Cru­cible of Trump­ism

Cli­mate change de­nial is where men­ac­ing of crit­ics be­gan

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Weekend Perspectives - Paul Krug­man is a columnist for The New York Times.

Many ob­servers seem baf­fled by Repub­li­can fealty to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump — the party’s will­ing­ness to back him on all fronts, even af­ter se­vere de­feats in the midterm elec­tions. What kind of party would show such sup­port for a leader who is not only ev­i­dently cor­rupt and seem­ingly in the pocket of for­eign dic­ta­tors, but also rou­tinely de­nies facts and tries to crim­i­nal­ize any­one who points them out?

The an­swer is, the kind of party that, long be­fore Mr. Trump came on the scene, com­mit­ted it­self to deny­ing the facts on cli­mate change and crim­i­nal­iz­ing the sci­en­tists re­port­ing those facts.

The GOP wasn’t al­ways an anti-en­vi­ron­ment, an­ti­science party. Ge­orge H.W. Bush in­tro­duced the ca­pand-trade pro­gram that largely con­trolled the prob­lem of acid rain. As late as 2008, John McCain called for a sim­i­lar pro­gram to limit emis­sions of the green­house gases that cause global warm­ing.

But McCain’s party was al­ready well along in the process of be­com­ing what it is to­day — a party that is not only com­pletely dom­i­nated by cli­mate de­niers but is hos­tile to sci­ence in gen­eral, that de­mo­nizes and tries to de­stroy sci­en­tists who chal­lenge its dogma.

Mr. Trump fits right in with this mind-set. In fact, when you re­view the his­tory of Repub­li­can cli­mate de­nial, it looks a lot like Trump­ism. Cli­mate de­nial, you might say, was the cru­cible in which the es­sen­tial el­e­ments of Trump­ism were formed.

Take Mr. Trump’s dis­missal of all neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion about his ac­tions and their con­se­quences as ei­ther fake news in­vented by hos­tile me­dia or the prod­ucts of a sin­is­ter “deep state.” That kind of con­spir­acy the­o­riz­ing has long been stan­dard prac­tice among cli­mate de­niers, who be­gan call­ing the ev­i­dence for global warm­ing — ev­i­dence that has con­vinced 97 per­cent of cli­mate sci­en­tists — a “gi­gan­tic hoax” 15 years ago.

What was the ev­i­dence for this vast con­spir­acy? A lot of it rested on, you guessed it, hacked emails. The cred­u­lous­ness of all too many jour­nal­ists about the sup­posed mis­con­duct re­vealed by “Cli­mate­gate,” a pseudo-scan­dal that re­lied on se­lec­tive, out-of-con­text quotes from emails at a Bri­tish univer­sity, pre­fig­ured the dis­as­trous me­dia han­dling of hacked Demo­cratic emails in 2016. (All we learned from those emails was that sci­en­tists are peo­ple — oc­ca­sion­ally snap­pish, and given to talk­ing in pro­fes­sional short­hand that hos­tile out­siders can will­fully mis­in­ter­pret.)

Oh, and what is sup­posed to be mo­ti­vat­ing the thou­sands of sci­en­tists per­pe­trat­ing this hoax? We’ve be­come ac­cus­tomed to the spec­ta­cle of Mr. Trump, the most cor­rupt pres­i­dent in his­tory lead­ing the most cor­rupt ad­min­is­tra­tion of mod­ern times, rou­tinely call­ing his op­po­nents and crit­ics “crooked.” Much the same thing hap­pens in cli­mate de­bate.

The truth is that most prom­i­nent cli­mate de­niers are ba­si­cally paid to take that po­si­tion, re­ceiv­ing large amounts of money from fos­sil-fuel com­pa­nies. But af­ter the re­lease of the re­cent Na­tional Cli­mate As­sess­ment de­tail­ing the dam­age we can ex­pect from global warm­ing, a pa­rade of Repub­li­cans went on TV to de­clare that sci­en­tists were only say­ing these things “for the money.” Pro­jec­tion much?

Fi­nally, Mr. Trump has brought a new level of men­ace to Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, in­cit­ing his fol­low­ers to vi­o­lence against crit­ics and try­ing to or­der the Jus­tice Depart­ment to pros­e­cute Hil­lary Clin­ton and James Comey.

But cli­mate sci­en­tists have faced ha­rass­ment and threats, up to and in­clud­ing death threats, for years. And they’ve also faced ef­forts by politi­cians to, in ef­fect, crim­i­nal­ize their work. Most fa­mously, Penn State’s Michael E. Mann, cre­ator of the fa­mous “hockey stick” graph, was for years the tar­get of an anti-cli­mate sci­ence ji­had by Ken Cuc­cinelli, at the time Vir­ginia’s at­tor­ney gen­eral.

And on it goes. Re­cently, a judge in Ari­zona, re­spond­ing to a suit from a group linked to the Koch broth­ers (and ob­vi­ously not un­der­stand­ing how re­search works), or­dered the re­lease of all emails from cli­mate sci­en­tists at the Univer­sity of Ari­zona. To fore­stall the in­evitable se­lec­tive mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion, Mr. Mann has re­leased all the emails he ex­changed with his Ari­zona col­leagues, with ex­plana­tory con­text.

There are three im­por­tant morals to this story.

First, if we fail to meet the chal­lenge of cli­mate change, with cat­a­strophic re­sults — which seems all too likely — it won’t be the re­sult of an in­no­cent fail­ure to un­der­stand what was at stake. It will, in­stead, be a dis­as­ter brought on by cor­rup­tion, will­ful ig­no­rance, con­spir­acy the­o­riz­ing and in­tim­i­da­tion.

Sec­ond, that cor­rup­tion isn’t a prob­lem of “politi­cians” or the “po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.” It’s specif­i­cally a prob­lem of the Repub­li­can Party, which has bur­rowed ever deeper into cli­mate de­nial even as the dam­age from a warm­ing planet be­comes more and more ob­vi­ous.

Third, we can now see cli­mate de­nial as part of a broader moral rot. Don­ald Trump isn’t an aber­ra­tion, he’s the cul­mi­na­tion of where his party has been go­ing for years. You could say that Trump­ism is just the ap­pli­ca­tion of the de­prav­ity of cli­mate de­nial to ev­ery as­pect of pol­i­tics. And there’s no end to the de­prav­ity in sight.

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