GELFAND’S WORLD--Some of my colleagues and a lot of Trump supporters have been arguing something along these lines: OK, so he was tone deaf and did a few bad things, but what about the good things he did?
I suspect that this argument is going to be the center piece of what will be a lot of disagreements among friends over the next few years, so I would like to take my chance to write a first chapter in why and how Trump's administration did terrible things in a lot of categories. These are violations of sensibility that cannot be hand-waved away. They did serious damage to people, to wildlife, and to the planetary environment in general, and they must be recognized by the conservative side if there is to be any approach to the middle ground -- what the current Republican congress is now referring to as "healing."
Let's take as an example a subject that is hardly spoken of -- certainly not in the nightly news. It's something called the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and it was originally passed in 1918. It's function was to allow the government to fine companies which, through their negligence, caused migratory birds to be killed. For example, if an oil field has waste-water ponds with a lot of oil covered by a thin sheen of water, birds will alight on it and become trapped due to the oil soaking their feathers. This kills a lot of birds.
Back in 2017, a new Trump appointee opined that companies should not be punished if bird deaths were merely incidental to their otherwise reasonable operation. Companies should only be punished if they intentionally engage in negligent behavior that kills birds. Under this interpretation (and in spite of a court decree against it), the Trump administration has managed to avoid prosecuting companies that kill birds wantonly.
Recently, as a kind of going-away present to the corporate lobbies, the Trump administration is attempting to go through with rule-making to set this damaging policy in stone.
"BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Trump administration moved forward Friday with plans to scale back a century-old law protecting most American wild bird species despite warnings that billions of birds could die as a result.
"Officials said in a draft study of the proposal that it could result in more deaths of birds that land in oil pits or collide with power lines or other structures.
"More than 1,000 species are covered under the law, and the changes have drawn a sharp backlash from organizations representing an estimated 46 million U.S. birdwatchers.
"The study did not put a number on how many more birds could die but said some vulnerable species could decline to the point where they would require protection under the Endangered Species Act."
The fact that there is a tradeoff between the killing of wild birds and the stock price of an oil company isn't something that we're reading about in the conservative discussion sites.
I've used a lot of words here to discuss one small element of the Trump agenda because that's what it takes to portray even this one item. It's like the old joke that a lie is half way around the world before the truth can even get its boots on -- refuting nonsense requires putting together facts and arguments and then discussing them logically. It's a lot easier to tell the original lie.
One other thing before we leave this topic: The deaths of hundreds of thousands of migrating birds is the natural consequence of appointing anti-environmental people to run public agencies. And that's what Trump did for pretty much every appointment he made. To borrow an old line from the mathematics textbooks, the proof is left to the reader. Just look at the people who got appointed by Donald Trump to be heads of the major environmental agencies. The word Creepy just begins to describe them.
But there is so much else.
Climate change as the highest defining element of our survival policy
If you are going to pretend to any belief in the scientific process -- for example by arguing in favor of getting the Covid-19 vaccine -- then it is pretty hard to argue that global warming isn't happening, or that the scientists don't really know. So when the person with access to the most knowledgeable scientists can pretend that the science just isn't there, what can we make of it? Either he is unbelievably closed minded or just a lying sociopath. I tend towards the latter interpretation, but I'll leave it to my conservative colleagues to pick their own interpretation.
But you can't ignore what this administration has done and continues to do even now.
As Politico points out, "In a surprise move, the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday will unveil a climate rule that will effectively prohibit the future regulation of greenhouse gases from any stationary industry other than power plants."
There's more: "The rule comes just eight days before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has pledged a multitrillion-dollar initiative that would combat climate change by making sharp cuts in the United States' carbon dioxide pollution. The new regulation could hamstring much of that agenda, for example by prohibiting Biden's EPA from setting carbon limits on oil and gas wells or refineries"
The article describes the action -- and rightly so -- as a parting gift to polluters.
The list goes on and on. Another proposed rule would restrict the EPA from using a lot of accumulated data (and data yet to be amassed) in crafting rules that would hamper polluters from doing things damaging to human health.
The Guardian lists what it calls an environmental blitzkrieg titled "Trump dismantles environmental protections under cover of coronavirus":
"The Trump administration is diligently weakening US environment protections even amid a global pandemic, continuing its rollback as the November election approaches.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, US federal agencies have eased fuel-efficiency standards for new cars; frozen rules for soot air pollution; proposed to drop review requirements for liquefied natural gas terminals; continued to lease public property to oil and gas companies; sought to speed up permitting for offshore fish farms; and advanced a proposal on mercury pollution from power plants that could make it easier for the government to conclude regulations are too costly to justify their benefits."
