Don’t expect spineless Republicans to defy Donald Trump

Chicago Tribune Commentary

Don’t expect spineless Republicans to defy Donald Trump

Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post      June 13, 2017

President Donald Trump’s delusional outburst Monday claiming to have accomplished more than any president other than FDR at this stage in his presidency and the fawning praise recited by Cabinet members (in their best imitation of the Politburo) serve to remind us that this is not a normal presidency, and will never be one.

On the day that another court ruled against Trump’s travel ban, a passable health-care reform bill is nowhere in sight and little appetite exists for a mammoth tax cut (another one beyond the America Health Care Act) with correspondingly mammoth debt, we can see just how divorced Trump has become from the reality of his failing presidency. That leaves many political watchers to wonder aloud why Republicans stick by the president.

It’s not like Hillary Clinton would be president, the argument goes. They’d get a sane, much more conservatively doctrinaire president in Mike Pence. They’d no longer have to defend outlandish behavior, minimize his weird affection for dictators or turn a blind eye toward conflicts of interest. GOP lawmakers wouldn’t have to run with him as a ball and chain around their ankles in 2018. And Democrats, who have not had to devise much in the way of an agenda, would have to rewrite their entire 2018 and 2020 scripts. From a self-serving perspective, continual defense of him seems downright nutty.

All of that is absolutely accurate but ignores a few salient facts.

First, unlike Senate and House Republicans during Watergate, there are few genuine leaders of principle whose sense of propriety is offended by Trump. The moral and intellectual quality of the current crew of Republicans pales in comparison to the type of Republicans who finally told Richard Nixon the jig was up. Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., House Minority Leader Jacob Rhodes, R-Ariz., and Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, R-Pa., who went to the White House, have few if any equals in today’s House and Senate.

Those who do have the stature to move against Trump don’t necessarily have the base of the party, and those who have visions of the presidency dancing in their heads have been among the most craven apologists (e.g., Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas) for Trump. In short, the charge that Republicans by and large put party above country is entirely valid. They’d rather let the country careen from disaster to disaster and scandal to scandal than stick their necks out.

Second, elected Republicans by and large cower in the shadow of Fox Non-News hosts, talk-radio opportunists and right-wing interest groups. They fear noticeable distancing from Trump will prompt the vultures of the right to swoop down up them, leaving only bones behind. So long as the characters who populate the right stick with Trump, elected Republicans, sadly, won’t lead. The tribal identification with party has robbed most in the GOP of common sense, good judgment and even patriotism.

Third, given the first two factors, Republicans continue to rationalize support for Trump, or at least line-straddling. Maybe this will all die down. They could still get tax reform. Once the president is forced out, the party will descend in chaos. Hey, gerrymandering will protect the House majority!

Finally, politicians read the polls. They see Republicans by and large still support the president. They have yet (at least until Georgia’s 6th Congressional District special election on June 20) to lose a House seat in the Trump era. For now abandoning Trump seems more risky that sticking by him, especially if one has no concern for appearing like a slavish partisan.

What if Trump decides to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, as Trump confidante Chris Ruddy, chief executive of NewsMax, said Trump is considering? That would spark a good deal of outrage in the press and among independents and Democrats. It might even cost Trump some support from sensible Republicans. A wholesale mutiny among Republicans, however, would not be guaranteed — even then. That reality gives one a full appreciation for how reluctant Republicans are to step out of line — even when it comes to defending an independent investigation by a man many of them praised.

In sum, the sad answer is that these Republicans won’t act out of principle, won’t challenge the right-wing echo chamber and won’t give up the delusion that they can get parts of their agenda through. Given truth serum, nearly all would prefer Pence to replace Trump; they just cannot summon the courage to make that happen.

I suppose some undeniable smoking gun either of Trump’s Russian complicity or obstruction of justice could force their hand, but increasingly it looks like the only thing that will convince them to abandon Trump is the certain prospect of political ruin. Even more likely, they’ll have to lose the House in 2018 before they realize Trump is politically radioactive.

Washington Post

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.

The Hard Truth Keeps Trickling Out, Little by Little


The Hard Truth Keeps Trickling Out, Little by Little

It increasingly looks like Russian hackers may have affected actual vote totals.

By Charles P. Pierce    Jun 13, 2017

The last outpost of moderate opinion on the subject of the Russian ratfcking during the 2016 presidential election seems to be that, yes, there was mischief done and steps should be taken both to reveal its extent and to prevent it from happening again in the future, but that the ratfcking, thank baby Jesus, did not materially affect the vote totals anywhere in the country. This is a calm, measured, evidence-based judgment. It is also a kind of prayer. If the Russian cyber-assault managed to change the vote totals anywhere, then the 2016 presidential election is wholly illegitimate. That rocks too many comfort zones in too many places.

(Bear in mind, for the moment, that we are discussing Russian ratfcking, and not the myriad problems with how we ourselves manage our elections. That’s for another time, except in the context of how those inherent problems facilitated the Russian chicanery.)

It may well be that the Russians didn’t affect the actual numbers last November but, as Bloomberg points out, that was not for lack of trying.

In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database. Details of the wave of attacks, in the summer and fall of 2016, were provided by three people with direct knowledge of the U.S. investigation into the matter. In all, the Russian hackers hit systems in a total of 39 states, one of them said. The scope and sophistication so concerned Obama administration officials that they took an unprecedented step — complaining directly to Moscow over a modern-day “red phone.” In October, two of the people said, the White House contacted the Kremlin on the back channel to offer detailed documents of what it said was Russia’s role in election meddling and to warn that the attacks risked setting off a broader conflict.

One of the mysteries about the 2016 presidential election is why Russian intelligence, after gaining access to state and local systems, didn’t try to disrupt the vote. One possibility is that the American warning was effective. Another former senior U.S. official, who asked for anonymity to discuss the classified U.S. probe into pre-election hacking, said a more likely explanation is that several months of hacking failed to give the attackers the access they needed to master America’s disparate voting systems spread across more than 7,000 local jurisdictions.

This may be so, but it’s becoming increasingly harder to believe that, in one of those 7,000 local jurisdictions, the Russians didn’t strike gold. American democracy went out on the roof last fall.

Apparently, the Obama administration first caught wind of the attack when the Illinois system was seriously compromised.

Illinois became Patient Zero in the government’s probe, eventually leading investigators to a hacking pandemic that touched four out of every five U.S. states. Using evidence from the Illinois computer banks, federal agents were able to develop digital “signatures” — among them, Internet Protocol addresses used by the attackers — to spot the hackers at work. The signatures were then sent through Homeland Security alerts and other means to every state. Thirty-seven states reported finding traces of the hackers in various systems, according to one of the people familiar with the probe. In two others — Florida and California — those traces were found in systems run by a private contractor managing critical election systems.

The Obama people went to condition red; the Department of Homeland Security tried to declare state election systems to be part of our critical national infrastructure, which they clearly are. The Republicans in Congress shot that down. Curiouser and curiouser, some states declined to cooperate fully with DHS. As the invaluable Marcy Wheeler pointed out on the electric Twitter machine Tuesday morning, one of the recalcitrant states was Georgia, where you can’t audit the voting machines, and where they are having a crucial—and extremely expensive—special congressional election next Tuesday.

