The delivery on this tweet has a distinct cheesy-stand-up-comedian vibe to it.
“It’s cold out — hey, whatever happened to that global warming?” Scattered chuckles. It’s a joke the audience has heard before.
Which is largely the point. President Trump uses climate change here precisely because he knows the reaction he’ll get: Cheers from his base and hand-wringing from others, including scientists.
Unlike past tweets, Trump doesn’t imply here that the cold weather disproves the scientific consensus that the world is warming. But it’s worth dispatching with that idea anyway, since we’re here. And to do that, we turn to this remarkably effective video from Norway.
When you walk your dog, you know where you’re headed, even as the dog meanders along the path. You’re the warming climate; the dog is a day’s or a season’s weather variability.
That the world is getting warmer is not a belief held solely by coastal elites and scientists, of course. In March, Gallup polling found recognition of the changing climate. Most Americans understand that warming is the consensus of scientists and that human activity is a primary driver. Most also believe that the effects of that warming are already being felt.
But acceptance of climate change has also emerged as one of the most polarizing issues in politics. A January survey from Pew found a 47-point gap between the parties on the need to address climate change, a wider gap than that for immigration or race relations, among other things.
That increasing concern about warming that Gallup found? Heavily a function of increased concern among Democrats.
At one point or another, Trump has held nearly every possible position on climate change, depending on the utility of the position at the moment. In recent years, the useful position has been to be a hardcore skeptic, flinging mud at those unwilling to embrace such a fervent position and enjoying accolades from the Republican base for doing so.
No issue, though, is more emblematic of Trump’s use of the environment as a political tool than his long war against wind energy.
It began with Trump’s interest in building a golf resort on the Scottish coast. The Scottish government had approved an offshore wind farm project nearby, which Trump worried would spoil views from the links. So he launched a social-media-and-lawsuits war against the Scottish government. He blanketed the country’s first minister with letters and then angry tweets. His Twitter account regularly seized on any story portraying wind power in a negative light, including articles detailing how spinning wind turbines often had the unhappy effect of striking and killing birds.
Wind turbines, he tweeted in 2012, were a “disaster” for taxpayers, given the subsidies the industry received.
Asked about subsidies for the wind industry during a campaign stop in Iowa three years later, though, Trump’s position softened. He was “okay with” a tax credit turbine manufacturers received, he told a woman who asked — no doubt a relief to her given that her husband worked at just such a company.
His position on birds changed, as well. This week, The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration will no longer prosecute oil, gas, wind and solar operators who accidentally kill birds.
As president, Trump’s attitude toward climate change has been as consistent as recent Republican opposition to the idea.
His decision to withdraw America from the Paris climate agreement was predicated on an inaccurate representation of what the pact entailed. The announcement was largely symbolic, anyway, given that it takes years for the U.S. to actually withdraw and given that the guidelines set were nonbinding. What the agreement did do, however, was establish global guidelines for action. Republicans have long argued that unilateral limits on greenhouse gas emissions would put the United States at an economic disadvantage. The agreement signed by China and India (among other nations) was aimed at reducing that effect.
Meanwhile, those “trillions of dollars” America was going to spend to protect against climate change are still likely to be spent. Some by the government, which will spend huge sums of money ensuring that facilities and infrastructure are protected against rising sea levels and other likely effects of a warmer climate. The government will also spend huge sums on cleanup, as it has after storms like Hurricane Harvey, the record rainfall from which has been linked to warming.
The private sector will also spend a lot to ensure that it is prepared for the changing world. Like a coastal golf course in Ireland where plans call for a sea wall to prevent rising ocean levels from damaging the course. That facility, as you may have guessed, is one owned by Trump’s private business.
For Trump, “climate change” is often used like “Christmas” — a cultural signifier that prompts an expected response from his base of support, and from his critics. That’s why stand-up comedians tell the same jokes over and over, too. They know what response they’re going to get. And few have mastered the angry Catskillian refrains of the Republican base like Donald J. Trump.