For decades the right has fought to undo environmental regulation. Under Trump and Pruitt, it’s extreme gaslighting.
By Paul Rosenberg / 04.22.2018
Republican attacks on the environment are nothing new. Ronald Reagan famously claimed, “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do” while running for president in 1980. His first EPA chief, Anne Gorsuch, slashed the agency’s budget by a quarter, and its workforce by 20. (Yes, her son Neil is now a Supreme Court justice.) She claimed that states could do a better job protecting the environment even as she botched high-profile Superfund cleanups, as Cally Carswell of High Country News reminded us a year ago.
“The debate surrounding the EPA’s future is strikingly similar today as Scott Pruitt assumes command,” Carswell wrote. There were similarities as well between Reagan’s first Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, and Ryan Zinke today.
In the George W. Bush administration, science was manipulated and distorted across a broad range of issues (at the same time the nation was misled into the Iraq war), with wide-ranging impacts, many of them environmental, especially global warming.
Yet there’s a much greater ferocity this time around, which may be related to Trump’s bombastic style. The subversion of science is more intense, and there are so many policy attacks on so many fronts it’s impossible for the public to keep track. The threat of worsening climate change looms over them all, making the stakes higher than ever before.
We’re hurtling toward a hotter and more disordered future. Longtime right-wing hostility has hardened into outright denial, which is used to blot out a range of economic and public-health benefits that would come from actual action to address climate change. The more indisputable the facts become, the more necessary it is to bury them. Nothing buries facts more effectively than narratives that construct a worldview where they just don’t fit. Trump and his team excel at creating those.
Facts alone are powerless in such a situation. They require a framework of counter-narratives that can help make sense of the onslaught on science and the environment. Even conventional media narratives, presumed to be even-handed or “objective,” often serve to reinforce or protect the reality-denying narratives Trump and his team have deployed.
Consider Pruitt’s long list of scandals, for example. For a long time they were mostly downplayed or ignored, at best reported in isolation. Now they’ve become a big story in themselves, but still treated as if they were disconnected from substance of Pruitt’s destructive policies. On her April 5 MSNBC show, Rachel Maddow broke free of this narrative frame. She drew connections between Pruitt’s $40,000 off-mission trip to Morocco to promote natural-gas sales and the financial interests of Trump’s longtime crony Carl Icahn, a shareholder in the only U.S. exporter of liquefied natural gas — and the man who vetted Pruitt for his job in the Trump administration.
But the connections Maddow drew weren’t exceptional, as noted in a blog post by Keith Gaby, communications director for the Environmental Defense Fund. “Pruitt’s behavior is unethical but, even more importantly, his actions will lead to greater health risks from pollution in our air, water, and land,” Gaby wrote. “We can’t ignore the public health crisis created, in part, by Pruitt’s ethical crisis.” But that’s precisely what the dominant media narratives do. Trump claimed he would “drain the swamp,” but Pruitt’s cozy industry relations are exactly the opposite. An accurate counter-narrative would make that vividly clear — and sink much more than just Pruitt’s leaky little boat.
Read the full article at Salon.com