Opinion: Analyzing the Danger Trump is Putting Americans in.

The most fundamental duty of the President of the United States is to safeguard American lives. Broadly considered, threats may include not just military attacks upon our nation, but also terrorism, and dangers posed to the general health of our populace. In three crucial areas, President Trump is beginning to pose an existential threat to our wellbeing. 

     Our Constitution reposes in the President control over our military. Citing the examples of Libya and Iraq – nations whose leaders gave up nascent nuclear weapons programs and were thereafter deposed and killed via action at least initiated by the United States – North Korea’s leader has manifestly determined that his survival depends on his nation’s possession of atomic weapons. This otherwise impoverished country has made startling gains in its nuclear bomb and missile technology. Rather than endeavoring to calm the rancor between our nations, President Trump has directed infantile insults (“Little Rocket Man”) to the notoriously thin-skinned North Korean leader. Trump promised military attacks on North Korea (“fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen before”) if that nation made any further threats against the United States. North Korea promptly made such threats, exposing Trump as impotent. As the entire world knew, he could never launch a nuclear strike against North Korea merely because it taunted our President. Recently, Republican Senator Bob Corker lamented that the White House has become an adult day care center, where our President must be supervised at all times. More seriously, he stated that Trump poses an increasing danger of starting World War 3; that is, our nation is less, not more, safe because Trump is the White House. As is clear for all to see, Trump’s thin-skinned, infantile approach is rapidly diminishing our standing in the world. Once lost, such standing will take decades to reclaim, assuming we are all still around. Trump makes the threat of war with North Korea far greater than if a more mature individual were at the helm. 

     President Trump vowed to replace the Affordable Care Act (“Obama care” or the “ACA”) with “the best,” “the most wonderful,” “the most beautifully crafted” health insurance program. Interestingly, at no time since he took office has Trump offered a proposal of his own. Instead, he merely sat back and waited for Republicans to prepare something, anything. (Indeed, he has put forth virtually no detailed plans of his own on any major issue. At best, the White House comes out with extraordinarily simplistic outlines of possible proposals, leaving the details to be fleshed out elsewhere.) The contours seemed to matter little to him so long as he could declare victory, even when the proposals would have cost up to 24 million Americans their insurance. 

     When the repeated repeal and replace efforts failed, he began to engage in pernicious, mean-spirited behavior. American lives literally depend on having medical insurance. Obama care operates through insurance markets. Everyone, Obama very much included, recognized that tweaks to the marketplace structure were needed to keep the programs functioning well. But now that repeal and replace has failed (at least for the time being), Trump has begun to block efforts to improve the marketplaces; that is, to try to ensure they provide the poorest possible coverage for Americans. His calculation is diabolical. If he cannot overturn Obama care then he will make it work as poorly as possible so it will look like a greater failure. Trump certainly understands that insurance programs that fail Americans will deeply and adversely hurt people dependent on reliable insurance for their lives. He manifestly does not care that people will die as a result of his actions. 

     On orders from President Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has just revoked our nation’s Clean Power Plan. This Plan was the means by which the United States intended to lower carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet our obligations under the Paris Climate Change Accords. Notably, neither Trump nor Pruitt have proposed any alternative plan, with both denying the existence of climate change. Their rejection of the overwhelming science establishing the existence of climate change is both stunning and frightening. The Supreme Court has held that the EPA acts lawfully under the Clean Air Act when it regulates carbon dioxide emissions, and the EPA has made an endangerment finding that climate change (caused principally by carbon dioxide) endangers the United States. In the most fundamental way, President Trump’s actions imperil our nation and the world. 

      It is not as if the United States played a limited role in the climate change problem, and therefore it is not fairly ours to participate in addressing. A decade ago, China surpassed the United States for the first time as the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases. But this milestone is misleading. Historically, the United States operated as the world’s industrial powerhouse. We have emitted a full one-third of the total greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere – by far the largest percentage of any single nation – despite possessing only four percent of the planet’s population. Thus, we played an outsize role in the emissions that led to climate change. We are capable of playing an equally significant role in resolving the problem – at a great financial benefit to us.  

     Trump lauds himself as a businessman who understands how to make America thrive financially. Yet the future costs associated with not responding to climate change will be impossible to absorb. Many of the major cities in the United States and around the world are at or near sea level. (Miami is already experiencing water in its downtown streets on sunny days when tides are especially high. Google it and see the recent pictures and videos.) Six hundred million people will need to flee low-lying areas if action is not taken. 

     Trump ignores the immense upside of leading the world in the climate change response – in the transition to renewable energy. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has seen coal mines close in his state and around the nation because they are no longer financially viable. The Governor responded to Trump’s recent action by noting, “We have dramatically cleaner air and we are saving money. My question to the EPA would be, ‘which part of that don’t’ you like?’”   

     The International Energy Agency projects that investments in renewable energy will generate many trillions of dollars in profits between now and 2030 and that the savings in energy costs will be equally fulsome. Conversely, the profits American will fail to realize if we do not involve ourselves in this worldwide transition will reduce us to an “also ran” nation. If Trump will not act to prevent this looming planetary catastrophe – and there is every reason to believe that he will not – state and local governments and individuals must take on what is, principally, a federal responsibility to safeguard our nation.

 

(Craig Benedict, a retired federal prosecutor who specialized in criminal environmental cases, wrote this article.)