Depressingly, the Obama administration decided to keep a lid on most of what it knew so as not to undermine the public’s confidence in the integrity of the election, even though those same people in the Obama administration knew that the integrity of the election was completely up for grabs. There are a lot of dangers to self-government, and one of those dangers that’s done a lot of damage in my lifetime has been the feeling that the American people are such fragile ornaments that we don’t dare risk telling them the truth of something lest they fall to the floor and shatter to pieces. This is just the latest example of this infantilizing attitude toward our general democratic obligation to be wise to what out government is doing.

We are creeping ever closer to actual evidence that there was Russian ratfcking of the vote totals in the last election. Not long ago, people wouldn’t even suggest that out loud. We were made vulnerable to something like this because of the interference by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, by the curious goings-on in Ohio in 2004, by a relentless campaign to convince the country of an imaginary epidemic of voter fraud, and by a decade of voter suppression by any means necessary. The Russians wanted to undermine the confidence Americans had in their elections? We made it pretty damn easy to do that.

Trump Is Too Late to Stop the Windmills

Bloomberg View, Opinion-Energy

Trump Is Too Late to Stop the Windmills

Coal isn’t coming back. Technology and demand won’t let it.

By Justin Fox        June 13, 2017

There seems to be little doubt that Barack Obama’s energy and environmental policies had a significant impact on how electricity is generated in the U.S. Tougher air-pollution rules, subsidies for wind and solar power, and a commitment to reduce carbon emissions coincided with a fracking-driven boom in natural gas production to shift the fuel mix in a big way: -1-

Now Donald Trump is president. He is an avowed friend of coal who has already signaled that he wants to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement on climate change and put a stop to the Clean Power Plan that Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency adopted to force continuing declines in carbon emissions by utilities. He also hates windmills.

So why is it that all of the people I’ve talked to and heard speak on panels this week in Boston at the annual convention of the Edison Electric Institute, a utilities trade group, seem to think the shift toward renewables and away from coal is just going to keep going?

Mainly because they think Trump is too late (and my Bloomberg View colleague Noah Smith agrees). “We’re over the tipping point now,” said Jan Vrins, head of the global energy practice at the consulting firm Navigant. “I think the train has left the station.” Said Gerry Anderson, chief executive officer of Detroit-based utility DTE Energy Co.: “The administration can’t turn a 70-year-old coal plant into a 20-year-old coal plant.”

It’s not that the new administration won’t be able to slow things down. Regulatory policies do matter. It’s just that Obama seems to have seized a moment of opportunity when regulatory policies and subsidies mattered most, -2- but now other factors predominate. Vrins again: “We talk about three buckets: policy, technology and market demand. Tech and market demand are driving it now.”

The basic story is this: Since the advent of electrical utilities in the U.S., burning coal has been the country’s chief means of generating power. -3- That means most coal plants have been around for a while. When they break down, utilities now have all sorts of reasons not to build new ones. During the Obama years, tough regulation of mercury and other pollutants was not only one of those reasons, but it also accelerated the retirements of otherwise still-functional plants. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity sifted through investor and regulatory filings and found that utilities attributed three-fifths of the coal retirements since 2010 to EPA regulations.

Unlike the carbon-focused Clean Power Plan, which was tied up in court even before Trump was elected, most of those rules are already fully in place and will be hard to remove. Meanwhile, there are lots of other factors weighing against building new coal plants. One is the likelihood that, once Trump is out of office, the federal government will go back to targeting carbon emissions. In the meantime, lots of state and local governments are continuing to push for more use of renewables in power generation. Customers are clamoring for it, too, as long as it doesn’t cost more. And because of big efficiency improvements in wind and solar (and, yes, federal and state subsidies, although those are getting less important over time), it doesn’t cost more.

So when a utility needs to “invest in more modern generation facilities,” said DTE Energy’s Anderson right after his comment about 70-year-old coal plants, “the choices for new generation are natural gas and renewables.”

This isn’t to say that everyone in the electrical utility industry is equally enthusiastic about all aspects of this transition. The rapid turn to natural gas as an electricity source, especially in the Northeast, has raised lots of concerns about reliability. “During cold periods, there’s not enough capacity in those pipes to bring in all the gas we need,” said Gordon van Welie, president and CEO of New England’s regional transmission organization. The rise of wind and solar has resulted in negative prices for power in some areas when the wind is blowing especially hard or the sun is shining especially strongly — which isn’t a great thing for power markets. The growth of distributed energy generation and storage, and the state subsidies that support it, brings all sorts of headaches for utilities as well as opportunities.

Utilities have also been coping for the past decade with a decline in per-capita electricity use in the U.S., driven by efficiency gains and new technologies such as LED light bulbs. That actually may be one more reason, though, for them to embrace the transition away not just from coal but also from fossil fuels in general. The only way to achieve sharp drops in overall carbon emissions is for electrification to “move more deeply into transportation, heating, industry,” said Susan Tierney, a veteran federal and state energy official who is now a senior adviser at the Analysis Group, a consulting firm. So electrical utilities have an opportunity to reverse their demand downtrend in a big way — but only if the electricity they generate is largely carbon-free.

Put it all together and, as EEI senior vice president Philip Moeller summed it up for me, “the cost of renewables has come down significantly and customers want them, and those trend-lines are going to continue.” They’re not always going to continue uninterrupted — as you can see in the above chart, natural gas has actually lost ground to coal in recent months as rising gas prices drove utilities to use less of it. I guess it’s also possible that those in the electrical utility business are underestimating the regulatory changes in store from the Trump administration. But it still seems quite significant that the people who generate the nation’s electrical power appear to have no plans to halt the transition away from coal and toward wind and solar.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Where’s solar, you ask? It’s big in a few states — in California it’s the No. 3 source of utility power behind natural gas and hydroelectric — but nationwide it’s still nowhere near the top five yet in utility electricity generation. Counting rooftop solar would boost its share somewhat, but still not nearly enough to surpass wind.

My former Time magazine colleague Michael Grunwald argued this in his 2012 book “The New, New Deal.” Subsequent events seem to be proving him right.

Reliable data on this only goes back to 1949, but it’s hard to see what could have out-generated coal before then.

To contact the author of this story:
Justin Fox at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Brooke Sample at

Trump is likely to get much, much worse. Here are a few big things to watch for.

Washington Post, The Plum Line Opinion

Trump is likely to get much, much worse. Here are a few big things to watch for.

By Greg Sargent     June 12, 2017

A look at President Trump’s first year in office, so far


Are Republicans prepared for the possibility that President Trump’s abuses of power could continue their slide to depths of madness or autocracy that make the current moment look relatively tame by comparison? This isn’t meant as a rhetorical question. It is genuinely unclear — from the public statements of Republicans and the reporting on their private deliberations — whether they envision a point at which Trump’s conduct could grow unhinged enough, or threaten serious enough damage to our democracy, to warrant meaningful acknowledgment, never mind action.

Politico’s Playbook this morning tries to sum up the thinking among Republicans. The gist: Republicans are increasingly worried they will lose the House amid a “toxic political environment that appears to be worsening.” They cite the possibility that they won’t secure any serious legislative wins, as well as “serious concerns” about “more revelations” coming on Trump. In the background, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation “remains the wild card.”

