Republican front-runner Donald Trump spent an hour with The Post’s editorial board on Monday, and he made at least three points that show why he is not just a risk to the country — but also to the planet.
First was Trump’s astonishing position on free speech. He doubled down on the notion that he would “loosen” U.S. libel laws so that it would be easier to go after journalists and other writers. For example, he would weaken the requirement that aggrieved public figures must show “malice” when suing a journalist who “writes incorrectly.” He attacked stories that are “written badly” and argued that a newspaper that “writes something wrong” and fails to run a retraction should “have a form of a trial.”
He was serially unclear on what he meant by “bad,” “incorrect” and “wrong” — factually wrong? Simply unfair? When I asked him to clarify, he gave an example of television news broadcasts failing to give more details about an altercation at one of his rallies, which is not a matter of inaccuracy but of emphasis. He also kept making clear that he was concerned with all sorts of coverage he disliked. He brought up Post opinion writing to which he objected, calling it “so angry,” which suggests that purely factual issues are not motivating his concerns. After more pressure, he seemed to disclaim the notion that he would crack down on angry columnists, but he ended on this scary bottom line: “I want to make it more fair from the side where I am.”
Trump’s loose talk of loosening freedom of speech protections is not just chilling in this country. The United States is such an exemplar of liberal values, Trump would reset the global standard downward. He would enable dictators such as Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping to say, “I told you so.”
Second was Trump’s embarrassing nonsense on climate change, which he has previously called “bulls—.” On Monday, he said that “perhaps there’s a minor effect.” But, “if you look, they had global cooling in the 1920s, and now they have global warming, although now they don’t know if they have global warming. They call it all sorts of different things. Now they’re using ‘extreme weather’ I guess more than any other phrase.” See, climate scientists — who have consistently raised concerns about global warming, and called it that, for decades — are constantly changing their story.
“Don’t good businessmen hedge against risks, not ignore them?” I asked. In other words, why not pay something now to head off possibly much costlier outcomes later? “I just think we have much bigger risks,” Trump said, warning that the country is in “tremendous peril.”
“Our biggest form of climate change we should worry about is nuclear weapons,” he said. “To me the biggest risk is nuclear weapons. That is climate change. That is a disaster.” There are several ways to interpret some of this language. But what makes it classic Trump is its brazen lack of reason. Forget this issue I do not want to confront. You know what you really need to worry about? The nuclear apocalypse.
Admittedly, Trump’s irresponsibility on climate change is not much different from many other Republicans’. But his justification is nevertheless a masterpiece of Trumpian illogic.
Third was Trump’s approach to foreign affairs and trade. He insisted that, as president, he should be “unpredictable,” arguing that, “sitting at a meeting like this and explaining my views” is unwise because, “if I do become president, I have these views that are down for the other side to look at.” Then he said, “I hate being so open.” This telegraphs insincerity, making it seem as though he just wants to avoid answering the question, which concerned what he would do about China’s moves to take control of the South China Sea. Assuming he means unpredictability to be a real strategy, it is a risky one. It can help in certain negotiations. But, along with Trump’s more isolationist approach to foreign affairs, it can also encourage adversaries to act more aggressively.
Trump was clear about one thing: He might use trade to punish China for its geopolitical advances. “We have power over China and people don’t realize it. We have trade power over China,” he said. “You start making it tougher.” Tempting a trade war with China certainly would make it tougher — on American consumers and the global economy.
Hillary Clinton, the most recent former secretary of state, has said that foreign leaders are telling her that they are worried about Trump. They should be.