I’m not sure how many things you’d get Michael Bloomberg, Marco Rubio, and Mitt Romney to agree on, but they did all say the same thing about Donald Trump: He’s a con man. As the chaotic disaster of his presidency begins to play itself out on the national stage, though, we need to take that assessment a step further: Donald Trump is a master of deception and distraction, and our biggest mistake would be to underestimate him. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He misdirects and misrepresents to compensate for his weakness as a leader.
Trump often distracts people by saying one thing while doing exactly the opposite. For example, he will praise President Obama and publically declare, as he did in Time magazine this week, that erasing his predecessor’s legacy is the furthest thing from his mind. Meanwhile, he is making the farthest-right cabinet appointments in history, choosing men and women who will not only strive to erase President Obama’s legacy, but do so with relish.
On no issue is this more obvious than climate change. When pressed on climate change during a meeting with the New York Times, Trump said he intended to keep “an open mind” on the Paris Climate Accord. Meanwhile, his daughter Ivanka supposedly let it be known that she wanted to make climate change her “signature issue.” Might a Trump administration actually work with climate activists to find common ground? Who wouldn’t want to believe that? And yet it all turned out to be misdirection.
One after another, every important climate position in Trump’s cabinet has gotten an extreme anti-environmental, climate-denying nominee. It started with the most radical anti–climate-progress Administrator imaginable for the EPA: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a sworn enemy of the same agency he would run. Then came Rex Tillerson as secretary of state — which would put an oil executive with no experience in international diplomacy and a king-sized conflict of interest in charge of our international climate policy. Next, Trump picked former Texas governor Rick Perry, who once pledged to eliminate the Department of Energy, to run that very department. And finally, for the Interior Department, he selected Montana Representative Ryan Zinke, who during his short time in Congress has earned a 3% score from the League of Conservation voters.
This is a Koch brothers dream team: Not one of these men accepts the scientific consensus behind climate change. To a man, they are boosters of polluting fossil fuels.
And yet, in the real world, most Americans want their government to do something about climate change — not sabotage our progress. Even more Americans — majorities of both Democrats and Republicans, Trump voters and Clinton voters — want to see their government invest in renewables and a clean-energy economy. If Trump gets away with this clean sweep of dirty energy champions, Americans will end up with exactly the opposite of what we really want and desperately need.
You can argue about whether such tactics served Trump well in his long and checkered business career, but for a U.S. president this kind of behavior is a political time bomb. As Abraham Lincoln said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Every piece of data shows that Trump is the least popular U.S. president to enter office in recent history. Despite the unprecedented intervention of a foreign government in the election, he lost the popular vote by almost 3 million ballots. Treating the American public like suckers while ignoring their real needs and wishes (and hoping they won’t notice) is a loser’s strategy. It’s habitual deception masking a desperate, thin-skinned insecurity. And sooner or later, it will fail spectacularly.
In the meantime, though, a lot of damage can be done. That’s why we must see past the distractions of tweets and soundbites and shine a fierce light on the reality of what Trump and his corporate cronies want to do to our government. Nominating someone like a Rex Tillerson to the highest position in the cabinet is a brazen overreach that must be stopped. Putting the EPA and the Department of Energy in the hands of men who want to destroy those institutions is outrageous.
Don’t be fooled. We can stop this from happening. If everyone who believes it’s important to protect our climate and environment speaks up, Trump will be forced to back down. Start now by telling your senators to oppose the Tillerson and Pruitt nominations, and stay tuned for more actions and ways to get involved.