The argument of America First seems to have been extended to its logical conclusion as the apparently selected President of the United States has single-handedly subtracted the nation from a map of climate change. By denying the place of the United States in the Paris Climate Accords, President Trump seems, in the most charitable interpretation, to have acted on his own instincts for what was the benefit that accrued to the country in the very short term, and after looking at the balance books of the United States government for what might have been the first time, decided that America had no real part in the map of the future of a warming world. Rather than outright denying global warming or climate change, Trump decided that the conventions established to contain it by the world’s nations had no immediate advantage for the United States.
The result wasn’t really to subtract the United States from the ecumene, but from the phenomenon or at least the collective reaction of the world to climate change, and openly declare the supremacy of his own personal opinion–as if by executive fiat–on the matter. The personal position which he advanced was so personal, perhaps, to be presented in terms of his own clouded thinking on the matter, or at least by seizing it to create what he saw as a wedge between national consistencies, and to use wildly incommensurate forms of data to create the impression of his own expertise on the issue–and to mislead the nation. For Donald Trump took advantage of his having Presidential podium to diss the Paris Accords by a torrent of alliteration developed by a clever speechwriter as resting on a “cornucopia of dystopian, dishonest and discredited data.” Even if one wants to admire the mesmerizingly deceptive excess of alliteration, the notion of rooting an initial response to planetary climate change in the perspective of one nation–the United States of America–which produced the lion’s share of greenhouse gasses–is only designed to distort.
By pretending to unmask the Paris Accords as in fact a bum economic deal for the United States, as if it were solely designed to “handicap” one national economy, set a sad standard for the values of public office. For as Trump dismissed data on climate change as discredited with mock-rage, and vowed that the entire affair had been designed by foreign groups who had already “collectively cost America trillions of dollars through tough trade practices” and were desiring to continue to inflict similar damage.
But the large future on trade imbalances–which he treated as the bottom line–he staged a spectacle of being aggrieved that seemed to take on the problems of the nation, with little sense of what was at stake. Trump’s televised live speech was preeminently designed only to distract from the data on which the Accords had been based. And even as Trump sought to pound his chest by describing the Accord as a “bad deal for Americans,” that in truth “to the exclusive benefit of other countries.” By turning attention to an America First perspective on global warming, Trump sought to replace the international scope of the challenge–and intent of the much-negotiated Climate Accords–by suggesting that it obscured American interests, even if it only took America’s good will for granted. As if explaining to his televised audience that the agreement only “disadvantages the United States in relation to other countries,” with the result of “leaving American workers–who [sic] I love–. . . to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs [and] lower wages,” he concealed the actual economics of withdrawing from the Accords were buried beneath boasts to have secured “350 billion of military and economic development for the US” and to help American businesses, workers, taxpayers, and citizens.
In continuing to dismiss the data out of hand about the expanded production of greenhouse gasses, Trump seems to seek to overturn the deceptions of data visualizations that have alerted the United States and world about the consequences of unrestrained or unbridled climate change. Trump ridiculed the true target of the nearly universally approved Accords, scoffing at the abilities to reduce global temperatures; instead, he concentrated on broad figures of lost jobs in manufacturing and industries that are in fact small sectors of the national economy, and incommensurable with the dangers of ignoring global warming and climate change, or the exigencies of taking steps to counter its recent growth.
As if years of accumulated data of earth observation could be dismissed as deceptive out of hand by executive authority, independent of an accurate judgement of its measurement, Trump dismissed expert opinion with the air of a true populist whose heart lay in the defense of the American people and their well-being–as if they could be abstracted and prioritized above the world’s Trump’s largely rambling if gravely delivered comments in the Rose Garden press conference that painted himself as daily fighting for the country cemented the alliance of populism and a war on science by its odd substitution of bad economic data for good scientific data.
