President Trump’s right-wing populism thrives on contempt for intellectualism and expertise, rejection of a globalized economy and international institutions, and resentment of liberal elites. Anti-immigration hysteria has been key to Trump’s appeal to white grievance, the all-purpose excuse for everything from income inequality to crime (still historically low, but facts schmacts) to wage stagnation. However, climate-change denial is creeping up there as an essential part of the know-nothing Republican Party.
In the next few months, the White House will complete the rollback of the most significant federal effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, initiated during the Obama administration. It will expand its efforts to impose Mr. Trump’s hard-line views on other nations, building on his retreat from the Paris accord and his recent refusal to sign a communiqué to protect the rapidly melting Arctic region unless it was stripped of any references to climate change. ...Mr. Trump is less an ideologue than an armchair naysayer about climate change, according to people who know him. He came into office viewing agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency as bastions of what he calls the “deep state,” and his contempt for their past work on the issue is an animating factor in trying to force them to abandon key aspects of the methodology they use to try to understand the causes and consequences of a dangerously warming planet.
This requires, as so much of the Trump agenda does, a war on reality, science and common sense. The initiative will attempt to stymie “reporting on the future effects of a rapidly warming planet and presenting a picture of what the earth could look like by the end of the century if the global economy continues to emit heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels.”
This is dangerous, irresponsible policy but also really dumb politics. In the short term, it tells Florida and Texas hurricane victims, Midwestern farmers wiped out by floods and California fire survivors that their lives, property and livelihoods are of less consequence than the need to tick off liberals. How red-state voters wiped out by flood, fire and storms are supposed to take solace from the annoyance of those who might help them ameliorate their situation is baffling to those who approach these things logically from the premise that government is there to help solve problems, not to gin up hatred. Trump, his Fox News know-nothings (Fox straight news tends not to cover climate change, likely for fear of upsetting its deluded audience) and Republican enablers (including right-wing publications that have given up pretense of intellectual seriousness) demand that their supporters put fidelity to Trumpism over their own self-interest. This is straight from the authoritarian playbook, of course.
In the short term, the climate-change deniers risk losing the support of extreme-weather victims. In the long term, however, the Republicans risk political extinction. You need look no further than the European elections.
The Post reports: “European Green parties on Monday were cheering E.U. elections that vaulted them into a kingmaking position of power, as voters abandoned traditional political parties in favor of climate-focused activists in a green wave that swept several countries.” With the far right gaining at a less rapid rate than the Greens and the traditional left crumbling, “The center-left and center-right parties that long jointly ruled the parliament ... will need to depend on Greens and other centrists to advance their agenda.”
Long a force in Germany, the Greens are turning formerly disaffected segments of the electorate into enthusiastic voters. (“Exit polls in Germany showed the Greens to be the overwhelming top choice for young voters and for first-time voters. The party also did especially well in cities, taking voters from the center-left and center-right parties.”)
Back in the United States, in addition to the Republicans’ racism, xenophobia, misogyny, hostility to global markets and religious conformity, Republicans’ outright hostility to even recognizing the No. 1 issue for many voters — the future of the planet — suggests that they will suffer big losses if these voters turn out in 2020. In the past, the GOP has taken comfort in the notion that young voters don’t show up in numbers as great as older voters. However, that might be changing, as we saw in the 2018 midterms, when voter turnout surged, especially among younger Americans. CNN reported last month, “Driving the historic increase in turnout were those ages 18 to 29, who went from 20% participation in 2014 to 36% in 2018 — a 16 percentage point increase, the largest among the demographic breakdowns.”
In sum, if younger American voters who are as passionate about the planet as their European counterparts turn out in droves in 2020 and beyond, the GOP is in deep trouble. In addition, Democrats who want to pump up their base had better put climate change front and center in the election. Any Democrat who would refuse to take climate change seriously — as serious as income inequality and health care — would be politically foolish.