The war against labor
There is an argument floating around that Trump has made the Republican Party into an organization that looks after working people. Certainly that line has been repeated time and again -- often, it would seem, by the angry folks sporting the MAGA hats.
But what is the truth? It's quite to the contrary.
For a detailed summary, I refer you to the article titled "50 reasons the Trump administration is bad for workers." from the Economic Policy Institute. I can't do it justice because it really is 50 different stories, but here are a few of its topics:
The Trump administration fulfilled the U.S. Chamber of Commerce anti-labor wish list.
It has obstructed workers' rights to fair union elections.
It has encouraged offshoring.
It has decreased workplace safety inspections.
It prevented millions of workers from receiving overtime.
and so forth . . .
If you go beyond the rather academic tone of the above article, you can find reams of stories that explain how workers have done worse under this administration. As one example, I refer you to the article titled " How Trump gutted OSHA and workplace safety rules." It explains how worker representatives from a meat processing plant called on OSHA for help because the plant was dangerous in a time of the developing Covid-19 epidemic. The government gave essentially no help, and the toll due to Covid-19 was severe.
The war on truth by debasing science and journalism
It's no secret that this administration has carried out a war against science. At one level, it's a war against scientists who disagree with anything Trump ever said. Just listen to Trump apologists on talk radio to learn how badly they treat Dr. Fauci. But the war against the scientific method began at the very beginning of this administration as it attempted to scrub all mention of global warming from government websites. Over the past four years, it's been impossible to get an honest answer from Trump himself.
But Trump carried it several steps further with his all-out war against journalism and the news media. I ask our conservative colleagues: How can you defend the assertion of "Fake News" coming from this president? When numerous news organizations quadruple check every element of a story and even assemble video footage, and then the president calls it "fake news," how can you not be shocked and upset?
The point of the war against science and the war against journalism
It's not that science is inherently wrong or corrupt. It's that it can lead to conclusions that are damaging to some business interests: Carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and cars and ships lead to global warming. Cigarette smoking is a big risk for getting lung cancer. Uncovered waste-water ponds kill migrating birds.
The war against science and journalism is simply opportunism taken to the extreme. It's a way of stretching out the time that coal-fired power plants will be allowed to function before a weary world shuts them down. It's a way to look the other way when some business harms people through negligence.
The racism can't be ignored
Well before he ran for president, Donald Trump carried on his own private war against Barack Obama by accusing him of not being an American. He carried on the big lie that Obama was born in Kenya, and pounded on the birth certificate argument long after zealous reporters had run the story to ground.
In brief, this "birtherism," as it came to be called, was nothing more than thinly disguised racism. If it wasn't direct racism, it was an attempt to appeal to racists.
This is something that can't be hand-waved away, or swept under the rug. The opportunistic appeal to racism is just as bad as racism itself, and it certainly deserves the description of being evil. And this, to me, defined Donald Trump well before he announced his run for president. It was actually his most notable achievement, if you want to call it that, before he decided to enter politics. He built his name and brand on the big lie. He was of course aided in this by his presence as a television host and property owner, but away from New York City, out in the hinterlands, he worked on the subset of the population who wanted to believe any bad thing about an up and coming African American politician.
And sorry to put it so crudely, but if you looked the other way when Trump used the big lie about Obama, or if you chose to believe it, then what does that make you? I don't think that giving Trump credit -- for the tax cut on billionaires or the reduction in rules that allow factories to increase production while endangering worker safety -- none of this excuses Trump for making use of racism to push his name or business or political career.
Addendum: Phil Spector
This is a strange story which goes back to the one time I met Phil Spector in the flesh.
It was a little after 2 AM, and I was driving home from a bar (Tom Bergins, to be precise). It must have been sometime in the late 1970s or thereabouts.
So, I was turning onto Melrose and came across the remains of a recently occurring traffic accident. What made it so striking was that there had been a head-on collision between a brand new Cadillac and a vintage Rolls Royce. The driver from the Cadillac seemed OK and fairly cogent. The guy in the Rolls was a thin faced fellow wearing a green velour jacket. His nose was obviously broken, and if memory serves, he seemed kind of drunk.
Other people arrived on the scene and one young man says to me, "Do you recognize him? That's Phil Spector" referring to the guy in the Rolls in the green jacket. I must confess that I didn't know who Phil Spector was at the time.
So this young fellow, obviously following what he had learned in seventh grade science class, goes up to the car window where Phil Spector is still sitting behind the wheel and asks, "Can you wiggle your toes?" You know, this is supposed to be a way of making sure they guy hadn't broken his neck.
And Phil says, without even looking up and in an angry sort of voice, "I can do anything I fucking well want to."
And that was the first and last time Phil and I had a conversation.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)