For sure, but how much worse could this get? The chatter on the Sunday shows hinted at where we may be headed. Here are a few things to watch for:

The tapes Trump hinted at turn out not to exist. On ABC’s “This Week,” Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump’s legal team, said Trump will make a decision very soon on whether to release the tapes he may have made of his conversations with then-FBI Director James B. Comey.  After the news broke that Trump may have demanded a “loyalty” pledge from Comey, the president tweeted that Comey had better hope he doesn’t have tapes of their conversations. Trump has since hinted he still might release them, and congressional investigators have demanded them.

This state of play is utter lunacy in its current form — the White House has still not said whether these tapes exist, even as Trump hints they might still be coming, and we are so numb to Trump’s daily crazy at this point that we now oddly treat this as somewhat unremarkable. Maybe they do exist. But what happens if the White House, in response to those congressional demands, ultimately confirms that they don’t? Experts think the White House will have to come clean in some way. At that point, it would be confirmed that Trump invented the existence of these tapes to chill Comey from offering a full public accounting of the events leading up to his firing — which itself was a massive abuse of power, given that Trump allowed it was because of the FBI’s Russia probe — in the full knowledge that Comey was going to serve as a witness before long. What will Republicans say about that?

Trump tries to get the special prosecutor fired. Also on ABC’s “This Week,” Sekulow refused to rule out the possibility that Trump might end up trying to order Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to fire Mueller. It is possible that Trump is cognizant enough of the history here (Richard Nixon tried pretty much the same thing) to avoid the drastic step of trying to get Mueller axed mainly because he’s closing in on wrongdoing.

But Trump is not inclined to let institutional constraints limit his options, and he and his team have already shown themselves to be less than shrewd at gaming out the consequences of trampling on them. The circumstances of Trump’s firing of Comey are a case in point. The White House thought it could get away with floating the idea that Rosenstein had provided the rationale (his memo fingered Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe). But that story fell apart, raising the possibility that Rosenstein had provided Trump cover for the real rationale, which Trump subsequently admitted on national television was Comey’s handling of the Russia probe. This basically required Rosenstein to appoint the special counsel.

So can we really count on Trump refraining from trying to get Mueller removed? Nope. Somewhat unlike in Nixon’s time, Republicans may well still stand by Trump even if this happens. If so, they’d be in a considerably darker place than they are even now. And so would we all.

MEANWHILE, WHAT HAPPENS IF TRUMP TESTIFIES UNDER OATH? Trump has now said that he’s “100 percent” ready to testify under oath to special counsel Mueller about his interactions with Comey. But Bloomberg Politics’ Paul Barrett points out that this could create a big problem later:

Trump, through his comments, has limited his lawyer’s maneuvering room. The “100 percent” promise means that if Mueller asks the president to testify under oath — and Mueller eventually will ask — the president has unilaterally disarmed himself from arguing that there’s some reason he shouldn’t have to be questioned under penalty of perjury.

If so, what does Trump say under oath? His lead lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, is flatly contesting Comey’s contention that Trump tried to influence his ongoing probe, and Trump has claimed Comey is lying. But as Brian Beutler points out, even many Republicans are not doing that, which amounts to a “tacit acknowledgment that Trump is lying” about his conversations with Comey, even as they are vaguely defending Trump’s conduct in them.

If Trump should end up testifying, the president would now be under dramatically increased pressure to tell the truth. And Republicans would be under dramatically increased pressure to clarify whom they really believe.

Pelosi ‘very worried’ about Trump’s fitness for office

The Hill

Pelosi ‘very worried’ about Trump’s fitness for office

By Mike Lillis    June 9, 2017

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is questioning President Trump’s fitness to hold his office.

The House minority leader said Friday that Trump may simply lack the curiosity, discipline and stamina to be a competent commander in chief. Trump’s Friday Twitter attack on former FBI Director James Comey, Pelosi said, is just the latest evidence.

“The president’s fitness for office is something that has been called into question,” Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol. “It takes a certain curiosity to learn the facts, to base your comments on evidence and data and truth. It takes a certain discipline to be able to prioritize what is important as we try to bring the country together. And it takes some kind of stamina to keep your thoughts together.

“And I’m very worried about his fitness.”

Pelosi said White House officials should rein in Trump’s impulsive Twitter finger but expressed doubt that anyone on Trump’s team has the “courage” to do so.

“His statements need some discipline, and I don’t know if anyone in the White House has the courage to discipline the president,” she said. “It’s too bad because he needs work. And he needs sleep.”

Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee captivated Washington on Thursday by providing his take on one-on-one conversations with the president.

The former FBI director said he took the president at his word that he had been fired for his handling of the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election, including possible links to Trump’s campaign. He also said he believed Trump had directed him to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Comey stopped short of accusing Trump of obstructing justice, saying that determination is the purview of the current investigative team, being led by special counsel Robert Mueller, Comey’s predecessor atop the FBI.

“That’s a conclusion I’m sure the special counsel will work towards,” he said.

Trump remained silent throughout Thursday’s hearing, but returned to Twitter Friday morning with accusations that Comey had lied under oath.

“Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication…and WOW, Comey is a leaker!” Trump tweeted.

Comey also acknowledged in his testimony that he leaked through an intermediary his memo on a meeting with Trump that included the discussion about Flynn. That became an explosive story in The New York Times a week after his firing.

Pelosi rejected any suggestion that Comey’s testimony vindicated the president. But Trump’s approach to Comey, she quickly added, is consistent with his strategy as a longtime businessman.

“He operates this way: First he tries to charm you. … If that doesn’t work, he tries to bully you. If that doesn’t work, he walks away from the deal. And if that doesn’t work, he sues you,” she said.

According to CNN, Trump’s outside attorney is poised to file a complaint with the Justice Department against Comey over the leak.

“He’s true to form, true to his nature,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi said Trump had acted deliberately to clear the room after a meeting before talking with Comey.

“He knew that what he was doing was incriminating, and he didn’t want any witnesses,” she said.

But like Comey, Pelosi stopped short of charging Trump with obstructing justice. Trump has “abused power,” she said, but the deeper legal implications are still unclear.

“There’s no question he abused power,” she said. “Whether he obstructed justice remains for the facts to come forward, and that’s what we want are the facts.”

Pelosi amplified Democrats’ long-held request that GOP leaders create an outside, independent panel — akin to the 9/11 commission — to step in with its own investigation of Russia’s election meddling.

“We are limited,” she said, “by what the Republicans are willing to do.”

Business Insider

Pelosi: My first meeting with Trump as president was unlike anything I’ve experienced with other presidents

Veronika Bondarenko,   Business Insider     June 10, 2017

The first thing President Donald Trump said upon meeting congressional leaders was that he won the popular vote, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said on Friday.

During an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” talk show, Pelosi recalled her first meeting with Trump at the White House after he was elected.

“First thing he says to open the meeting: ‘You know, I won the popular vote,'” she said, later adding that she had to tell Trump there were no facts to support his assertion.

Trump won the 2016 election by a wide margin in the Electoral College but lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by about 3 million.

