting on him. I use the excerpts from the interview to expose Trump as the clueless and dangerous politician that he is, but also to show that the press too often fails to press the man enough to force him to reveal policy and his intentions, as well as to challenge him on those same points:
ARTHUR SULZBERGER Jr., publisher of The New York Times: Thank you very much for joining us. And I want to reaffirm this is on the record.
DONALD J. TRUMP, President-elect of the United States: O.K.
SULZBERGER: All right, so we’re clear. We had a very nice meeting in the Churchill Room. You’re a Churchill fan, I hear?
TRUMP: I am, I am.
SULZBERGER: There’s a photo of the great man behind you.
TRUMP: There was a big thing about the bust that was removed out of the Oval Office.
SULZBERGER: I heard you’re thinking of putting it back.
TRUMP: I am, indeed. I am.
Ok. Not a good start, but perhaps the pleasantry is formality, and perhaps the NYT is placating. The problem I have with treating him like he’s a normal guy ignores the fact that he isn’t. He said outlandish shit all through his campaign and people want to know how crazy he is going to be in the White House. Asking him if he plans to decorate the Oval Office with a portrait of Churchill is going in the wrong direction. We cannot forget that he ran a campaign for office that revealed him to be a threat to women, people of color, Muslims, decency and the constitution. Chit-chatting, I believe, is a waste of time. Cut to the chase. Ask the questions. Get him on record saying something. The NYT staff sort of continues to dance around lightly, and the subject of climate change comes up:
THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, opinion columnist: Mr. President-elect, can I ask a question? One of the issues that you actually were very careful not to speak about during the campaign, and haven’t spoken about yet, is one very near and dear to my heart, the whole issue of climate change, the Paris agreement, how you’ll approach it. You own some of the most beautiful links golf courses in the world …
[laughter, cross talk]
TRUMP: [laughing] I read your article. Some will be even better because actually like Doral is a little bit off … so it’ll be perfect. [inaudible] He doesn’t say that. He just says that the ones that are near the water will be gone, but Doral will be in great shape.
FRIEDMAN: But it’s really important to me, and I think to a lot of our readers, to know where you’re going to go with this. I don’t think anyone objects to, you know, doing all forms of energy. But are you going to take America out of the world’s lead of confronting climate change?
TRUMP: I’m looking at it very closely, Tom. I’ll tell you what. I have an open mind to it. We’re going to look very carefully. It’s one issue that’s interesting because there are few things where there’s more division than climate change. You don’t tend to hear this, but there are people on the other side of that issue who are, think, don’t even …
SULZBERGER: We do hear it.
FRIEDMAN: I was on ‘Squawk Box’ with Joe Kernen this morning, so I got an earful of it.
TRUMP: Joe is one of them. But a lot of smart people disagree with you. I have a very open mind. And I’m going to study a lot of the things that happened on it and we’re going to look at it very carefully. But I have an open mind.
SULZBERGER: Well, since we’re living on an island, sir, I want to thank you for having an open mind. We saw what these storms are now doing, right? We’ve seen it personally. Straight up.
FRIEDMAN: But you have an open mind on this?
TRUMP: I do have an open mind. And we’ve had storms always, Arthur.
SULZBERGER: Not like this.
TRUMP: You know the hottest day ever was in 1890-something, 98. You know, you can make lots of cases for different views. I have a totally open mind.
My uncle was for 35 years a professor at M.I.T. He was a great engineer, scientist. He was a great guy. And he was … a long time ago, he had feelings — this was a long time ago — he had feelings on this subject. It’s a very complex subject. I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know. I know we have, they say they have science on one side but then they also have those horrible emails that were sent between the scientists. Where was that, in Geneva or wherever five years ago? Terrible. Where they got caught, you know, so you see that and you say, what’s this all about. I absolutely have an open mind. I will tell you this: Clean air is vitally important. Clean water, crystal clean water is vitally important. Safety is vitally important.
And you know, you mentioned a lot of the courses. I have some great, great, very successful golf courses. I’ve received so many environmental awards for the way I’ve done, you know. I’ve done a tremendous amount of work where I’ve received tremendous numbers. Sometimes I’ll say I’m actually an environmentalist and people will smile in some cases and other people that know me understand that’s true. Open mind.
JAMES BENNET, editorial page editor: When you say an open mind, you mean you’re just not sure whether human activity causes climate change? Do you think human activity is or isn’t connected?
