I’ll describe a certain phenomenon in politics as the “Trump effect”. I don’t have an education in political science and I’m pretty sure that there must a term that applies to this dynamic. But Trump likes to put his name on everything and I find that he’s the perfect example of this mechanism, so we’ll go with the “Trump effect’. But let’s be clear from the start, this isn’t something unique to Trump, we’ve observed this effect in European and US politics for a very long time, it’s just that he makes it very obvious. It’s also not something that is limited to the environmental issues, but we’ll focus on them.
He’s extreme, extremely bad…
Trump is waging a war on the environment and he’s rather unapologetic about it. He’s deregulating whatever he can, he appointed a head of the EPA that believed that the agency must be abolished, he shrank state monuments, deregulated hunting and above all, he denies climate change and refuses to take any action against it. He’s even proudly defending the “future” of the coal industry. Let’s just say that he so bad on environmental issues that he’s even worse than the average Republican politician, especially in his rhetoric.
Setting the bar low
The Trump effect, doesn’t refer to the direct damage that his causing but rather to the way in which his positions and actions affect other politicians, especially the Democrats. Whoever the next Democratic president will be, whether it’s going to be in 2020 or 2024, will have a very easy time being really reasonable on environmental issues. Whatever they do is going to be much better than Trump. In fact, they don’t even have to do so much to get credit. The President will already get credit for acknowledging the existence of these issues. And sure, a Democratic president will certainly take some steps to deal with climate change, but the problem with the context of climate change and environmental destruction is that we’re in a dire situation that requires radical reforms. We need to transform our production and consumption patterns, we need urgent, innovative and daring environmental regulations. The science tells us that we’re in big trouble and that we have only a small window of time in which we can act. What worries me is that a future Democratic president will get little criticism from the people who are concerned about the environment for his/her ineffective action on environmental issues, just because of the extreme contrast between them and Trump.
And this Trump effect is already happening today on an international level. People like Emanuel Macron are seen as “champion of the Earth” and I believe that Trump is at least partially responsible for this. Macron is a standard corporate politician who did close to nothing to create a real change. He’s involved in many projects that could have dramatic consequences for some of the most precious forests on Earth. But yeah, compared to Trump he certainly looks much better. At least he pays lip service to the issues, and doesn’t spread pseudoscience.
Trump’s extreme positions are very useful to politicians who don’t want to offend their donors but would like to virtue signal their concern about the ecological crisis. This ways they can avoid a big part of the criticism, while doing close to nothing. Let’s take the example of president Obama. I’ll admit that his environmental legacy is complex, but one thing is clear : he didn’t intent to create the radical change needed to avert a climate catastrophe. He recently bragged that during his watch the US saw the biggest expansion of oil production, yet few people on left, aside from the very committed environmentalists bothered to scrutinize his actions. I’m pretty sure that this is going to be the case with the next Democratic president as well. I expand a bit on the subject of Obama’s environmental legacy in this article : Thought experiment:What if Obama was a Republican?
So yeah, this is what I call the “Trump Effect”, being so bad or extreme, that you allow your political opponents to get away with inaction. And these politicians are precisely the ones who will stall progress the most effectively and play will play perfectly into the game of the lobbyists. They will be in a good position to avoid a big part of the criticism from the people who are most concerned with these issues. Good speeches and cosmetic reforms are not going to help us avoid the climate catastrophe, we’re well past the point where small incremental changes could steer us away from a disaster scenario. If people who vote for Democrats don’t pressure their elected officials to take action on environmental issues, it will sure as hell won’t be the Republicans who will do it for them. We need to hold our elected officials to the standards that we expect from them and avoid often subconscious comparisons with the extreme incompetence and dishonesty on the other side.
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