Trump’s disputing of these numbers and allegations of voter fraud created controversy for him in the wake of the election.

Pelosi said that even though she and President George W. Bush had disagreed on many things, they were at least operating from a shared understanding of facts.

“I wish he were president now,” Pelosi said of Bush, adding that he once told her she would end up missing him. “I wish Mitt Romney were president. I wish John McCain were president.

“We all have to start at a place when we’re dealing with facts, evidence, data, and then you can compromise,” Pelosi said.

Fox News Was Attacking Barack Obama for Using Dijon Mustard at This Point in His Presidency


Fox News Was Attacking Barack Obama for Using Dijon Mustard at This Point in His Presidency

Chris Riotta, Newsweek      June 9, 2017 

Donald Trump isn’t the only president to have faced harsh criticisms just months into office. At this point in former President Barack Obama’s tenure as the leader of the free world, right-wing news outlets were condemning his use of Dijon mustard as a condiment. Yes, really.

In news from eight years ago that appears to be from some alternate reality, Obama left the White House and went out for a local bite to eat with vice president and BFF Joe Biden in May. The two politicians ordered hamburgers, MSNBC journalist Andrea Mitchell reported at the time, with the sitting president requesting mustard on his red meat.

The story was featured on Sean Hannity’s show, Hannity’s America, as a screen showed a photoshopped image of Obama surrounded by bottles of mustard with the words “PRESIDENT POUPON” plastered on a red and white banner.

Let that soak in for a minute. Trump tweeted his support for Fox News Friday, commending them for the network’s morning show Fox And Friends’ “great reporting” job on ex-FBI Director James Comey’s Thursday testimony. The network’s rejection of Obama’s taste palette compared to its incredible support of the embattled Trump White House was seen by Twitter users as shocking at best, and propagandistic at worst.

Reporters Dominic Holden and Sahil Kapur from BuzzFeed and Bloomberg both shared similar tweets reflecting on Fox News’ coverage of Obama’s presidency just months after his first inauguration following the highly anticipated hearing. Comey’s testimony provided details on his nine conversations with Trump before the president fired him in an effort he says was to ease pressure off of the administration from the ongoing federal investigation into Russia’s meddling in last year’s election.

Trump reportedly described his former FBI director as a “nut job” in a conversation with Russia’s top diplomats in the Oval Office, explaining his reasoning for firing Comey before allegedly revealing top secret intelligence to Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Fox News has spent the last five months strongly supporting Trump’s conservative agenda, defending the president against ongoing controversies enveloping his White House and accusations of collusion with the Russian Kremlin. The network has also continued to push fake news about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s health, following a televised commencement speech critical of Trump.

Compare Fox’s defense of the Trump/Russia investigation to the mustard scandal its conservative TV personalities were decrying Obama’s presidency over just eight years ago. Then remind yourself that, yes, this is the new normal.

Obama criticized Fox News and Sean Hannity at the time in an interview with Fox News’ former anchor Bill O’Reilly, noting the extremism and hate he was facing from the right during his short time in the Oval Office.

Ex-GOP congressman: Ryan would look into impeachment if a Democratic president acted like Trump

Yahoo News

Ex-GOP congressman: Ryan would look into impeachment if a Democratic president acted like Trump

Julia Munslow    June 9, 2017

Former South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis fired off a series of tweets Friday challenging a claim by House Speaker Paul Ryan that Republicans wouldn’t try to impeach a Democratic president accused of the same actions as President Trump.

Inglis, who received the 2015 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, May 3, 2015 in Boston and who served on the House judiciary committee that impeached former President Bill Clinton, wrote to Ryan: “You know that you would be inquiring into impeachment if this were a D.”

Inglis told Yahoo News on Friday that he hoped that Ryan and his party would put country over party and take the investigation seriously.

“We just need to be honest and … call it like it is,” Inglis said, describing the allegations against Trump far more serious than those against Nixon or Clinton. “It’s beyond a break-in at the Watergate. It’s beyond sex with a White House intern. It is the substance matter is really serious. … This investigation deals with the interference of an American election by a hostile foreign power.”

Inglis’ tweets followed former FBI chief James Comey’s testimony Thursday that included a number of explosive allegations, including that Trump fired him because of his agency’s probe into whether any Trump campaign associates colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

During a press conference, Ryan said after the testimony that Republicans wouldn’t point to impeachment if Comey had been testifying about a Democratic president. Meanwhile, some Democrats have already called for Trump’s impeachment, claiming that Trump obstructed justice.

Ryan, who called Trump’s alleged request for Comey’s loyalty “obviously” inappropriate Wednesday, had told reporters Thursday, “No. I don’t think we would [pursue impeachment], actually. I don’t think that’s at all the case.”

Trump’s lawyer denied that Trump sought to influence any FBI probe and claimed that the president never demanded Comey’s loyalty.

But Clinton was sent to trial in the Senate in 1998 for “matters less serious than the ones before us now, “Inglis tweeted.

Inglis, who had voted in favor of all four articles of impeachment against Clinton, which included allegations of perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power, nevertheless said on Twitter that Ryan should focus on the Russia probe rather than “draft articles of impeachment.”

It’s not yet clear whether Trump obstructed justice and should be impeached, Inglis said.

“[The investigation] should sound like very serious lawmakers who are looking into very serious allegations at the heart of our republic. That’s not what I’m hearing yet [from my party],” Inglis told Yahoo News. Inglis now runs, a group that pushes conservative policy solutions to climate change.

Inglis concluded his tweets with a final message to Ryan and the rest of his party: “Put the country first.”

Comey on Trump: Liar, Liar, Liar, Liar, Liar

Comey on Trump: Liar, Liar, Liar, Liar, Liar

But will Republicans care?

By Joan Walsh      June 8, 2017

Former FBI director James Comey torched what remains of President Donald Trump’s credibility Thursday afternoon, calling him a liar at least five times in three hours of testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Trump’s claims that he fired Comey because of chaos and poor morale at the FBI “are lies, plain and simple,” the former FBI boss declared. He kept notes about his conversations with Trump, Comey said, because “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting.” He denied Trump’s claims, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, that Comey had asked the president to have dinner in order to make the case to keep his job. In fact, Trump asked for the dinner, where he repeatedly demanded “loyalty” from the independent Justice Department official.

Comey also confessed that he took the unorthodox step of authorizing a friend to share the memos with reporters because “he thought it would prompt appointment of special counsel”—an admission that he felt the investigation needed that independence—and he seemed to confirm that special counsel Robert Mueller is now investigating Trump for obstruction of justice. “I’m sure that’s a conclusion the special counsel will look toward.” Finally, he said that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation because of “facts I cannot discuss in an open setting” that made his oversight role “problematic.”

It should also be noted that, according to Comey, never once in their nine conversations did Trump express concern or curiosity about the scope or nature of Russia’s involvement in hacking Democratic organizations during the 2016 elections.

Comey did not come away from the experience unscathed. Not just Republicans but Democrats asked Comey why he hadn’t challenged Trump harder on his inappropriate efforts to get information on the Russia investigation and to pressure Comey to drop the probe into former national-security adviser Michael Flynn. Comey admitted he should have been more clear with the president that such efforts were out of bounds. Idaho GOP Senator James Risch hung on the fact that Trump used the words “I hope you can see your way to letting Flynn go,” insisting that “hope” isn’t the same as an order. “He did not direct you to let it go,” Risch insisted. Comey replied, “I took it as a direction. He’s the president of the United States.”

