Monday, December 3, 2018

Beware the Ides of March: Climate Denial and Trump's Demise

Trump's climate denial is part of a maniacal litany of lies that may help bring his presidency to an end. The facts are beginning to coalesce and they are painting a convincing portrait of a corrupt and dishonest president with delusions of grandeur.

Trump resists as best he can maligning truth tellers and spouting self-serving narratives. He savages fact based sources of information like science and the media, while trying to portray himself as a victim of a "witch-hunt". However, two reports strike at the heart of this pessimal presidency, one has already been released and the other, the most damning of all is expected to drop in 2019. To all but his minions, Trump's predicament is a direct corollary of his own actions.

It is hard to talk about Trump's fall from grace because he has never been popular. Even if you discount Russian involvement, in the 2016 election he lost the popular vote by a record setting 3 million ballots. His victory was met by widespread protests and his 60 percent disapproval means that a solid majority of Americans think he is doing a poor job as president.

After losing the House of Representatives in the midterm elections of 2018 things are rapidly going from bad to worse. The full extent of Trump's corruption is slowly coming into view including evidence of collusion with Russia emerging from the yet to be released Mueller probe.

Another report also concerns this president. In a powerfully ironic twist of fate, a report was released on Black Friday that may prove to be instrumental in Trump's demise. On November 21 Trump tweeted about a cold spell as though this contradicted the science of global warming.

Trump's tweet disparaging climate science was timed to coincide with the release of a damning climate report from his own government. After casting aspersions on global warming he quietly released the report on the busiest shopping day of the year in the hopes that the public would not notice.

Trump's efforts to hide the research seems to have backfired foreshadowing Mueller's report. Trump has reason to be concerned about the climate report because it flatly contradicts his climate denial and makes it emphatically clear that global warming is caused by human activity. It also says this is primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels. This report follows on the heels of others including the latest from the IPCC. These studies expose the gulf that separates the Trump administration's climate revisionism from the facts.

Trump dismissed his own government's report stating, "I don't believe it". Others in his administration were slightly more sophisticated in their efforts to undermine the study. Some took a page from the president's own playbook and lied about its methodology and conclusions.

In the Washington Post interview by Josh Dawsey, the president made a series of statements that are either incoherent, factually incorrect or both. When asked about why he is skeptical about his government's report on climate change he touted his "high level of intelligence," (as though saying it actually makes it so). He also deployed his double-down deception strategy by repeating the unrelated lie that the president of Finland, Sauli Niinisto, told him that wildfires could be prevented by "raking," (Niinisto says this never happened).

Trump's interview went from dishonest to surreal when he talked about dirty air from other countries, small oceans, and the possibility of a coming ice age. Many people have described Trump as an "idiot", this interview makes it is easy to see why. Texas A&M University atmospheric sciences expert Andrew Dessler told the Post that Trump’s remarks were "idiotic".

Trump denies the veracity of climate change for political purposes. However this comes at a price. His refusal to accept the facts about global warming lends credence to the widespread perception that he is an unrepentant liar who makes things up whenever he encounters inconvenient truths.

In the context of Trump's mendacity the implications of this report extend way beyond the hallowed halls of power in Washington. His actions have tragic real-world consequences.
"Climate change is not a political football. It’s an existential threat to our nation and our people," says NRDC president Rhea Suh. "It’s time for every public servant, and every citizen, to read this report and think about what it means for our prosperity, our security, and our very way of life. It’s time for those who represent us at the state, local, and federal levels to lead the fight against climate change or get behind those who do. It’s time to cut our carbon pollution today so our kids don’t inherit climate catastrophe tomorrow."
Trump's corruption is hardly a secret. We already know from a New York Times investigation that Trump lied about being a self-made millionaire. It also appears that he is guilty of tax evasion. Once Democrats assume control of the House at the start of 2019, it is expected that they will subpoena his tax records. Many predict that we will see more tax evasion and evidence of other even more serious criminal malfeasance.

The naive optimism of those who once asked that Trump be given a chance is being replaced by the painful realization that this president really is as bad as he appears and probably even worse. Trump is on the attack launching salvo after salvo on Twitter.  He is also pulling all the levers afforded by executive privilege.  However, the situation continues to deteriorate for the president as the facts are coming to light and a growing number of people are lining up to oppose him. In an unprecedented move to curtail anti-Trump sentiments a federal ethics agency warned civil servants not to mention "resistance" or "impeachment".

