It is unfair to paint either of America’s principal political parties with a broad brush. There are many different viewpoints and values within the ranks of Republicans and Democrats. It is very fair, however, to judge the parties by the actions of their leaders and the reactions of their rank and file. If grassroots Republicans allow their leaders to remain in power, they must share the blame or the credit for their leaders’ actions.
The Republican Party’s official position on global climate change is a prominent example. In the past decade, the Party has developed an inverse relationship between reality and ideology. In other words, as climate change has become more damaging and climate science more certain, the official party line has become more adamant that global warming doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter.
We can hope that this dangerous disconnect reached its limit with Donald Trump’s ill-informed decision to back out of the Paris climate accord and, more broadly, the federal government’s role in protecting the environment. Trump’s divorce from reality was evident with his claim to the world last week that despite his institutionalization of climate denial and his assault against environmental science and stewardship, America will be the “most environmentally friendly country on Earth.” The facts are that economic growth does not require carbon emissions; fossil fuels are not America’s future; and the Paris accord is not an international plot to wreck America’s economy. As multiple truth checkers have documented, Trump’s speech last week is likely to go down in history as one of the most illogical and misinformed statements ever uttered in public by a U.S. President.
Trump’s speech last week will go down in history as one of the most illogical and misinformed statements ever uttered by a U.S. President.
It was less than a decade ago that the GOP’s Party platform acknowledged the reality of climate change not just once, but 15 times. Here is one of the passages:
The same human economic activity that has brought freedom and opportunity to billions has also increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. While the scope and long-term consequences of this are the subject of ongoing scientific research, common sense dictates that the United States should take measured and reasonable steps today to reduce any impact on the environment. Those steps, if consistent with our global competitiveness will also be good for our national security, our energy independence, and our economy.
The platform also acknowledged that “Because the issue of climate change is global, it must become a truly global concern as well.”
Since those days, GOP’s leaders have relocated the Party from the real world to a kind of la-la land where facts do not matter. That is not good for the GOP, and it is certainly not good for the country.
There are at least two ways for Republicans to realign their official ideology with reality. First, the Republican controlled Congress could override Trump by keeping the government’s environmental infrastructure intact and by directing the Administration to rejoin the Paris agreement.
Second, the GOP’s more enlightened leaders could start an insurrection by the rank and file, pointing out that because climate change is an existential threat to America’s safety and security, climate denial is an existential threat to the GOP.
Research suggests that the Republican rank and file is influenced by party identity more than by climate science. The Party should identify again with the message of the 2008 platform and more recently, the House resolution endorsed so far by 17 Republican congressmen and women. That rebellious statement noted that environmental stewardship is a conservative principle, that climate change “has had noticeable, negative impacts that are expected to worsen in every region of the United States”, and that it has “the potential to adversely impact all Americans, hitting vulnerable populations hardest, harming productivity in key economic sectors such as construction, agriculture, and tourism, saddling future generations with costly economic and environmental burdens, and imposing additional costs on State and Federal budgets that will further add to the long-term fiscal challenges that we face as a Nation.”
That is reality. In the 18 months before the next mid-term election, Republicans who want to restore their Party’s credibility should take control of its orthodoxy. They don’t have to impeach their president in order to impeach his ideas.