"Are you now or have you ever been a communist?" was a feature of the House Un-American Activities Committee by the late Senator Joe McCarthy that both defined the Cold War for generations of Americans and also set the bar low for political witch hunts that literally destroyed reputations, careers, and lives.
Back when we lived in Key West, a hero -- now dead twenty five years -- had been called to testify, or, to rat out his friends and colleagues. In this aging brain, the Cold War rattles around with many ghosts revived by the election of a president-elect who holds a former KGB agent and repressive president, Vladmir Putin, in high esteem. That is not all.
The Trump transition is following a path established in Florida with respect to the imposition of predetermined conclusions on science.
Growth management in Florida was crafted from a bipartisan consensus in the 1980's. Its original mission was based in consensus, forged equally by Republicans as Democrats, that balancing development with the environment was good business and good policy.
Its success beyond the first handshake depended on good will of successive generations of elected representatives. The problem: human nature.
The premise pitted the profit imperative against deliberative science. Florida governors, from Lawton Chiles onward, began to erode the mission of growth management -- ignoring science -- in favor of big campaign donors.
Those donors cared less about what had been lost in terms of quality of life and the environment than next quarter's profit.
Donald Trump is a businessman/politician -- much like Florida's Governor Rick Scott -- whose presumed genius ("I'm, like, smart.") conflated with a vision conferred by private jet at a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet.
Over time in Florida, growth management critics with a less exalted view -- they understood perfectly well whose pockets were being lined by zoning variances and building permits in defiance of science-based wetlands or coastal protections -- formed a chorus in the state capitol.
"Government is inefficient and wasteful and can't do its job," went part of the chorus. Another part: "Environmental regulations kill jobs."
What voters and taxpayers missed: that Florida's growth management agency had been slowly and deliberately hollowed out from within, even as citizens and community activists hoped for the protections in state law.
Now Trump inherits federal agencies who have also been starved from within, by the same cast and characters and motivations as in Florida, but on the federal level.
Consider the US E.P.A.
The rampant politicization of science at the E.P.A. began in the George W. Bush White House. Global warming policies were strung out and eroded by Bush appointees to federal agencies from the Beltway. During this time, just like with the Florida Department of Community Affairs -- the growth management regulatory agency -- , Republicans formed a chorus: the agency needed to be stopped, scientists needed to be turned away from global warming missions.
Bush White House operatives lead by Karl Rove prevented scientists from speaking to the public and the press except under circumstances where they controlled the message. For scientists who depend on state research dollars, the effect was extraordinarily swift and chilling.
President Barack Obama did his level best, through executive authority, to reverse the damage to federal missions to protect the environment. Now, Donald Trump.
This is context for the alarm when Trump's energy transition team headed down the same road as Florida Governor Rick Scott, prohibiting state employees from using the terms in public meetings, "global warming" and "climate change".
With its recent "questionaire" to federal agency scientists on climate change, the Trump White House -- and its appointment of the ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to Secretary of State -- is either heading to a public witch hunt, or, a more carefully obscured effort to weed out fact.
It is not what a majority of American voters want, and not even what a majority of Trump supporters endorsed, given his victory by a hair-breadth. But, who is measuring the weight of anything except fingers tipping the scales of justice?
Seeking the names of employees who attended climate change talks 'feels like the first draft of an eventual political enemies list,' said an employee with the Department of Energy.
By Rowena Lindsay, Staff DECEMBER 10, 2016
Christian Science Monitor
Donald Trump’s transition team has sent a list of 74 questions to the Energy Department (DOE), asking, among other things, for the identity of all employees and contractors involved in international climate meetings and domestic attempts to cut carbon emissions.
The questionnaire specifically asked for the names of all DOE employees who attended the United Nation’s annual climate talks for the past five years, employees who helped develop the President Obama’s social cost of carbon metrics, and which programs are essential to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.
All of which raises concerns that Trump’s administration will target employees involved in Obama-era policies that the president-elect spent his campaign promising to dismantle, including the Paris Climate Agreement, Clean Power Plan, and various other DOE and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.
"This feels like the first draft of an eventual political enemies list," said a Department of Energy employee, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal by the Trump transition team, told Reuters. "When Donald Trump said he wanted to drain the swamp it apparently was just to make room for witch hunts and it's starting here at the DOE and our 17 national labs.”
This is hardly the first clash between politicians and scientists, nor the first incoming President to replace federal employees with more like-minded ones.
But what is different this time, Yale University environmental historian Paul Sabin told the Washington Post, is Trump’s request for so many specific names in an era when people are easily tracked down in "a systematic way."
He said, "What seems unusual is singling people out for a very specific substantive issue, and treating their work on that substantive issue as, by default, contaminating or disqualifying."
Other questions request information about the agency’s loan programs, semi-independent research laboratories, statistics office, how the scientific models used to forecast future climate changes operate, and consequences of fossil fuel use. Several questions regarding keeping aging nuclear power plants online and how to store spent radioactive material suggest the Trump administration has plans to invest in nuclear energy.
“After eight years of the Obama administration’s divisive energy and environmental policies, the American people have voted for a change – a big change,” said Thomas Pyle, who leads Trump’s Energy Department transition team, in a recent fundraising pitch. “We expect the Trump administration will adopt pro-energy and pro-market policies – much different than the Obama administration’s top-down government approach.”
Although Trump’s transition team has not responded to media inquiries, a person close to the transition team told Bloomberg that the questionnaire is intended to ensure transparency into the workings of the agency and Obama’s policies.
So far the request has received serious pushback from scientists who are already worried the new administration will not respect scientific integrity.
“My guess is that they’re trying to undermine the credibility of the science that DOE has produced, particularly in the field of climate science,” said Rob Jackson, a Stanford climate and energy researcher, reported the Washington Post.
An Energy official called the questionnaire unusually intrusive, and Sen. Edward Markey (D) of Massachusetts sent a letter to the president-elect, warning that laying off employees who disagree with his policies "would be tantamount to an illegal modern-day political witch hunt and would have a profoundly chilling impact on our dedicated federal workforce."
Outside observers have expressed alarm. "They're certainly sending an aggressive signal here with some of these questions, and they need to be careful," Dan Reicher, a professor at Stanford University who also serves as an advisor to US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, told Reuters.
"I worry about some of the questions being sent that could unnecessarily alienate key career staff, because they need the career staff and lab professionals to get the daily work done," he said.
This report contains material from Reuters.