Trump is an international outcast who has been isolated from the beginning of his presidency. Over time his isolation has only increased. Climate denial has factored heavily in this isolation. First there were warnings from international leaders not to abandon the Paris Climate accord, then there was condemnation after he failed to heed these warnings. Most recently he has found himself alone in his climate denial at the G20 summit in Argentina.

His climate denial has made Trump a global pariah and this is rapidly becoming an issue at home. Extreme weather events and a deluge of data are all making climate denial harder to countenance.Changing perceptions of global warming suggest that the country is moving away from this president. This may leave Trump as the only one left holding the ball, or to use a better metaphor, he will be left without a seat when the music stops.

As hard as it might be to envision as we languish under the shadow of this administration, the end of Republican climate science denial may be in sight. Republicans may soon realize that their strategy is becoming politically untenable.

As improbable as it might sound, Republican legislators may be forced to accept the facts about climate change. As reported by Joe Romm in a Think Progress article, Shepard Smith, one of the few serious anchors at Fox News, called out the Republican party for its climate denial and failure to accept climate science.
"The climate science is accepted science.," Smith said. "Heatwaves are getting stronger, floods are growing larger, wildfires are obliterating more of America’s landscape — it’s because of climate change that’s largely man made. Our burning of fossil fuels is damaging planet Earth and the time to stop it is running out. This is not a political issue, it’s science. But some have made it political — especially Republicans."
So why are Republicans so reluctant to embrace the truth? Max Boot is a conservative who knows something about denial strategies. Boot says the reason why conservatives wont admit they are wrong is because they are beholden to the fossil fuel industry. Boot is a foreign policy adviser who has been involved with the campaigns of some well known Republican presidential hopefuls including John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Marco Rubio. He is also a writer and editor who has worked for the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal.
"I admit it. I used to be a climate-change skeptic. I was one of those conservatives who thought that the science was inconclusive, that fears of global warming were as overblown as fears of a new ice age in the 1970s, that climate change was natural and cyclical, and that there was no need to incur any economic costs to deal with this speculative threat. I no longer think any of that, because the scientific consensus is so clear and convincing," Boot wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial. "I’ve owned up to the danger. Why haven’t other conservatives? They are captives, first and foremost, of the fossil fuel industry...It is a tragedy for the entire planet that the United States’ governing party is impervious to science and reason."
Republican lawmakers are increasingly faced with stark choices. They can either stand up to a bully or stand with a president who is increasingly perceived as a danger to the interests of the United States. Once the Mueller probe is released, GOP legislators may have very little choice. If they refuse to embrace the facts and confront this president's malfeasance, they will risk their jobs and their reputations.

The vast majority of Americans now support climate action and this is a problem for a president who is also the world's leading climate denier. According to a Monmouth University poll, 8 in 10 Americans think that climate change is fueling extreme weather. This is part of a trend that is troubling for politicians who peddle denial deception.  Democrats are not alone in their embrace of the facts. In the last three years, there has been a 15 point increase in the percentage of Republicans who accept the veracity of climate change. In 2015, only 49 percent of Republicans said they thought climate change was real, now 64 percent of Republicans hold this view.

Republicans cannot ignore the writing on the wall forever and the same self serving political expediency that got them into bed with this president may contribute to a split. This is key because censure or impeachment will only work with Republican support. It is important to note that the decision to take on the commander and chief will be a political calculation. However, to convince Republicans to perform their oversight duties, an overwhelming majority of Americans will have to demand that they act.

It is not hard to imagine that future generations will revile Trump even more than they do today. Republicans have to decide whether they want this to be their legacy.  Members of the GOP have a vested interest in distancing themselves from this president and this presidency.  Let us not forget that there is very little real love here. When he was vying for the nomination, Trump was condemned by many of the same Republicans who later embraced him. It is entirely within character for these people to abandon him as soon as it serves their interests.

By sticking with the sinking ship, they can avoid impeaching a president but by acting like the rats that they are, they may be able to save their own skins and improve their party's prospects going forward.

If they do nothing there is a very real risk that Trump will be wedded to the GOP for all eternity.  History will portray Trump's failed presidency as the culmination of a deeply cynical Republican strategy. However, if they play their cards right they can use Trump as a scapegoat and a pivot point.

This is an existential moment for the planet and the GOP. Legislators will soon have to decide which side of history they want to be on. If they can stay on top of this issue they may be able to influence the narrative of Trump's obituary rather than be eulogized themselves.

If the GOP has a role in ending this presidency they can say along with the rest of America, "the king is dead long live the king!". Alternatively it could all go off the rails like a Shakespearean tragedy.

One way or another this modern day Caesar has cause for concern. Beware the Ides of March Mr. president, legislators may soon bring an end to your rule.

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