The switch is one in which his administration has specialized. His address certainly culminated an outright dismissal of scientific conclusions based on a distorted America First picture of the world, where a stolid declaration that “the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords” made sense as form of national defense–despite the potential global catastrophe that rising global temperatures and sea surface temperatures threaten. Is the technique of juxtaposing statistics and muddying data an attempt to undermine evidence, or an illustration of his insecurity with giving authority to data, or to scientific authority, the mirrors his concern about concealing “his profound illiteracy,” or his insecurity about illiteracy, that linguist Geoffrey Nunberg argues not only distance his own speech from words, and discredits their currency, but an insecurity of having to rely on language and linguistic skills alone, in ways that might be well seen as analogues to his plentiful use of all caps on social media, as stepping outside of the language of public life to a medium more direct and complicit with his audience, if outside the usage standards of a written language.
The catastrophes were minimized by being argued to be based on “discredited data” in a bizarre flourish designed to dismiss scientific concensus Trump conspicuously faulted not only the “discredited” but distracting nature of data in the speech he gave in the Rose Garden on June 1, 2017 that supposedly justified his announcement of withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords in 2015 to limit heat-trapping emissions of carbon fuels that have been tied to observed climate change. Rather than foreground the international nature of the accords among agreed upon by almost 200 nations, trump advanced the need to heed local interests, perversely, but even more perversely argued that the Accords resulted from disinformation. He spoke to the world to chastise their recognition of scientific observations, in so doing destabilizing not only global alliances but undermining a long-negotiated climate policy by pulling the rug out from long accepted consensus not only of climate scientists but a role of national leadership that sought to remedy the failure of the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. Trump turned his back on the Climate Accords on how to curb greenhouse gas emissions by proclaiming their unfairness to American interests, and attacking unwanted constraints on American industry, through his own deployment of data that was even more discredited as an excuse to walk away from the prospect of a greener world.
Al Drago/New York Times
1. If Trump steered the nation away from green energy and into darkness, Vladimir Putin seemed to mock Trump’s rationale for the withdrawal when he mused, jokingly but ever so darkly, that “maybe the current [U.S.] president thinks they are not fully thought-through,” making open fun of Donald Trump’s image of global leadership by wryly noting in ways that echoed the absurdity of Trump’s defense of the local in place of the global. “We don’t feel here that the temperature is going hotter here, . . . I hear they are saying it snowed in Moscow today and its raining here, very cold,” Putin noted, as if relishing undermining long-established trends in climate data by invoking a populist championing of local knowledge as if it trumped the advantages of earth observation that satellite observation has long provided. Populism trumped expertise and Putin laughed at the possibility that the Accords might soon fail as a result.
Given the longstanding desire of Moscow to be released from constraints on exploring the billions of tons of Arctic oil on which Russia has chosen to gamble, Trump’s almost purposive blindness to a changing environmental politics of the global economy astounds for its parochialism, and its championing of place to dismiss undeniable effects of climate change that seems closely tied to carbon emissions. For with a false populism that championed the limited perspective of one place in the world–or one’s own personal experience–Trump dismissed the maps and projections of climate change, on the basis that the “deal” was simply “BAD.” And as a man who views everything as yet another deal, while he pronounced readiness to “renegotiate” an accord he sought to cast as a failure of President Obama to represent America’s interests, the rebuke fell flatly as the accord was never designed to be renegotiable.
Putin’s remarks were met by scattered laughter of recognition, and some smirks at the decision of the American president to withdraw form a long-negotiated set of accords to the collective dismay of our military and environmental allies, and its implicit endorsement of deniers of climate change. The potential “axis of mass destruction” France’s climate minister has cautioned against might indeed be one of mass distraction. For in dismissing and indeed disdaining the historical accords to limit carbon emissions, Trump sought a soundbite sufficient to stoke suspicions the climate treaty. He sought to cast it as yet another deeply rigged system of which he had taken to compulsively warning Americans. Such a metaphor of bounty was jarring to reconcile with onerous economic burdens cited as the prime motivations for deciding to reject the Paris Accords on Climate Change. The jarring cognitive coinage seemed to connote its negative by a disorienting litotes; but perhaps the most striking element of the entire news conference was that Trump offered no data that backed up his own pronouncements and appearance of steadfast or only obstinate personal resolve.
