Not content with creating a foul social and political climate of racial hate and ideological division in the United States, last week the Trump administration took steps that will cause grave environmental harm to the rest of the world for decades and centuries to come.
Erasing regulations put in place by the Obama administration, Trump unleashed the coal industry to wreak havoc on the U.S. environment through mountain top removal, dumping of wastes in streams, power plants spewing greenhouse gases into the air—the coal industry’s whole wish list.
These actions not only ensure that rivers will be further contaminated and more landscape turned into moonscape in Appalachia and other coal-producing areas. Globally, it will supercharge the process of climate change already accelerating at an alarming speed.
Worst hit will be small Pacific island nations many of which will disappear with rising sea levels and vast areas of Sub-Saharan Africa already experiencing famine caused by rising temperatures and increasing drought, in no small part caused by climate change.
The effects are likely to be that the tide of refugees from poor to rich nations already underway will swell to tsunami proportions, Sub-Saharan Africa will become even poorer and richer ground for terrorist recruitment, and the international public opinion regarding this country and the moral authority of the United States will sink faster than Donald Trump’s poll numbers, especially among this country’s staunchest and longest-standing allies.
Among other things, Trump’s actions virtually guarantee that the United States will not meet the requirements of the 2016 Climate Agreement that went into effect last November. Whether the administration formally pulls out of the agreement or not, by reneging on an international commitment, the United States automatically becomes an outlier among the advanced countries of the world, in effect a rogue state rather than a leader when it comes to global environmental stewardship.
That this administration cares nothing about the well-being of the people in the rest of the world is a given considering Trump’s narrow nationalistic message. More shocking but hardly surprising is that the Trump government has little regard for the health of Americans either.
Exhibit A is the recent decision by Scott Pruitt, head of the EPA—appointed to that position by Trump despite Pruitt’s active opposition to the mission of the agency or, more accurately, because of it—to ignore the recommendations of the agency’s own chemical scientists and authorize the use of a pesticide linked to learning problems and memory loss among children and farm workers.
The pesticide, known technically as chlorpyrifos is sold by Dow Chemical under the brand name Lorsban. If the name Dow Chemical sounds like a synonym for the word evil, it should. Dow was the leading manufacturer of napalm, used extensively by the United States in Vietnam, with devastating effects, as seen in one of the most iconic photographs of the twentieth century, which shows a running, screaming young girl, napalm burning her body.
Pruitt’s decision fits the character of the Trump administration on several levels. Its disregard for science and facts. Its relentlessly pro-corporate agenda (Dow’s sales total $57 billion a year). Its uncaring attitude toward the environment. Its dehumanization of immigrants, especially Mexicans, who make up a huge proportion of farm worker families — the group that will be most directly exposed to the chemical. Isn’t exposing undesirable aliens and their children to poison in line with other methods of thinning their ranks, like deportation?
Now, I don’t believe there is a deliberate intent by Trump and Pruitt to hurt a certain population. I will leave the conspiracy theories and genocidal fantasies to those who believe that AIDS was created by the CIA to kill African Americans. What I believe is that the effect that Dow’s Lorsban will have on the brains of the lowest people on the totem pole, the children of farm workers, simply doesn’t register on the radar screen of this administration or its corporate pals.
For them, the harm inflicted on people like Mexican produce pickers is not even worthy of a plot or a thought. It’s standard operating procedure, capitalism in its most savage form.
The actions of the corporations and the administration on this issue reminds me of a concept coined by the philosopher Hannah Arendt to characterize the German bureaucrats whose dull work was to ensure that the basic administrative machinery of the Holocaust kept humming along. They were the nuts and bolts people who kept the trains to the concentration camps running on time, didn’t get their hands dirty or think much about the human consequences of their paper pushing, and went home to their families every night. Arendt called this “the banality of evil.”
Morally, the toxic nature of the Trump presidency is, of course, much broader than coal and insecticides. Just listing this administration’s statements and policies that amount to an assault on truth and the public interest would take more space than I have here. I will just close with one element of the assault on truth that especially offends me. That is the Trump administration’s insistence, against all evidence, that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower to obtain damaging political intelligence.
Not only is that a brazen slander contradicted by all the U.S. spy chiefs and treated with derision by the British spy agencies, it is an insult to one’s own intelligence. A question which, inexplicably, I have not seen addressed in any of the vast analysis and commentary on the wiretapping issue: Why would Obama, near the end of his term, commit a felony, risk prosecution and his legacy to help win an election that he, like most politicos, polls and pundits thought was already decided?