In several comments, Comey made plain that he considered Trump’s suggestion an “order,” quoting Henry II’s famous, menacing quote about Thomas Becket, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” (Becket wound up dead two days later.) It was not an inapt comparison, though it did serve to remind us of Comey’s high self-regard. Comey’s testimony that he considered Trump’s meddling in the Flynn investigation “an order” could be crucial evidence of obstruction of justice if Mueller decides to pursue such a charge.

The former FBI director seemed to step on his own headlines Wednesday night, when he authorized the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing to release his prepared testimony. On first read, there were few bombshells—only because The Washington Post and The New York Times had each been fed several shocking stories drawing on Comey’s memos documenting his meetings with Trump and Trump’s multiple requests for Comey’s loyalty, as well as his efforts to influence or even in one case quash the FBI’s investigation into his campaign and top advisers.

The most remarkable anecdote in the document, which made it into testimony only at the very end (and then not usefully, presented by a seemingly incoherent Senator John McCain): In their last conversation, after nine separate meetings or phone calls in four months (Comey met with Obama only twice in three years, he wrote) Trump told Comey: “I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing, you know.”

The FBI director continued: “I did not reply or ask him what he meant by ‘that thing.’”

On social media, many people immediately thought of the infamous line from Goodfellas, “I took care of that thing for you.” (Personally, I went to Lauryn Hill.) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie tried to reassure MSNBC: “What you’re seeing is a president who is now very publicly learning about the way people react to what he considers to be normal New York City conversation.” Normal New York City conversation? For mobsters, maybe. Mafia dons expect loyalty; presidents know the FBI director operates independently from the White House.

Comey told McCain that he interpreted “that thing” as a reference to their early conversations about “loyalty” and Comey’s remaining in his job, as though Trump had done him a favor by keeping him on. But Comey said he couldn’t be sure. None of us can.

What we can be sure of, unfortunately, is that Comey’s testimony won’t move the GOP toward action to rein in Trump. It gives the rest of us a little bit more insight into what independent counsel Mueller may be seeing; it may give us hope that the investigation will hit its targets. But this process is likely to move slowly, as long as GOP leaders, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, defend Trump’s Comey coercion as the actions of a neophyte who “was new at this” FBI-independence stuff. They’ll defend him until he hurts them more than he helps, and who knows when they’ll decide that will be?

What’s the matter with Kansas … Republicans?


What’s the matter with Kansas … Republicans?

Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large     June 9, 2017  

Story highlights

  • While a lot of the country swung to the right in 2016, Kansas swung back toward the center
  • Brownback promised to gain 25,000 private sector jobs a year during his re-election campaign and the state is not close to achieving that

Washington (CNN) When then-Sen. Sam Brownback was elected governor of Kansas in 2010, he promised to turn the state into a fiscal conservative paradise. For residents of the Sunflower State, the intervening years have fallen well short of that dream. Brownback’s struggles reached a climax earlier this week when the strongly Republican state legislature jettisoned the tax cuts that had been the centerpiece of his governing vision. I reached out to Bryan Lowry, a political reporter at the Kansas City Star, for answers. Our conversation, conducted via email and lightly edited for flow, is below.

Cillizza: Earlier this week, a heavily Republican state legislature overrode a veto of a tax increase by the conservative governor. So, what gives?

Lowry: While a lot of the country swung to the right in 2016, Kansas swung back toward the center. Moderate Republicans ousted conservative incumbents in the August primary last year, and Democrats also made gains in the November general election — even though the state went for Trump by double digits. These candidates won their elections specifically by campaigning on a promise to repeal Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012 tax cuts.

These tax cuts, which Brownback had promised would lead to astronomical job growth, had really become politically toxic over the last four years. The state was running into a budget crisis every six months pretty much from November 2014 onward. For the current year, Kansas faced a roughly $900 million budget shortfall (over the next two years) and an order from the Kansas Supreme Court to increase education funding, so raising taxes was pretty much unavoidable unless you really wanted to make deep cuts to everything but K-12 education. And after three sessions of looking for one-time fixes, I think a lot of members of the Legislature were just ready to end the perpetual budget crisis.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that this was a bipartisan effort. No faction of the Legislature — Democrats, moderates, conservatives — held enough seats to pass a tax plan on their own.

Cillizza: Brownback, from the second he was elected, portrayed his governorship as an experiment in conservative governance. Is the veto override the final sign that the experiment failed?

Lowry: At the very least, it failed politically in the last election. And Brownback’s signature policy — exempting the owners of limited liability companies and other pass-through business owners — was the part that really took the policy down with the general public. Even a lot of conservatives were running away from that part of the tax plan by 2016 because there was a real backlash against a policy that wage-earners found unfair. It was a really effective talking point: Why are you paying taxes on your wages when your boss isn’t?

But I think if you look at statistics, it’s hard to argue that this policy lived up to Brownback’s promises. The governor promised to gain 25,000 private sector jobs a year during his re-election campaign and the state is nowhere close to achieving that. Kansas ranks 48th in the nation for private sector job growth for April 2016 to April 2017.

Brownback has blamed that on other factors like a sagging commodities market, but most of the states around Kansas have been able to grow jobs at a faster rate in recent years. Even the supporters of the tax cuts who think it would have spurred economic growth in the long term think Brownback erred by not aggressively cutting spending. The tax cuts did not pay for themselves.

Cillizza: Kansas has long had a sort of civil war between moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans. What’s the status of that fight today?

Lowry: The fight just escalated. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach just launched his campaign for governor Thursday. Kobach has crafted some of the strictest voting laws in the country and has been at the forefront of the movement against illegal immigration that carried Donald Trump into the White House.

At his campaign kickoff Thursday, he made a point of hammering the moderate Republicans who voted for the tax increase, accusing them of the stealing from hard-working Kansans. He linked the tax increase to the amount of money the state spends on providing public services to illegal immigrants, citing figures from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center considers extremist.

Kobach succeeded in linking the voting issue to immigration when he first ran for secretary of state in 2010, so it will be interesting to see if he succeeds in this effort to link immigration to taxes in the 2018 governor’s race.

2018 could bring the Brownback tax cuts back to life if Kobach wins the governor’s race and the moderates who voted for the tax increase don’t win their primaries. Expect heavy spending from Koch-linked groups, such as Americans For Prosperity and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

Cillizza: Democrats came close to beating Brownback in 2014. Do they have any real hope of winning an open seat next November?

Lowry: We’ll see.

Paul Davis, the man who came close to beating Brownback in 2014, is going to pursue an open congressional seat after (Republican Rep.) Lynn Jenkins announced she won’t seek re-election. A lot of Democrats still saw Paul as their strongest statewide candidate.

So far, two Democratic candidates have officially declared and another one has hinted at a run and the three men represent really different strands of the Democratic Party.

