Donald Trump is the scary clown in his own three-ring circus of distractions. His special trick is sucking up all of the oxygen in the 24-hour cable news cycle. The print media have done a better job of finding room for everything else, but everything else is a big category. In the best of times, issues compete for attention. For those of us who fight fossil fuel extraction and climate change and can’t ignore the rising temperature on the giant thermometer over our shoulders, having to compete is frustrating in the best of times. These days, it’s maddening.
Our collective disgust over Trump’s comments on Tuesday have made it easy to forget that he was in front of the mics to talk about his executive order that speeds up approvals of infrastructure including oil and gas pipelines. The order also rolls back a 2015 order signed by Obama that required that climate change be taken into account when planning new infrastructure. Those are just the latest climate-denying measures put in place by his administration. Some, like the decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, managed to attract attention. Many others, like Friday’s announcement that the administration would not renew the charter of the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment that expires today, barely registered a blip on the radar.
When Trump took office, we were cautioned to avoid normalizing his presidency. I thought about that a lot last week when everyone was calling on Trump to call out the white supremacists by name, disavow them, denounce them. I didn’t want him to do that. I wouldn’t have believed him if he had. Would anyone have? His followers were pleased with the statement he gave, the one where he choked and sputtered on the scripted parts, but was crystal clear when he ad-libbed “many sides” (which he repeated for emphasis). Had he said anything else, they would have been angry with him. They wouldn’t have been shamed. They certainly wouldn’t have believed him any more than we would have. So what was the point of asking him to lie to us?
I’m glad he was true to his racist, bigoted, violent self. He’s the guy who put Bannon in the White House. He’s the guy who promoted hatred and intolerance. He campaigned on it. He’s the guy who hates immigrants. He’s the guy who said he could “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any voters.” To ask him to do anything but be himself is to participate in normalizing his presidency, as if to pressure an otherwise legitimate leader to be stronger in a signal moment.
The guy at the mic on Tuesday is the guy we have to deal with and we’d better do it quickly. His racism and mental illness were trading fours so fast it was hard to tell which we were hearing at any given moment. And all of that came on the heels of the announcement of things that sounded like policies but are just dressed up versions of the same afflictions. It’s just that exacerbating climate change with reckless policies that will perpetuate, and even deepen, our addiction to fossil fuels is a more difficult to discern form of racism and bigotry perpetrated against the same communities that have always been disproportionately affected by polluters and a less overt expression of insanity in its refusal of evidence. Our tendency to normalize doesn’t end with Trump’s presidency.
The very fact that climate change, arguably the most pressing issue of our time, has to compete with all other issues for scraps of attention is proof that we have normalized it, too. It’s one of the topics that turns up on surveys from elected officials and non-profits that constituents and members can check off as being important to them. It’s still discussed in terms of belief. More than once, people have asked me how it’s polling before deciding to take an action, like making a phone call or signing a petition. By the way, did anyone ask how racism and intolerance were polling last week?
We’ve even normalized the role of the climate denier, the perpetuator of doubt who keeps the “debate” on climate change alive and then points to the debate to say that we have not come to consensus.
Recognizing that, I walked off a radio show for the first time last Sunday.
Not long into the interview, my explanation of the connection between fracking and climate change triggered a very long, very incoherent, completely fact-free tirade by the show’s co-host. At first, I made note of some things I’d address if ever given the chance to speak again. As the rant became longer and crazier, I realized that my only option was to walk off. The other options were to stay and engage in one of those talking head shouting matches that never benefits anyone or counter all of the co-host’s impossible to substantiate claims with facts delivered in a calm tone of voice. I realized that doing either one would amount to nothing more than further normalizing the false debate on climate change and that it is just as treacherous a pursuit as normalizing a clearly unfit president.
A very nice man who was supposed to be the other guest on the show followed me out, begging me to return because the listeners needed to hear the truth. The way to ensure that the listeners of that show get good information is the same way we can ensure that the public as a whole gets good information -- stop giving them bad information. Stop giving lunatics the mic.