As I think more about President Trump’s outrageous speech on the environment, there were the usual features: distortions, misrepresentations, and of course outright lies. If I had submitted the text to my high school English teacher, she would have spilled so much red ink marking it up the paper would have looked like a crime scene. And indeed it was a crime, against facts, science, and the health of our planet.
But I was also struck by something else, which I think we are going to see a lot more of as the campaign heats up: cynicism.
There is no plausible way for a president who claims our climate crisis is a hoax, who demeans data and research, who stocks his administration with oil and gas lobbyists and seeks to undercut our sensitive and hard-fought environmental regulations, to credibly claim to be a steward of our planet. It is so farcical, why even pretend? Because he and especially his advisors (otherwise known as enablers and opportunists) know their policies are deeply unpopular.
They know they are losing the political battle over climate and science, like they lost the battle over gay marriage. They can fire up the base as sure as they fire up a coal plant, but in the suburbs and among a growing number of younger and educated voters the polluters are on the wrong side of the electorate. The GOP will not win these voters in large margins, but they know they need to cut into the lead the Democrats are building. So, the speech.
Expect President Trump to try to moderate his image, not in the cruelty, shortsightedness, or capriciousness of his policies, but in the words he uses. Much of this will be putting a lipstick of lies on the pig. The question is will he get away with it? Will the press say he’s “moderating?” Will there be a false equivalence test with the Democratic nominee?
The good news is that a growing number of voters seem to be willing to vote on climate. The bad news is that we have the exact wrong president at the most crucial moment in this crisis. Will he be able to lie his way out of this while his cronies exploit the health of our planet for their financial gain, or will the American people hold him accountable?
I predict we will see a lot more of these kinds of tactics. Will the environment and the president’s cynicism, a cynicism based on shameless lies, be at the heart of the framing for the upcoming election?