My friend Greg Sargent at the Washington Post has a nice write-up of the latest news that Donald Trump may, or may not, be preparing to flip-flop on climate change. You’ll recall that Trump had earlier declared climate change a “Chinese hoax.”
Were Trump to come around on climate change, of course that’d be a good thing. The question is whether it would be a lasting thing.
The only constant in Donald Trump’s life is Donald Trump. Self-interest rules to the day, to an extreme. And selflessness takes a back seat to ego and greed, to a superlative degree.
That’s the first thing you need to know about Donald Trump.
The second is that Trump doesn’t come across as terribly bright. He’s not shown much intellectual curiosity, and when pushed on even the basics of the world around us, Trump often gets its wrong, whether it’s not knowing what the nuclear triad is, not realizing that the current leader of North Korea was not in power during the Bush and Clinton years, or the fact that he just bombed Syria and not Iraq.(Trump told a TV reporter that he informed the Chinese leader over dessert that we had just launched cruise missiles at Iraq. He meant Syria.)
What does this combination of selfishness and lack of intellectual acumen mean? It means that there’s a foolish inconsistency to much of Trump’s decision-making. He doesn’t understand government policy, nor does he have much of an interest in it beyond how it can benefit Trump Inc.
Thus, with the republican Obamacare repeal alternative, the ACHA, Trump didn’t care what was in the House GOP compromise or whether it fulfilled his repeated promises to secure lower prices and better coverage for everyone. Trump’s only true metric was whether passing a plan, any plan, would help his reelection in 2020. Substance be damned. (And even Trump’s reelection concerns are likely motivated in large part by concerns about the Trump brand, should he be a one-termer.)
And thus it may be with climate change, just as it was with Syria (no intervention becomes intervention), the border wall (Mexico will pay becomes we will pay), no longer locking Hillary up, deciding not to declare China a currency manipulator, calling NATO no longer obsolete, and so on. Issues that offer Trump no pecuniary gain simply don’t matter and thus have no staying power. So Trump may stake out a position based on the latest voice in his ear, but he’s just as ready to change his position later one, because he simply doesn’t care about the substance if the issue offers him no personal gain. And even if he does care, he’s simply not bright enough to make a fully-informed decision that he can stick with.
Which brings us back to climate change. It would be a huge deal if Trump decides not to pull out of the Paris climate accord. And it’s clearly good news that the Bannon wing is waning in influence, while Ivanka and Jared assert more influence. And maybe Ivanka and Jared, as family, can become a constant of, if not “moderation,” at least something less crazy and less extreme in Trump’s ever-changing inner circle.
I’m not saying I put high hopes on the wonder-twins taming the wild beast. Trump is 70 years old, and there’s no reason to expect the leopard to change its spots at this late date. And I worry about the next silver-tongued Rasputin (Wormtongue Stephen Miller comes to mind) who will inevitably lead Trump back to the dark side of his incessantly-needy psyche.
But if even for a while Trump’s kids can reign in dad’s inner demons, even slightly, I’ll take it.