Retired Prosecutor Explains How Trump's Ignorance is Putting Americans in Real Danger.
Since the time ancient peoples gathered together in groups to create, at first primitive, and then, increasingly, sophisticated societies and governments, their principal objective was always self-protection. The notion of a “social contract,” developed during the enlightenment period, set the moral and philosophical underpinnings between the people and their leaders, in which the responsibility of government was to protect its citizens from dangers they could not defeat alone. In 1651, in Leviathan, Thomas Hobbs described the unrelenting anxiety that exits in a society without basic protections. Yet such fear is hardly a concern limited to ancient times. Broad spectrum hazards are currently on global display in fragile nations and ungoverned regions where people routinely die at the hands of warlords, famine, and disease.
Largely without interruption, the United States – the richest, most powerful country in world history – has well satisfied its “social contract.” We, its citizens, consent to be governed without rebellion in exchange for basic protections to preserve our lives and our general well-being. Recently, however, President Trump and his appointees have taken unprecedented actions that fundamentally call into question whether a schism is arising in the moral and philosophical underpinnings of that contract. For the reasons discussed below, an increasingly urgent question has arisen: is the Trump Administration violating the basic social contract with us upon which its governance is justified?
Brock Long, the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), recently made a stunning admission that the Trump Administration will breach the foundational basis upon which we – the citizens of the United States – consent to be governed. He almost certainly did not recognize the import of his statement, and his pronouncement is the mere tip of the Trumpian iceberg. Long announced that: (1) FEMA is out of funds; (2) the emergency management system is broken; and, (3) if this summer’s hurricane season is the new normal, Americans cannot rely on the federal government when disasters strike. That is, when hurricanes and other environmental calamities occur, we may be on our own. Actions by Trump do little to assure us that Long is wrong.
In the aftermath of the extraordinary 2017 hurricanes, Harvey, Irma, and Maria, nearly five million Americans have filed for emergency relief. Immense fires in California – continuing into the winter – add to the magnitude of the environmental disasters that have arrived this year. Many residents of Texas, Florida, and California are still in need of significant help, while large swaths of Puerto Rico remain a catastrophe, including without access to electricity. Puerto Ricans – American citizens all – have been told that portions of the island will not have electricity restored until next May. (Take a moment and ask yourself: how destructive would it be to your life and that of your family if you had no electricity in your home, school, or work for nearly a year?)
While the head of FEMA tells us we should not count on help if extraordinary weather events endanger our lives, the Trump Administration is taking a victory lap for passing a massive tax cut that will bring vast additional wealth to corporations and high income individuals. If we have the money to disperse a 1.5 trillion dollar tax break how can the Trump Administration tell us that it cannot be counted upon to help us recover when dangers from storms strike? History teaches: great nations that do not evolve in response to existential threats perish.
This concern is much more far-reaching than whether FEMA is able to meet its current responsibilities. The United States stands at a precipice unlike any in its history. Climate change has almost certainly played a role in this year’s unprecedented hurricanes. While scientists cannot immediately tell us whether climate change caused a particular storm, they have determined that storms of greater intensity and frequency – just as occurred this summer – are becoming increasingly commonplace. Indeed, the science shows “we ain’t seen nothing yet.” The analogy is easy to follow. Just as doctors cannot say that a baseball player hit a particular home run because he injected anabolic steroids, they can properly determine that players will most definitely hit longer and more frequent home runs because of chemical usage. Earth’s environment is saturated with steroid-analogous substances – billions of tons of greenhouse gases – injected into our atmosphere during more than a century of unrestrained pollution.
Despite decades of studies and an overwhelming consensus by respected climatologists across the planet – who warn us that anthropogenic climate change is both real and will cause civilization altering negative consequences – President Trump admanently refuses to take action to protect us. He has announced that the United States will withdraw from the United Nation’s Paris Climate Change Accords, and his polluter-beholden EPA Administrator is dismantling the Agency’s Clean Energy Plan. Trump has placed those who share his profoundly ignorant view that the crisis is a hoax into critical cabinet positions. Despite this year’s record shattering storms Trump does so much more than merely fiddle while Earth burns; he lights his own matches.
Climate science informs us that glaciers are melting across the planet, and that warmer temperature are endangering massive ice fields in Greenland and Antartica. Even without a single drop of additional ice melt, warming waters increase ocean volume. Climatologists advise: as little as 15 years exist to achieve dramatic reductions in greenhouse gases emissions, and we cannot wait if we are to succeed in keeping the total temperature increase to below levels that will not fundamentally alter Earth. Of the world’s 7.6 billion people, approximately 40 percent live within 60 miles of an ocean. Well over a billion human beings currently live on land that is projected to be submerged in the coming decades if greenhouse gas emissions continue at even close to their current rate. If our President considers Mexican immigrants a danger to our country, imagine the hazard that will be posed when hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people flee from inundated lands to new areas across the planet. Should this occur, world wide civil unrest and even war seems almost certain to follow.
The International Energy Agency projects that many trillions of dollars in profits will be realized as the world transitions to renewable energy between now and 2050. Instead of positioning United States and its industries to reap these massive profits, Trump seeks a rebound for coal – a filthy, costly energy source – that is destined to fail due to its own economic inability to compete with cleaner technologies. Instead of quite literally participating in saving the gentle habitability of our planet, Trump is doing more than anyone in history to imperil it.
The time has come to evaluate Trump anew, not in terms of temporal popularity – our relative satisfaction with one program or another – but with regard to whether, by endangering our lives and that of our progeny, he is violating the social contract upon which his governance is justified.
(Craig Benedict wrote this article. Mr. Benedict is a retired federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice who handled environmental-related litigation for 35 years.)