Before the coherence of the embodiment of climate change in maps, Trumps jarringly juxtaposed radically different sorts of statistic to snow the nation–and the world–by disorienting his audience, on which Trump turned to a litany of complaints and perceived offenses striking for providing no data of any sort, save several bits of false data. As much as Trump betrayed uneven command over the data on climate change, as if embedding discrete numbers in unclear fashion that supported a self-evident argument, as if they addressed one of the most carefully documented changes in the atmosphere of the world. By juxtaposing a threat that “could cost Americans as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025“–a number described as extreme but decontextualized to exaggerate its effect, framed by the dismissive statement “Believe me, this is not what we need!“– with a projected small temperature decrease of two tenths of a degree Celsius–“Think of that! This much”–as if to indicate the minuscule return that the “deal” offered to the United States that would have made it worthy accepting its costs–
The gesture seemed designed to juxtapose the honesty of direct communication with the deceit of the experts. Trump’s notion of direct communication concealed the surreal enjambment of disproportionate numbers more striking by the difference of their scale than their meaning. Of a piece with his citation of partial statistics that exaggerate his points, from “95 Million not in the U.S. labor force” as if to imply they are all unsuccessfully looking for work, targeting some 8 million immigrants as “illegal aliens”ready for deportation, or how immigrants coast American taxpayers “billions of dollars a year.” Such large figures deploy discredited data difficult to process to conjure fears by overwhelming audience, distracting from specific problems with large numbers that communicate an illusion of expertise, or even overwhelm their judgment by talking points disseminated in deeply questionable media sources.
If the power of this juxtaposition of unrelated numbers gained their effectiveness because of a lack of numeracy–Trump’s claim of 100 million social media followers lumps his followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, many of whom may be the same people, and other fake persona —the numbers seem to exist for their rhetorical effect alone, as if to awe by their size and dismiss by the miniscule benefits they might provide. The point of contrasting such large and small statistics was to suggest the poor priorities of the previous administration, and dilute form the consensus reached on the modeling of climate change. To be sure, the Trump administration also barters in fake facts on Fox News Sunday. inflating the number of jobs in coal industries, that show a misleading sense of the government’s relation to the national economy, generating a range of falsehoods that disable fact-checking, obscuring the fact that the global marketplace increasingly gives preference to cleaner energy and clean energy jobs more quickly others sectors of our national economy beyond energy industries. The ties of Trump’s administration to fossil fuels–from the Secretary of State to the Secretary of Energy to the Secretary of the Interior down–employ the obsfuscating tactics of fossil fuel industries to obscure benefits of low-carbon fuels. Indeed, the inability to “renegotiate” a deal where each nation set its own levels of energy usage rendered Trump’s promise of the prospect of renegotiation meaningless and unclear, even if it was intended to create the appearance of him sounding reasonable and amiable enough on nightly television news.
Another point of the citation of false data was to evoke a sense of false populism, by asking how the Accords could ever add up. In isolating foregrounded statistics great and small, tightly juxtaposed for rhetorical effect, the intent seems consciously to bombard the audience to disorienting effect. We know Trump has disdain for expertise, and indeed the intersection between a sense of populism with disdain or rejection of science may be endemic: in formulating responses to a global question like climate change that he has had no familiarity with save in terms of margins of profits and regulations. Rather than consulting experts, the President has prepared for public statements by consulting sympathetic FOX media figures like Kimberly Guilfoyle who pander by endorsing the notion of a climate conspiracy–not experts, who use data as obscuring foils, suggesting an ecology of information originating from pro-fossil fuel industry groups.
2. As much as adopt talking points from other media, Trump uses data to frame overstatements of unclear relation to actualities–as making the distorting and meaningless promise to drop power plant climate rules, clean water rules and other regulations to “help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next seven years”–a figure drawn from a fossil fuel industry nonprofit, which offered little grounds for such a claim, and was a cherry-picked large number offered without any contextualization–or consideration that $30 billion would not fill the pockets of 300 million. The point of allowing workers to continue to fire coal without hoping to meet any guidelines for carbon emissions did secure the total of 50,000 jobs in coal mining in the US, bit seems out of synch with the decline of demand for coal world-wide.