Carl Brewer, the former mayor of Wichita, would be the first black governor of Kansas if he wins. Josh Svaty, a former lawmaker and state secretary of agriculture, has a lot of rural Democrats excited. He’s a farmer. He’s only in his 30s. And he has a lot of policy experience. But he had (an) anti-abortion voting record and some progressives are very wary about his candidacy. And then, finally, there’s Jim Ward, the current minority leader of the Kansas House. Ward has a reputation as a progressive bomb thrower. He’s been one of Kobach’s and Brownback’s fiercest critics in the Legislature and I’m picturing a state fair debate between him and Kobach going down like a vintage WWF title match.

Cillizza: Finish this sentence: “The lesson Republicans nationwide should take from Brownback’s plight is __________.” Now, explain.

Lowry: “Tread carefully.”

People love the idea of tax cuts, but they don’t always love the consequences. Brownback entered office in 2011 with a huge mandate, but six and half years later he’s become almost a pariah for doing exactly what he said he’d do: Cutting taxes.

Donald Trump, the Paris Agreement, and the Meaning of America


Donald Trump, the Paris Agreement, and the Meaning of America

By Paul Arbair, originally published by Paul Arbair blog     June 14, 2017

Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change has sparked a global uproar. Yet America’s reluctance to reduce its use of fossil fuels is, in fact, logical. Not only because of the U.S. president’s overt denial of man-made climate change, but also and more fundamentally because it reflects America’s historical essence and trajectory.

So he did it. Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States of America, finally announced his decision to withdraw his country from the Paris Agreement on climate change. According to the White House occupant, this agreement negotiated by the Obama administration was a ‘bad deal’ for America, undermining its competitiveness and jobs, costing millions to its taxpayers, imposing disproportionate and unfair restrictions on its carbon emissions, and weakening its sovereignty. This agreement, he said, “is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States”. It is “a massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries”, and “the American family will suffer the consequences in the form of lost jobs and a very diminished quality of life.” Such a bad deal is unacceptable to a president who has pledged to ‘Make America Great Again’ and to put America and its workers first.

Obviously, Trump’s core supporters have cheered this momentous decision. The billionaire real estate mogul-turned-president, they say, has made good on a pledge he made during last year’s campaign, showing once again that he meant what he said. The rest of America, on the other hand, as well as much of the world, couldn’t be more outraged. By reneging on its commitment to help fight climate change alongside the international community, America is abdicating its claim to global leadership, many argue. By joining the group of countries that are not signed up to deal reached in the French capital in December 2015, a group that so far comprises only Nicaragua and Syria, it is even turning into a ‘rouge state’, some suggest. A state that rejects science, progress and enlightened values, choosing instead a one-way trip back to the ‘Dark Ages’. A state that cannot anymore be relied upon, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it just a few days ago, or even that represents a growing danger to the world. Sad!

In the U.S., Trump’s announcement has triggered a sharp reaction from cities, states and businesses, which have vowed to meet U.S. climate commitments regardless of what Washington says or does. More than 1,000 city mayors, state governors, college and university leaders, businesses, and investors signed a “We Are Still In” open letter to the international community, saying they are committed to delivering concrete carbon emissions reductions that will help meet America’s emissions pledge under the Paris Agreement. Billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg even promised to provide up to $15 million in funding that he says the United Nations will lose as a result of President Trump’s decision to pull out from the climate deal. Emblematic CEOs such as Tesla’s Elon Musk and Disney’s Robert Iger announced they would quit Trump advisory councils, and anti-Trump demonstrations have been held across the country.

Outside the U.S., the reaction has been no less virulent, and Donald Trump’s decision has been vehemently condemned across the international community. Emmanuel Macron, the young and newly elected French president, rebuked his U.S. counterpart in a televised speech – the first speech ever given in English by a French President from the Elysée Palace – condemning his decision as a historic “mistake” and issuing a call to “make our planet great again”. This call, a direct jibe at Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ election slogan, went immediately viral on social media… The leaders of the European Union and China, backed by India and Japan, announced they would fully implement the Paris Agreement despite Washington’s withdrawal. The deal, they insisted, is not up for renegotiation, despite what the U.S. president might say. Trump’s decision, many observers suggested, could actually trigger a wide-ranging geopolitical shake-up that would isolate the U.S., or even make it a ‘global pariah’, and hand China a chance for global leadership.

Beyond America’s geopolitical standing and diplomatic reputation, the reactions to Donald Trump’s decision have of course focused on what it may mean for the planet’s climate. A number of observers have suggested that the American president might actually be doing the world and global climate a favor: outside of the Paris deal, the U.S. will not be in a position to block progress as it has done so many times in the past on climate negotiations, and the rest of the world will therefore be able to step up its efforts. The ‘climate revolution’ they say, is already unstoppable anyway, including in the U.S. The stunning growth of renewable energies, fueled by rapid technological progress and by their falling costs, will ensure that the ‘decarbonization’ of the global economy accelerates in the coming years, whatever Mr. Trump may say or do.

Most analysts and climate activists, however, consider that the U.S. withdrawal will severely undermine the international community’s fight against climate change. The disengagement of the world’s only superpower and current second largest CO2 emitter – and by far the biggest carbon polluter in history– might in fact weaken the Paris Agreement in many ways. Not only because it may reduce incentives for some countries that only reluctantly signed up to the deal to meet their voluntary emissions reductions pledges, but also because it may slow down the pace of technological progress needed to enable the transition to ‘clean energy’. The U.S. indeed remains the world’s technological powerhouse, and a lot of the ‘solutions’ required to accelerate the deployment and use of renewable energies (e.g. concerning electricity storage or carbon capture) are expected to come from its research labs and tech companies. Without sufficient political support and government funding, these solutions may take longer to be developed, or even never emerge. In addition, America’s withdrawal will also undermine the Green Climate Fund, which aims to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to the changes already set in motion by past emissions, and to which the U.S. was the largest contributor in absolute terms. Trump’s decision, hence, appears to many as an irresponsible move, a ‘moral disgrace’ or even a ‘crime against humanity’. Future generations will reap catastrophes and conflicts, and “people will die” because of this reckless withdrawal, some have warned.

Climate change denier in chief

Of course, Donald Trump’s decision doesn’t really come as a surprise. Over the last few years he has repeatedly denied the existence of man-made global warming, calling it ‘fictional’, ‘bullshit’, or even a ‘Chinese hoax’ aimed at making U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. Obviously, there is no point in committing to reduce carbon emissions – and hence to enforce restrictive regulations on economic activity – if you believe that climate change is bullshit and/or a hoax. In addition, he had repeatedly promised during last year’s election campaign that he would repeal and renegotiate all international deals that he thinks do not serve America’s best interests – meaning pretty much all international deals, and certainly the Paris Agreement. Some had however hoped that he would change his tune once installed in the White House. Over the last few months, many tried to caution him against withdrawing from the climate deal, including some celebrity climate activists, economists, politicians, prominent members of his administration, and even his own daughter, Ivanka. Some out of conviction, and others for tactical reasons: it would be easier for the U.S., they argued, to control, steer and contain international climate change remediation efforts by being party to the Paris Agreement rather than as an outsider. Just a few days before his withdrawal announcement, European and G7 leaders also tried to persuade him to stay in the Agreement, stressing how much damage an exit would inflict on America’s global standing and leadership. Yet he chose to stick to his election pledge and to renege on the deal.

