Things are getting back to what passes for normal in Capital City. The agencies shuttered by the longest government shutdown in US history are once again open. Whether they remain that way when the continuing resolution (CR) keeping them open passes its February 15th sell-by date is quite another matter. The odds of a second shutdown-showdown are admittedly slim. There are simply too many Republicans in Congress not wanting to face their constituencies—yet again—having to explain Trump’s manic attachment to a wall—whether of concrete or steel. However, we are talking about Donald John Trump and a feckless bunch of Republican Senators, so anything is possible.
The fallout from the month-long melee between Trump, Speaker Pelosi, and ultra-right political opinionators like Anne Coulter will take a toll on the environment in ways less obvious than cutting down protected trees in Joshua Tree National Park. Trump, as he twits endlessly, doesn’t like losing; a thing he seems to be doing a lot more of these days.
After two years in office, the president is still learning that politics—whether in the District of Columbia or Albian, Iowa—isn’t played like real estate or the casino business. The odds of rising from the ashes of a political bankruptcy in Washington are infinitesimal compared to Atlantic City. It is hardly surprising in a town whose motto is “if you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.”
The fallout I’m speaking of here is Trump venting his pent-up frustration on the environment through the singular power of the presidency. One of the few things Trump can do with relatively little interference by Congress or the courts is to issue executive orders and directives demanding federal agencies like the US Departments of Energy, Interior, and Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency prop up coal companies and clear the way for oil and gas pipelines.
I have a certain mistrust of opinion polls—believing in the spirit of A.E. Housman that statisticians use numbers the way a drunkard might use a lamp-post, more for support than illumination. Results can vary widely from survey to survey. How questions are asked and whether respondents say what they really feel or what they think the researcher wants to hear all factor into a poll’s reliability. Current events, e.g., massive forest fires or a terrorist attack, can lead to momentary opinions that will be left quickly behind as media coverage dwindles. Moreover, there can be critical differences between what a person says and what they do—or what you would expect them to do based on their poll answers. Witness the 2016 presidential election—an outcome that few pollsters predicted.
I’ve written frequently over the past several years about the consistent inconsistency of opinion surveys on climate change. On average more—sometimes many more—than half of those surveyed consistently express concern over Earth’s warming and their willingness to pay extra to decarbonize the economy. Post-election analyses over the past several cycles, however, strongly suggest that many do not follow their feelings when casting their ballots, and therein lies the inconsistency.
Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
Samuel Johnson, 1775
I have a colleague who is a substance abuser. Wait, let me rephrase that. A colleague of mine is perpetually frustrated by the unwillingness of climate-science deniers to see the truth about climate change in the data she and the vast majority of the world’s scientists present to them. As the data grows stronger, her frustration grows greater.
Our conversations over the years have followed pretty much the same pattern. She tells me her frustration; then I try to explain that for many deniers it’s not really about the numbers, it’s more about their politics.
Then she says--if they would only look at the substantive peer-reviewed data, they would see…. Then I say, exactly—maybe they only see what they want to see and, mumble something under my breath about her numbers being boring.
Then she says I heard that…and I say…heard what…and anyway what’s changed and why do we have to have this same stupid conversation over and over again? I own that I’m not the adult in the room here.
The other day in the midst of our usual banter my friend stopped me at what’s changed? Then she said, what’s changed is the deniers are attacking my politics; they use to make more of a pretense of attacking the numbers. Why do you think that is?
I didn’t have an answer at the time, but I think now it might have something to do with the findings of a pair of opinion surveys that have been reported on over the last week or so.
(Part 3 of the Slouching Toward Suburbia series.)
The Green New Deal (GND) has clearly struck a chord with climate defenders. The most remarkable things about the GND, at the moment, are the breadth of its vision and how quickly the concept is being embraced by Democrats and environmental groups. It is even being talked about by deniers.
It is all the more remarkable for the support it has garnered because it isn’t actually there. The Green New Deal is the title of a story that’s yet to be written. It being a work in progress is both blessing and curse.