The point of citing such numbers offer a scaffolding for many of Trump’s claims, but as talking points serve to disorient as much as instruct, and disorient from a global perspective and became the basis for pushing the groundless withdrawal from the Paris Accords. Perhaps the orientation for the talking points that migrate from many right-wing news sites into Trump’s public speeches As many of the talking points culled from the unsourced ecosystem of the internet inform Trump’s public statements that may be drawn from a special dossier that arrives on his desk, as Shane Goldmacher suggested, many of which are circulated in the White House to feed Trump’s personal appetite for media consumption, many both dislodged from their original contexts and some neither substantiated or fact-checked, are printed and placed on his desk in the Oval Office, effectively introducing dissembling as much as dissenting information into Trump’s significantly reduced three-page Presidential Daily Briefing.
Indeed, Trump seems to take in only a limited amount of information in large capitals, a point Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to have kenned in devising the powerpoint that he developed for Washington DC to make his case to kill the Iran deal on inspections in April, 2018, as he arrived to make a case that was particularly important to make in no uncertain terms, and clearly did so in large font on successive screens, no doubt as if to imitate the style of the reduced Presidential Daily Briefing: the result of re-used photographs and excessive claims in large font, for Trump, has only “really shown that I’ve been right all along,” as he stated in a later press conference.
Such a new information economy that defines the Oval Office in the Age of Trump makes it less of a nexus of information-sharing from scientific communities. It rather serves to introduce information designed to swamp existing facts–as the eight inch rise in sea levels since 1880, or the catastrophic floods on course to double by 2030, or economic disparities of the global footprints of different parts of the world, and only recently recognized ecological debts that patterns of consumption generate globally.
It is almost difficult to tell whether the jarring incommensurability of great and small numbers that Trump cited in his Rose Garden press conference was intentional–a strategy designed to mystify,–as some have cautioned–or a sort of cognitive dissonance between the ingrained skepticism before data, and belief in his own powers to resolve a problem of any size. It may well be a combination of both: but the history of long-term measurement of climate change suggest a perfect storm between his own doubting of data and persuasive skills with his outsized cognitive sense of his abilities to resolve an issue of such magnitude, and the inability he had of acknowledging that the United States had a need to recognize a debt it owed anyone.
The very overflow and abundance of data on global warming and climate change, in this context, cast a gauntlet and raised a challenge to be dismissed, and negotiated around in ways that did not depend on scientific observations, but would reflect his own ability to get a better deal for the United States alone, in a perverse impulse to isolationism in response to one of the greatest consequences and challenges of globalization–climate change–and the particular problems faced by the developing countries and for nations that were defined as biocapacity debtors. Indeed, in separating the nation from a pact between developing and developed countries on energy use and fossil fuel emissions, the notion of any prospect of global compact is unsettled by the withdrawal of the largest developed nation form the Accords–under the pretense that their interests were not respected enough–with one other nations that sought to enforce stricter emissions guidelines.
Trump’s biographers have called him someone who was convinced of his own ability to manage and fix anything. As a candidate for US President the sense of being able to resolve problems served him well. He readily trumpeted statistics to suggest the ease with which a range of otherwise intractable problems could be solved in an almost common sense manner that endeared him to populist following, and inflected his false populist claims. Trump gained a wide flowing by directly questioning statistical declines in urban crime over decades as concealing an actual rise in criminality during the Presidential campaign, which he linked to Obama’s “rollback of criminal enforcement,” to the consternation of commentators; querying the importance of regulations on fossil fuel industries; insisting on the need to build clear boundaries and expel immigrants to better the place of American workers; questioning the relevance of science and indeed the statistical basis of regulations imposed by or developed by the EPA and USDA to safeguard the environment or human safety.
To orchestrate such dismissive attacks, Trump has in the past regularly doubted the official numbers, and suggested that they were “rigged” for reasons he never asked his audience to consider with an astounding abandon. Trump has dismissed “phony” government statistics about unemployment numbers, dismissed Congressional Budget Office predictions, as well as calling into question the office, and boosted false numbers of pro-Trump crowds or indeed chosen outlier Rasmussen polls to inflate his approval rating. Is not what Trump champions as data often discredited itself?
