For two years I have been responding to enthusiastic ovations for Trump’s economic “policies” with the sobering reminder that there’s a significant latency between establishing economic policy and the effect it might have on the actual economy. The economy Trump keeps claiming credit for has far more to do with the policies set during Obama’s terms than anything Trump has actually done since then. Economic policies can’t change the economy in one presidential term anymore than a 600,000 tonne ship can stop on a dime. I really wish people would start understanding this. Because that misunderstanding drives politics and it opens up the opportunities for politicians like Trump to play the confidence game. I don’t know how many times I’ve mentioned this to the same people and they never accept it. But sure enough, now that the economy has had a chance to digest Trump’s line-crossing policies, we can see it starting to choke. I expect the ovations will soon subside and I won’t feel so compelled to respond to them.
Of course, Trump’s assault on existing norms isn’t just limited to economic policy. What happens is that economic performance is so easy to measure, it makes it a popular focus for administrations riding on bull markets; in a sense saying, “look what WE can do!”. The media reacts to that and the economy becomes the fixture of focus. But there are much larger ships out there. One of which happens to be the environment. On this ship, policies can take decades to have their effects which makes it hard for any four-year administration to measure and claim credit for improvements so the concern turns into a fringe issue.
This is unfortunate for a short-sighted culture obsessed with immediate returns because the environment over-rules everything else, including the economy that ultimately depends on things like natural resources. If this ship is headed for disaster there won’t be anything a culture, realizing too late, can do to reverse its course before throwing everything else into chaos. The lesson we need to learn here is that if we wait to actually see the icebergs it will already be too late to avoid hitting them.
And this is where Trump has been a far greater threat to the entire human race than any of his followers are willing to consider – because it’s not just a matter of steering the ship through a roll-back of environmental regulations, it’s also the fact that Trump is intentionally taking down the radars and early-warning systems that we need to see far enough ahead to avoid disaster.
Two years ago after Trump took office, Scientific American published an exposé of some of his earliest assaults, including orders to the scientific community within the government to basically keep quiet. Both the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, under direct orders from Trump, e-mailed staff to inform them that they may no longer discuss agency research or departmental restrictions with anyone outside of the agency—including news media.
The USDA has also dictated that their in-house research office, the Agricultural Research Service, would no longer release any “public-facing documents” including but not limited to “news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds and social media content.”
A year later, Time Magazine published an article on the condition of the EPA website, which until Trump came along functioned as a feature of government transparency and public education. It was a view of the iceberg fields we can’t see yet. But since Trump took control, mentions of climate change have been removed and language that so much as hints climate change has been tweaked to avoid the suggestion.
So, it’s hard for me not to ask the question… Why? Staying quiet about existing research doesn’t save any money, so why do it? Why would anyone intentionally blindfold the American people unless they intend to do something bad they don’t want people to see, such as risking the lives of millions if not billions of people for the sake of personal gain.