As positive as it is to have climate policy back on the front pages of newspapers and social media sites, there are danger signs having to do with the polarization of the Democratic party in much the same way the Tea Party impacted Republicans. Part 3 of Slouching Towards Suburbia continues the discussion of how the Green New Deal is affecting the political debate on national climate and what it might mean for the Democrats’ chances to capture both chambers of Congress and the White House in 2020.
The Green New Deal came roaring into Capital City along with a very assertive group of progressive freshman Democratic House members. Originally part of the policies proposed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and supported by the youth climate organ-ization the Sunrise Movement, the concept is now being signed onto by members of Congress and hundreds of and social justice environmental organizations.
Conceptually the GND rests on three primary pillars.
Although there is hardly a quibble in the climate community over the need to make a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy, there are and will be battles fought over how to get there.
As the bones of the basic concept are fleshed out over the next year or more, there will be myriad proposed additions and subtractions—some of which will lead to contentious disputes within Democratic ranks. These will be the kind of arguments that reflect the core beliefs of identity groups within the Democratic Party, e.g., progressive, establishment and blue dog. I don’t think it an exaggeration to suggest that how these battles are fought and decided could determine the outcome of the 2020 elections.
It’s useful—as well as heartening—to begin Part 2 of Slouching Towards Suburbia saying that most Americans agree that the climate is changing, and government is doing too little to combat it. Opinion surveys conducted in 2018 by Gallup, Pew, Stanford, Yale, and other reputable institutions all support the conclusion.
As deeply divided as Americans are these days about—well everything—who would have thought it to be true? According to the latest Yale/George Mason (GMU) survey, climate plays well in the aggregate with voters, particularly Democrats and independents. Figure1 shows, with hardly an exception that adults in the US believe that global warming is happening—as illustrated by the overwhelming yellow-to-dark red colors on the map. Large majorities believe climate change is real and majorities, in most communities, attribute it to human activity.
‘was the day before Christmas and all through the White House the only creature stirring was Donald Trump—everyone else jetted to Florida. The image of a president roaming the halls of the Nation’s principal residence—stirring the partisan pot with his tweets—is more than a little depressing—both for he who stirs, and the nation being stirred to no useful purpose. It is, however, a nearly perfect political meme for the moment.
The first lady and her son were not the only ones to flee. Growing numbers of senior presiden-tial advisors are also exiting the House Trump’s trying to gild. Given the outcome of the mid-term elections, it appears that some members of the much vaunted #Trumplican [voting] core have also begun to leave the fold. Only time will tell if their flight from Trump is temporary or permanent.
Republican candidates in 2018 continued to lag the Democrats in the total number of votes cast nationwide. It is a replay of the 2016 elections when Democratic Senate and presidential candidates out-polled Republicans by several million votes. One thing that has changed since 2016 is that Democrats running for the House in 2018 garnered more support nationally than their Republican opponents.
As reported by MarketWatch, a nationwide poll of 115,000 participants found fractures in the Trumplican base. Correlating the poll data with the outcomes of the 2018 midterms leads easily to the conclusion that America’s suburbs will be the battlefields on which the 2020 election will be fought—and with it the fate of the nation’s energy and environmental policies for the decade of the 2020s.
Forty percent of Congressional districts are comprised mainly of suburban communities. Once decidedly more Republican than Democrat, the suburban rings around major cities across the country are showing themselves more evenly divided but with a distinct portside tilt. In the 2016 election, 49 percent of suburban voters cast their lots with Trump, while 45 percent did the same with Clinton. Just two years later, suburban voters sent a majority of Democrats to the US House of Representatives.
Whether the perceived fractures in Trump’s 2016 voter-base bode well or ill for the environment will depend in large measure on how successful efforts are to convince suburban swing voters that climate matters enough to make it an actionable priority when marking their ballots.
This first part of the series on wooing suburban swing voters is meant to establish a defensible foundation for why suburban voters are critical to the overall effort first to stop—or at least slow—the Trump administration’s dismantling of existing climate-related policies; and, second to begin putting in-place the aggressive policies needed to heed the warnings of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Trump’s own climate scientists.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.