Donald Trump thus probably really believes that climate change doesn’t exist, that it is not man-made, or that it doesn’t matter. His supporters were in fact quick to point out that ‘climate science is not settled’, that human responsibility in climate change is not proven, and that global warming is anyway not the ‘paramount issue’ that ‘the left’ claims it is.

Yet it is 2017, and evidence is piling up that climate change is happening, that it results from human activity, in particular the burning of fossil fuels, and that it generates rising costs and risks for countries across the world. Global emissions of carbon dioxide have stabilized in recent years, and even apparently reached some sort of plateau, but the concentration of CO2 – and other greenhouse gases – in the atmosphere has continued to rise sharply as a result of past emissions and is now at record levels. Meanwhile, the planet is heating up at a record pace, exactly as climate scientists said it would. The 120-year global meteorological record shows that eight of the ten hottest years have occurred in the last decade, and 2014, 2015, 2016 all set new global temperature records. ‘Extreme’ weather and climatic events are multiplying across the globe, and sea level rise is accelerating worldwide. The science about man-made climate change is, in fact, as settled as science can be, given the partial and provisional nature of all scientific knowledge. And climate change is only one of the many aspects of human-induced environmental degradation, the extent of which is already for all to contemplate. Mankind, it is becoming obvious for all those who wish to see, is breaching several ‘planetary boundaries’, increasing the risk of triggering large-scale disruption of nature and of driving the earth system into a much less hospitable state.

In 2017, in fact, one can have only two reasons to keep denying the existence of man-made climate change: a complete lack of understanding of the basics of the greenhouse effect, and/or an objective interest in the continuation of the fossil fuel-based economic system. Donald Trump, it could be argued, has both.

His decision probably reflects his sheer ignorance of climate science, as well as of diplomacy and the international politics and economics of climate change. These are obviously not the only things he does not understand – in fact, his first few months in office have shown that ignorance is and will be a defining feature of his presidency. He himself recognized that he had no clue that some of the issues he would have to tackle as president “could be so complicated”, and that he thought being president “would be easier”. Climate change is just another “unbelievably complex” subject that probably eludes his comprehension, and on which he has therefore decided to follow his gut instinct: “Pittsburgh, not Paris”, that is… From this point of view, his decision on the climate deal only confirms that his presidency is, for the U.S. and for the world, turning into a farcical tragedy of historic proportions.

But Donald Trump also has an objective interest in the perpetuation of the fossil-fuel-based economic system. As a businessman he has made his fortune in real estate, building residential towers, hotels and resorts across America and the world. The construction industry is a major user of non-renewable resources, and is in particular heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Restricting the use of those resources or making them more expensive would inevitably raise the costs and hit the bottom line of companies like The Trump Organization, with which the president has failed to really sever ties. Moreover, Trump and the Republican Party are obviously under the influence of a powerful fossil fuel lobby, which has for years promoted ‘alternative facts’ to discredit or undermine climate science and splashed huge amounts of campaign cash on G.O.P. candidates. As a result, many Republican Party members and leaders have come to view climate change as fake science, designed to undermine America’s economy. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, in other words, might be first and foremost “a story of big political money”, perhaps “the most astounding example of influence-buying in modern American political history”.

The Trump MAGAthon

Yet Donald Trump’s decision does not only reflect his ignorance of climate science, his manifest conflicts of interest, or even the obvious influence of powerful fossil fuel lobbies over his administration and the Republican Party. In fact, even if a few coal and mining companies effectively lauded his move, most of America’s big oil and gas industry had actually urged him to remain in the Paris Agreement, at least officially, and criticized his decision to exit it. His own Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who was until last year the CEO of America’s and the world’s largest oil major, ExxonMobil, was in favor of upholding the deal. In addition, most of America’s ‘big money’ actually voiced support for Paris, from Wall Street bankers to Silicon Valley’s tech giants. The U.S. ‘corporatocracy’, hence, cannot really be suspected of having pushed Washington to pursue narrow-minded, short-term national economic interests at the expense of the planet, not this time at least.

In addition, even if Donald Trump denies man-made climate change and has no grasp of “unbelievably complex” issues, even he must understand that the Paris Agreement is voluntary and does not, in itself, impose mandatory restrictions on the signatory nations nor penalties for failing to meet the pledged emissions reductions. Even he must understand that the U.S. contribution to the Green Climate Fund represents a minuscule portion of the Federal budget, and a very limited price tag for exerting influence and control over climate mitigation efforts across the world. Even he must understand the risks for America of isolating itself, of antagonizing its allies and partners, of retreating from its position of global leadership, and of leaving Europe cozying up to the Chinese. Yet he still thinks that it is in America’s best interests to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Why is that?

Could it be that Donald Trump is just pandering to public opinion, which has traditionally been more skeptical about climate change in America than in other parts of the world? That would probably not be a very clever move, as polls suggest that U.S. public opinion on climate change has significantly evolved in recent years, even if at the same time getting increasingly polarized. Concern about global warming is rising, and a significant majority of Americans actually opposes exiting the Paris Agreement. Most Americans want the U.S., on the contrary, to take “aggressive action” and to lead global efforts to fight climate change, even if they still rank the environment near the bottom of their list of priorities for the country. Overall, it is unlikely that Trump’s decision will win him or the Republican Party any additional popular support and any vote.

Could Donald Trump’s decision be then motivated by a genuine belief that exiting the Paris Agreement will help protect, save or promote American jobs? Jobs in the coal industry, in particular, which he has vowed to bring back to the U.S.? Once again, this is unlikely to be the main consideration here. Countless economists have pointed out that coal jobs are probably not coming back, whatever the President may say or do. Most economists also refute the claim that the Paris Agreement would cost the U.S. economy trillions of dollars in reduced output and millions of manufacturing jobs. On the contrary, they argue that without a decisive push for renewable energy the U.S. may miss out on the growth and jobs opportunities arising from the ‘clean energy revolution’. This debate is unlikely to be settled anytime soon, as trying to evaluate the net macroeconomic effects of the transition to renewable energy remains largely akin to guesswork at this stage. In terms of jobs, however, renewable energy technologies already create far more jobs than fossil fuels. In particular, the solar industry is creating jobs 17 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. Stifling renewables therefore means stifling one of America’s main job creation engines – obviously not a wise move when you pretend to be the champion of job creation for American workers.

So what, in fact, may lie behind the President’s decision?

