Mostly whimsical reflections on life
Dear President Trump,
To be totally upfront, I didn’t vote for you, I don’t agree with most of your policies and, truth be told, I don’t really like you. But you did get elected as our 45th President of the United States. You will go down in American history books, and that’s why I’m writing this letter.
Every President, good or bad, leaves a legacy. It may or may not be the legacy he sought. A President’s legacy is how history’s judges his actions in the face of issues of national import or matters of grave danger.
Harry Truman’s legacy is inextricably linked to dropping nuclear bombs on Japan; Lyndon Johnson’s to inexplicably extending a no-win war in Vietnam.
Yet Truman and Johnson are remembered and revered as great leaders for other enduring actions they undertook. Truman authorized the Marshall Plan that pulled Europe out of the dregs of World War II and the Japanese Constitution that enabled a country steeped in ancient tradition to emerge as a modern economic powerhouse. Johnson pushed through game-changing legislation creating Medicare, ensuring voting rights and outlawing discrimination.
It’s not too soon, Mr. Trump, to consider your own presidential legacy.
Yes, you will be known as the late-night tweeter-in-chief, just as Harry Truman was known for his blunt talk and Lyndon Johnson for holding press briefings in the nude. But legacies run far deeper. They touch on what you did that affected the future in a meaningful way.
Many of your campaign promises and actions in your first two months in office appear designed to appease your political base. Fair enough. They voted for you and you should reward their expectations, even if taking away their health care coverage and farm subsidies devastates their lives and livelihoods.
However, your political base won’t applaud you when their air is fouled, their seashores overrun and their drinking water polluted. It’s a political axiom that Americans of all political stripes agree it is the government’s job to keep them safe, not just from imaginary threats, but from real threats to clean air and drinkable water.
Since the 1970s, both political parties have recognized the importance of protecting public health by cleaning up rivers, ridding the air of lung-choking particulates and reducing cancer-causing agents in our streams and food. The difference over decades is undeniable. Yet, the environment – and perhaps the planet as we know it – is still at risk.
Which brings me to my legacy point. You have appointed someone to head the Environmental Protection Agency who dismisses accepted scientific conclusions about the effect of carbon emissions on climate change – and who plagiarizes press releases from oil companies.
You have proposed a federal budget that would gut EPA funding for floodplain mapping, disaster relief and climate change research. You want to roll back auto fuel efficiency standards. You removed the word “science” from the mission of EPA. You basically want to pretend the planet isn’t under stress.
You have placed a bet on your presidential legacy that scientists are wrong and fossil fuel industry lobbyists are right. Except, even fossil fuel companies don’t disagree with consensus science on climate change. They may lobby against regulations, but they don’t deny the problem or its cause. Take this from ExxonMobil:
The risk of climate change is clear and the risk warrants action. Increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere are having a warming effect. There is a broad scientific and policy consensus that action must be taken to further quantify and assess the risks.
ExxonMobil is taking action by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in its operations, helping consumers reduce their emissions, supporting research that leads to technology breakthroughs and participating in constructive dialogue on policy options.
Addressing climate change, providing economic opportunity and lifting billions out of poverty are complex and interrelated issues requiring complex solutions. There is a consensus that comprehensive strategies are needed to respond to these risks.
If ExxonMobil is on the right flank of the climate change debate, you, Mr. President, seem to be on an asteroid heading for Uranus.
Take a cue from the 21 Oregon young people who are plaintiffs in a lawsuit that asserts protecting Americans from the potential ravages of climate change is a constitutional right. They aren’t asking for subsidies, regulation rollbacks or special tax breaks. They just want the federal government to do its job and ensure the nation has clean air and clean water when they grow up. They want the President of the United States to recognize the dangers of climate change before earth turns into a fireball.
Your lawyers, Mr. President, have tried to quash this lawsuit and a have been shut down. Juliana v. United States is headed to a courtroom later this year.
This is just a precursor of history’s verdict on your actions. If scientific projections about warming oceans, melting glaciers and more severe storms proves true, Americans in red states and blue states will demand to know why you didn’t do something to protect them.
Do you really want to risk the judgment of history merely or praise of the moment at a campaign rally in coal country? Wake up and smell the ashes. The Charleston Gazette-Mail ran a front-page headline next to your picture that says, “Trump’s Budget Slams West Virginia.” They won’t remember your empty promises about returning jobs in coal mines when temperatures soar and storms savage their homes.
That holds true for everywhere else where you won bigly in the presidential election. They liked your fresh, brash approach. They won’t like revisionist foolishness when it becomes even more apparent climate change isn’t fake news.
While many of us hope the country can survive the four years of your presidency without a major economic collapse, international alienation or a foolhardy new war, climate change may not be so forbearing. Some climate scientists say it already may be too late to reverse the forces of climate change. Maybe before long we will be producing cabernet sauvignon in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Mr. President, you can continue to inhabit your alternative universe where your administration is running smoothly, your predecessor wiretapped your campaign and you have something in common with Angela Merkel. But don’t wait until polar bears can only survive in cold storage units to realize your duty calls you to protect the nation and its people from what could be the gravest threat we have ever faced that guns and cyber warfare cannot defeat.
History will be watching as long as we have solar-powered air conditioning. A legacy as a climate change denier will not stand the test of time. You will be ranked right down there with the temporizing, pre-Civil War presidency of James Buchanan, known for all time as “Ten Cent Jimmy.” That’s hardly a moniker a billionaire like you would want for all the time we may have left on earth.
Gary L. Conkling