“Woo-hoo! Trump is going to kill my children!” That’s what my son snarked this morning as he was looking over his media feed on our way to the orthodontist. He’s prone to exaggeration – that’s for sure – like any full-of-himself (but still lovable!) 13-year-old. While half-joking, he was also completely serious. “Dad, why would Donald Trump pull out of the Paris Accord?” That was the serious part. Indeed, why?
Even to a 13-year-old, the ramifications of the all-out attack on our environment that this administration is undertaking are clear. It’s about trading the long term for the short term. The science is clear – yes, here’s my bias, I believe the science – the climate is changing, the earth is warming and there are dramatic terrestrial and environmental changes in the offing. Maybe not for us old folks, but almost surely for our children and certainly for their children. That’s what my son understands and he’s worried and he’s angry.
Well, now it’s actually happened, and at this point in our bull-in-the-china-shop Trump administration, the teeing off on the Paris Accord by our golf course magnate president is hardly a surprise. First and foremost, it was signed by his predecessor, so that put it at risk from day one. Second, holding to the terms of the accord means placing constraints on some industries and businesses and as such collides with business-of-today-and-yesterday bluster. Lastly, it smacks of collaboration, a necessity in a Friedmanesque “flat world,” but an idea that still doesn’t make sense to our Old World President. Ultimately it is about doing something for the greater good, a good for the world and for future generations. This is what the remaining signatories have bought into. It is once again confusing “America Alone” with “America First,” although we are the first country to back out of the pact. At least one plank in Trump’s platform is still intact.
Some of this I can at least understand, even if I don’t like it. It’s a businessman and politician shamelessly working for his own best interests (let’s be clear, a raft of business leaders have condemned Trump’s actions as not just bad for the environment, but also bad for business) and playing to what he believes is his constituency. This presumably is what also underlies the silence of the rest of the Republican leadership on this issue. But what I can’t understand is how as parents and possibly one day grandparents, Trump, EPA head Scott Pruitt, Senator Mitch McConnell – the list goes on and on – can so blithely lead a war on environmental protections and with that, our kids. The kids will be the frontline of casualties.
But the Trump – and Republican - war on the children is hardly one-dimensional. It’s a simultaneously thoughtless and thorough multi-pronged attack. In another mean-spirited effort, food is taken off the table with the president’s proposed budget including dramatic cuts to food stamps as well as huge cuts to the Women, Infants, and Children supplemental nutrition program. Further assaults on physical health ― delivered by HHS Secretary (and physician!) Tom Price ― come in the form of the proposed American Health Care Act, that by all accounting will either leave millions of children uninsured or significantly less protected than under the ACA. Attacks on the body are supplemented by attacks on the mind with the evisceration of our public school system under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
If I let complete cynicism take me over, I think that the Republican leadership can support this, because these aren’t “their kids.” All these folks in Washington have health care coverage for their families and plenty of food on the table. Many have children in private schools. But the environment is something different. Executive orders have already put on notice the protections enacted by the previous administration of our air (“The Clean Power Plan”) and of our water (“The Clean Water Rule”). Do the Republicans think that their children are going to be breathing different air from everyone else? Do they think that their children are going to be drinking different water ― well, maybe, after all money buys a lot of bottled water – but they won’t be swimming in different ponds, or lounging around on the beaches of a completely different set of oceans or seas. It’s one environment for all, we it had better be all for one environment.
I keep thinking that eventually there will be a small collection of Republican senators and representatives with a moral backbone strong enough to stand up to this attack, and with that reach across the aisle to create a bipartisan defense of our natural world. That has yet to happen. The Republican lawmakers will back their horse until it no longer serves their own political interests. But surely at some point, personal interests – and I mean children – must enter into this equation. What parent doesn’t become a momma bear or poppa bear when their kids are at risk? This is that moment. The children of presidents, senators, representatives, and Cabinet members will inherit the same Earth as everyone else. The punishment that they are collectively delivering to their kids and ours is the punishment that keeps on punishing. My 13-year-old understands this. Why doesn’t our president?
The withdrawal from the pact doesn’t actually kick in until 2020. Odds are that this president isn’t angling for a second term and depending on the outcomes of ongoing investigations, his departure might be sooner than that. A new president can simply reverse course again and re-enter an accord. So this might just be more playing to his nationalist base, although Trump has said he will stop following the accord guidelines immediately. Regardless, Trump’s announcement sends another signal to the world that as long as he is charge, the environment will not find a friend in the United States. The silence of his party makes them complicit in this message. Midterms will be on us before you know it. Let’s all send a signal that we care about our kids and vote to replace those who would sacrifice our planet.