Trump’s sense of self and of his own abilities may hide a deep cognitive barrier to processing the multiple causes of climate change, as if to assert a populist basis for rejecting established observations, creating a tempting if dangerous line of thought. The disdain of numbers’ validity, and a deep confusion between data confirming an argument and data that exists to be massaged comes to a head around issues of global warming. and As Bill Nye put it after Trump’s inauguration, in struggling with a “world-view that disagrees with what you observe,” Trump seems compelled to search for data that might support conclusions at variance with observed science, creating a toxic and dangerous marriage of populism and the discrediting of scientific observations and expertise.
Is this the consequence of national innumeracy, or the somewhat Faustian obsessive assertion of individual abilities? Trump’s focus on individual places to attempt to rationalize his withdrawal from the long-negotiated Paris Climate Accords, rather than on the global entirety of climate change, achieved an unprecedentedly parochial warping of a global concern to obscures the dangers of climate change and shift attention from measurement of its real mechanics or the potential dangers that necessitate collective action. Strategies of climate change denial long championed the local to the exclusion of the global–so much that Putin pivoted his supposed support for climate change initiatives when he queried the liability of climate change– “Climate change brings in more favorable conditions and improves the economic potential of this region“–when he responded in the logic of a purely local perspective.
For Trump, ready to champion himself as being elected to represent Pittsburgh rather than Paris, loyalty to voters in Pittsburgh, PA–even if they did not vote for Trump–offered a synecdoche for the assistance he promised to jobs in the nation’s rust belt, as if to make good on his promise to keep his priorities at bringing back jobs, manufacturing, and economic vibrancy. Indeed, the growth of clean energy jobs on which Trump turned his back lies precisely in the American “heartland”–which he had so often evoked on the campaign trail, in ways that suggest that he was primarily using fossil fuel industry tools and the misleading data by which fossil fuels companies have long used to distract attention form the dangers of global warming, and the support for wind energy that exists across states that tend both Democratic and Republican, as wind manufacturing plays a significant role in the economies of states from Michigan to India to Virginia to Kansas to Iowa to Texas to Oklahoma to New Mexico–but will be effectively sold out to fossil fuel energy interests, at significant cost to the nation.
3. The toxic blend of the populist dismissal of science and scientific observation re-emerged on June 1, 2017 in the Rose Garden press conference. It was hard to follow the logic of a line of argument in Trump’s public speech. Trump most clearly communicated a sense of national slighting, however, as if the Accords left the US in the lurch. As if committed to reject global consensus by restoring local power of bargaining to Washington, DC, he sought to use his bully pulpit to reject a treaty that had the temerity to be negotiated overseas, and indeed to be negotiated without his participation, entering quite late in the game to overturn longstanding climate policy as if he had newly discovered its hidden bias. Even without using the word “rigged” in scare quotes, Trump cast the treaty from an official communication to evidence of a corrupt global campaign undermining America’s needs–a scheme to hurt the United States by imposing limits on carbon emissions in an attempt “to put our country at a very great disadvantage.” Talking points distributed before the presser included a jewel that happened to consist of exactly 140 characters,–“The Paris Accord is a BAD deal for Americans, and the President’s action today is keeping his campaign promise to put American workers first.”
This is not so surprising from a President who three years ago boasted that “Many people have said I’m the world’s greatest writer of 140 character sentences.” There is something deeply jarring of a man who can champion the virtue of entertaining an “American” perspective on an issue of global consequence. Pope Francis, by tradition invested with a truly global purview of Christian leadership, openly hoped before the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Accords, for needed global consensus about an issue he had cast in the encyclical “Praise Be” an urgent “moral obligation” for the world, before Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accords: for Francis had forcefully expressed a collective need to challenge what he woefully described as the “perverse” models of economic development that enriched the wealthy at the expense of the poor and transformed the glory of God’s created world into an “immense pile of filth.” Trump’s championing of the local played on the sense of a group of Americans that globalization had indeed duped them, and that global warming was but an excuse for changing the economy that ripped the rug out from underneath their feet. But were there real reasons for rejecting the treaty described in the Rose Garden, or so dismissively cast in all caps as “BAD”?
