I spent last Wednesday afternoon scurrying up and down the stairs at home, rushing between my desk upstairs and the TV downstairs. I flipped between CNN, MSNBC and Fox, my pulse, as measured by my watch, racing faster as the afternoon went on.
I was reporting on the insurrection at the Capitol for liherald.com, shooting emails to editors and reporters, talking with them on the phone and typing as fast as my fingers could move.
By 4:30, we had published a story in which U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi recounted the horrifying details of the Capitol takeover by a violent mob. He had escaped unscathed, but he was clearly shaken.
The afternoon was the ignominious end to the Trump presidency, a final, inglorious melee that concluded with five people, including one Capitol Police officer, dead. President Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Mo Brooks spoke at a rally that preceded the Capitol takeover, stoking anger. And so, only days before Trump will leave office, he is, it appears, once again under investigation.
Karl Racine, the attorney general for Washington, D.C., told ABC News Friday that his office would examine the president’s alleged role in inciting the violence. “Clearly, the Capitol was ground central in the mob’s behavior,” Racine told “Good Morning America.” “Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani, even the president were calling on supporters and hate groups to go to the Capitol, and in Rudy’s words, ‘exercise combat justice.’ We’re going to investigate not only the mob, but those who incited the violence.”
It was all unfathomably shocking, but unsurprising, given the angry messaging that Trump had telegraphed ever since he ran for president in 2015. Since Wednesday, officials and pundits, both Democrats and Republicans, have spoken out, calling the president a clear and present danger to the American people. Trump is, and has been, a destabilizing force, continually acting to divide rather than unify, they correctly noted.
What we often lose amid Trump’s rapid-fire tweets and fire-and-brimstone rally speeches, though, is the direct effect of his policies on the American people, in particular his dismantling of many environmental regulations enacted over decades to protect our health and our world.
Before the insurrection, I had intended to write this week on all that President-elect Joe Biden must do to clean up Trump’s disastrous environmental policies, beginning with rejoining the Paris Agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions, which the U.S. adopted in December 2015, President Obama signed in August 2016 — and Trump withdrew from in June 2017. The accord was signed by 196 nations before the U.S. pulled out. To date, the U.S. has been the only country to withdraw.
It might seem incongruous to write about Trump’s environmental policy on a week when insurrectionists, egged on by the president, stormed the Capitol. It might, but it’s not.
Both are directly related to the well-being of the American people. The invasion of the Capitol desecrated one of our most sacred government institutions and posed a direct threat to our democracy. Loosening environmental regulations while defiling our sacred lands — our national forests and parks — poses a direct threat to the planet.
Humans — and all life forms, for that matter — require clean air and water. That was of little consequence to the Trump administration, however. According to the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based environmental think tank, Trump, nearly from the start of his presidency, targeted the Obama-era Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Under Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency repealed the plan — which, according to an EPA internal analysis, could result in 1,400 premature deaths because of air pollution and $30 billion in health damages, with the worst effects in the industrial Midwest.
Imagine that: The federal agency vested with protecting our environment and our health actually rolled back a policy that would help protect our planet and save lives. Let that sink in.
That was Trump’s macro approach to our environment — a wholesale reduction in sound standards — but he also took a micro approach. He blocked a U.S. Department of Energy policy, established under the Bush administration in 2007, to phase out energy-inefficient light bulbs. The rollback, according to WRI, is expected to cost the average American household an extra $100 a year, and in the aggregate, families and businesses will spend an additional $12 billion a year.
Imagine that: The federal agency charged with improving energy efficiency actually rolled back a policy aimed at doing just that.
Why? The only answer is greed. Such rollbacks, of which there were dozens more under Trump, benefited not the American people, but the president’s corporate cronies. Yes, we must pay very close attention to the dangers before us in the here and now, but we also must address the slow-burning fires that Trump quietly set while distracting us with his Twitter tirades.
Scott Brinton is the Herald Community Newspapers’ executive editor and an adjunct professor at the Hofstra University Herbert School of Communication. Comments about this column? SBrinton@liherald.com.