TRUMP: I think right now … well, I think there is some connectivity. There is some, something. It depends on how much. It also depends on how much it’s going to cost our companies. You have to understand, our companies are noncompetitive right now.
They’re really largely noncompetitive. About four weeks ago, I started adding a certain little sentence into a lot of my speeches, that we’ve lost 70,000 factories since W. Bush. 70,000. When I first looked at the number, I said: ‘That must be a typo. It can’t be 70, you can’t have 70,000, you wouldn’t think you have 70,000 factories here.’ And it wasn’t a typo, it’s right. We’ve lost 70,000 factories.
We’re not a competitive nation with other nations anymore. We have to make ourselves competitive. We’re not competitive for a lot of reasons.
That’s becoming more and more of the reason. Because a lot of these countries that we do business with, they make deals with our president, or whoever, and then they don’t adhere to the deals, you know that. And it’s much less expensive for their companies to produce products. So I’m going to be studying that very hard, and I think I have a very big voice in it. And I think my voice is listened to, especially by people that don’t believe in it. And we’ll let you know.
FRIEDMAN: I’d hate to see Royal Aberdeen underwater.
TRUMP: The North Sea, that could be, that’s a good one, right?
While I don’t want to give analysis of the whole interview, or even what I’ve excerpted, but the gist here is that Trump has an “open mind” on the subject of whether climate change is an actual phenomenon, all while he seems to illustrate his bias that it doesn’t exist. His understanding of the science is so lacking, and his claims of being open minded on the issue seemed to be simply throwing a bone. Most of his statements align with climate change denial, but mostly plain ignorance and stupidity. The hottest day was in “1890-something” when temperatures were 98 degrees, and those “horrible emails” between the scientists. That’s his data on climate change. That informs his expertise on the matter. He jokes about how Doral will be in great shape when the sea level rises, putting Florida coastline into the Atlantic Ocean. Why is there laughter in the room? Why is nobody saying, “that is not funny?” He continues to reiterate his open-mindedness about the issue, all while arguing against it. But the key statement here, that clearly denotes what his policy direction looks like it will be is the cost to businesses. He says in response when asked about the connection between human activity and climate change, “There is some, something. It depends on how much. It also depends on how much it’s going to cost our companies. You have to understand, our companies are noncompetitive right now.” That is the driver of his policy on climate change. The cost to business. We can assume that the cost to business would be significant, and we can assume that such costs would make climate denial (another phrase meaning “we would like to deny the existence of massive threats to human life”) and inaction on the matter convenient. But nobody asks, nobody presses. I think he just made clear his position, and policy would flow forth from that single criteria—what is good for certain businesses is good for America. Saving the environment is not good for business.
Now, we can certainly not be too surprised by Trump’s ignorance on the issue, nor is his policy direction much of a surprise either, but what surprised me was that after the NYT meeting on the 23rd of November, the media widely reported that perhaps Trump was changing his tune about the climate, referencing his “open mind” comments. I think that was an odd takeaway, considering he really did define his outlook solely based on the cost to business. And it’s not a far cry to assume that the businesses he is really talking about are the oil and gas companies with the most to lose from wide acceptance of the climate change data. The point is that the press has to do a better job. Aggressive reporting, getting Trump and his operatives on the record, pressing for follow-up, not allowing subterfuge or deflection—this is what is required. The train cannot be allowed to roll on, for we will become casualties of acceptance. Since the NYT interview, Trump has put up Dave Pruitt, a fossil-fuel whore and climate change denier to head up the Environmental Protection Agency. The train rolls on. It’s already three stops down the line as of this week.
I do not accept, nor will I ignore. This man must be manipulated in the same manner he attempts to manipulate. This man must face the consequences of his inexperience, and his morality. A new age must be born from the ash heap of his administration. I plan to exhort the press to do their job better. I plan to use my pen to shatter the heinousness of this kleptocracy. I plan to act with the organized. And I will celebrate the fall of this vile coup against decency when it finally and inevitably comes to pass.
Want to do something? I am a fan of Wall of Us. They offer weekly actions to stand against Trump. Subscribe to their weekly actions, and do them. If you’re as energized as I am, you will feel better by doing. They put together a Google Doc listing all the US Senators and their stance on global warming, as well as links to their major funding. Call your senators. Call them out if they are climate deniers. Call their major donors. Use the tool provided by Barack Obama to call out climate change deniers at Organizing for Action. And I will see you down the tracks.