And if it was bad for Americans, can one really promote that single perspective, and not a transcendent perspective, allowed the best way to comprehend the undeniably global scale of rising sea-levels and warmer temperatures? For Trump’s tone was one of bullying, and his message was of intransigent resistance more than informed skepticism. Trump dismissed the data about global warming as fraudulent in ways that lacked compelling concrete support. In fact, his citation of statistics that seemed to undermine the treaty was both particularly disorienting. Trump implied data documenting climate change was both deceptive in ways that were particularly disadvantageous to the nation, and rigged results against the needs of Americans so keenly that “leaving Paris” was the only fit response.
Trump took the news conference in the Rose Garden as an occasion to trash the treaty Kerry and Obama concluded overseas as a deep betrayal of national interests, a scam into which his predecessor was duped by alien global interests. In so doing, he seemed to affirm the deep populism of his Presidential agenda that his predecessor lacked, but in a manner that smelled of Willy Loman’s refusal to ever deign to educate his electorate in ways Obama must have been deeply shocked and alarmed. Trump affirmed with derision that even if its obligations were fulfilled, as well as imposing restrictions that singled out American workers, with the exaggerated explanation that they would only result in a net decline of “.2 degrees [Celsius]”, as if to diminish its value, in addition to claiming to effectively swindle the U.S. out of “at least $3 billion.” The now-familiar tendency of Trump to juxtapose unrelated and completely disconnected figures of disarmingly different scale seemed to try to disorient his audience, as well as affirm his own statistical illiteracy. In his stage-managed press conference at the Rose Garden, Trump inhabited a bubble of aggrieved self-importance with great satisfaction.
Trump concluded the conference, as if challenging listeners to grasp his logic, he affirmed that he had seen through the Accords he could expose for the world as a shell game unfair to “the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers,” and affirm his solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, obscuring the decision-making process itself. “So we’re getting out,” the President seemed to affirm conclusively, bringing his comments to a close while smiling at achieving some sense of suspense, smiling with evident satisfaction for applause for this implausible conclusion, and promising to place Americans’ well-being first, the rest of the world be damned. Even when he was discussing events of global importance, he seemed peculiarly at home and in his own bubble, defending the burning of coal and growth of the coal industry, concealing that limits agreed to at Paris were voluntarily self-imposed. While Trump addressed constituents, he must have known he was actually addressing the world on a far greater platform of Reality TV than he had ever known.
Trump seemed to consider his aim to have been to disorient his audience, given his reliance on shifting attention from the available data on the particular urgency of climate change to false data that seemed designed to distract his listeners, from the misstated rise of just two tenths of a degree he argued might result from the treaty–“think of that; this much; a tiny, tiny amount”–echoing the much-cited threshold of 2 degrees Celsius that has been touted as climate change’s magic number—
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
–was without impunity falsely attributed to “researchers at MIT” who quickly distanced themselves from the cited data as in fact misleading and outdated by several years, and tied to research predating by two years the 2015 Paris Agreement and only accounting for cutting carbon reductions to 2035. The treaty for reducing emissions that 197 nations pledged to work toward would cut the planet’s pace of warming of nearly a full degree celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, the standard for temperature most widespread in the US) by 2100. But by citing the outdated report as if it were authoritative, Trump used a rhetoric of deception not standard for Presidential news conferences of global significance, if well-known as a strategic tool of debate. Discredited data was something of a leitmotif, however, of a presser that included wildly inflated costs to the country of signing the accords, as if to sweeten a bitter pill. (Not doing anything about climate, the director of MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change affirmed, global temperatures might grow over five degrees celsius, beyond the expected rise of 4 degrees in most climate models, with the result of increasing rainfall by 25% in North America and Europe, creating extreme weather events and flooding at almost all latitudes.) The commitment to reduce emissions by a quarter by 2025 was something Trump disdained, in short, out of belief it had negligible impacts on climate.