Donald Trump, let’s remember, has pledged to ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA), in the sense of bringing the country back to the heydays of the 1950s and 1960s, when U.S. manufacturing ruled the world and humming factories provided plenty of well-paying jobs in the ‘flyover states’, in particular for white males with no or little education. The supposed ‘greatness’ of America in those days was entirely reliant on the extensive use of fossil fuels, and most particularly oil. Trump and his supporters thus believe, consciously or unconsciously, that making America ‘Great Again’ requires embracing or re-embracing fossil fuels and is incompatible with reducing carbon emissions – especially since these emissions, in their views, have no significant adverse effect on the environment. Renewable energies, on the contrary, are seen as ineffective, wasteful and environmentally damaging. In particular, wind turbines are, as Donald Trump tweeted, “monstrosities” that are “ruining landscapes” and killing millions of birds every year. They are “an environmental and aesthetic disaster”, not only “disgusting looking” but also “bad for people’s health” and “destroying every country they touch” as the energy they provide is “unreliable and terrible.” Investing in solar energy, on the other hand, is just a waste of money on “unproven technologies and risky companies.” And energy efficiency measures are potentially damaging too, such as those new “environmentally friendly” light bulbs that can cause cancer…

It would be easy to discard these tweeted assertions as uninformed, unfounded, dishonest, or just plain stupid – or to regard them as mere political posturing. Yet they find a wide echo across America because they reflect a deeply held perception of the existence of a close correlation between America’s ‘greatness’, and the unbridled use fossil fuels. A perception that extends well beyond the ranks of the Republican Party, even if in a diffuse way. And a perception that, from a historical perspective, actually corresponds to reality.

America’s fossil-fueled exceptionalism

America, in fact, likes to think of itself as ‘unique’ and ‘exceptional’. This uniqueness or exceptionalism, the story goes, is based on liberty, individualism, democracy, and free-market economics. It is those principles that have made America ‘a shining city on a hill’, a place like no other, where all men of goodwill, regardless of their origin, social class or circumstances of birth, have a chance to pursue a life of opportunities, to achieve prosperity and success through hard work in a society with few barriers, and to reap the rewards from their efforts for themselves and their children. A place where everyone even has an ‘unalienable right’ to pursue ‘happiness’ and can live the ‘American Dream’. It is those principles, Americans often claim, that have made the U.S. the ‘greatest country in the world’, the most powerful and richest nation in history, and a country that in turn has a ‘manifest destiny’ to promote and defend freedom throughout the world…

This quasi-religious mythology, which is cherished and even revered across the American political spectrum, makes up for a nice story, but a story that does not fully reflect historical reality. Political and economic freedom have of course played an important role in America’s ascent, but they have not arose in a vacuum or flourished on a blank sheet. They have taken root in a land blessed with an unusual abundance of natural resources: thousands of acres of fertile land, abundant fresh water, and a wealth of mineral resources – stone, sand, salt, gold, silver, copper, as well as coal, oil, or natural gas. They have taken root in a land that, also, had loads of space, with a large land mass that early on became governed by one political system, that was largely empty once the indigenous population had been ‘removed’, that was bordered by two large coastlines providing food and later ports for commerce, and that was easily accessible via ocean or land and hence attractive to immigrants. Even with all these blessings, though, America’s early economic rise required more work capacity than what could be provided by incoming European immigrants and paid for by its nascent productive system. This work capacity got procured, then, in the form of slave labor. Slavery, in fact, played a much more critical role than individualism, democracy, or free markets in the economic development of the pre-industrial United States. And it is only when industrialization started to take hold in the country – i.e. when the use of various types of machines powered by fossil fuels started to significantly expand the work capacity available to the economy – that it finally renounced slavery. From then on, America embarked on an era of rapid growth that brought it to the top of the world’s economic table at the turn of the 20th century.

What is important in this story is that America’s economic rise has resulted from many factors, but most fundamentally from the fantastic expansion of the ‘capacity to perform work’ available to its economy. This capacity to perform work, in physics, is called ‘energy’. In pre-industrial United States, slave labor provided a significant part of the energy required for the productive system to expand. As America started to industrialize, the energy of slaves got replaced by the much more abundant, powerful and cheap energy obtained from fossil fuels. With coal and then even more with petroleum, the world in fact gained access to sources of energy that were far more powerful, economic, convenient and versatile than anything mankind had been able to use until then. Most importantly, fossil fuels provided energy inputs of much higher quality than previous energy sources in terms of their ability to power useful or productive work, and also of much higher energetic productivity in terms of their ability to deliver massive amounts of ‘net energy’ to society, i.e. energy available to do many other things than procuring, processing and distributing energy. America had plenty of the stuff, and the ideal setting for making full use of it, unconstrained as it was by legacy social and political straitjackets, and populated by a still scarce but rising population eager to fully exploit the riches of their new promised land.

Fossil fuels have therefore been instrumental in making America the world’s leading economic power. Without fossil fuels and the formidable economic expansion they made possible, America would probably not have become the industrial, technological, military and political superpower that it is. Without fossil fuels, there would have been no flamboyant city skylines and no sprawling residential suburbs, no interstate highway system, no mechanized agriculture or industry and no superabundant consumer goods, nor all the joys of the modern consumer culture. Without fossil fuels, there would have been no American muscle cars, no Harley-Davidsons, no Route 66, and of course no Boeings. Without fossil fuels, America would not have won two world wars, built the most powerful military apparatus the world has ever seen, and sent men to the Moon. Without fossil fuels, America would probably not have achieved “the world’s highest standard of living”, given rise to the largest middle class in human history, or come to be seen as a land where anyone can be free to pursue opportunities and dreams. Without fossil fuels, in other words, there might have been no ‘American Dream’ and no ‘American greatness’. As an ‘exceptional’ cultural, historical, anthropological and even civilizational reality, America owes probably far more to fossil fuels, and most particularly to oil, than to liberty, individualism, democracy, and free markets.

Carbon-based empire

The correlation between America’s ‘greatness’ – in the Trumpian sense of the term – and fossil fuels is thus obvious. But what is maybe more important here is that fossil fuels also constitute the fundamental foundations of America’s power structure. Ever since the discovery and exploitation of U.S. petroleum in the second half of the 19th century, the fossil fuel industry has not only exerted massive political influence, but even held considerable political power in the U.S. To this date, it keeps a tight grip on Washington and also on many individual states, even those that have a reputation of being ‘green’ and ‘progressive’, such as California. More importantly, fossil fuels are embedded in every aspect of America’s capitalist system, and in particular in its financial system. The modern financial system was actually developed to support the rapid economic growth that took off in the 19th century with the phenomenal amounts of cheap energy made available through the exploitation of fossil fuels. Since then, there has always been a tight connection between America’s fossil fuel-based energy system and its financial system.

Moreover, fossil fuels also constitute of the fundamental foundations of America’s global power. America’s use of fossil fuels has grown almost unabated to this day, and despite being endowed with massive reserves it has had to import more and more of its fossil energy, and particularly oil, from abroad. U.S. oil production peaked in the early 1970s and then declined steadily for several decades until the recent ‘shale oil’ boom, forcing America to find ways of ensuring that ever more oil could be procured from across the world – and more particularly the Middle East – to feed its economic machine, at a reasonable cost. To this end it established as of 1973 the ‘petrodollar’ system, by which most global oil trade is being denominated in U.S. dollars, and which has become the cornerstone of its global power. This system underpins the dollar’s reserve (and international trading) currency status through the need for all foreign governments to hold dollars to buy oil, and ensures that most of the dollars spent by the U.S. to purchase oil from abroad flow back at some point into the U.S. financial system, as foreign governments park their dollars in U.S. banks or use them to invest in U.S. securities or assets.

This ‘petrodollar recycling’ system creates a never-ending demand for U.S. dollars, and ensures that billions of dollars flow back, year after year, from oil producers to America, propping up financial assets and boosting the U.S. economy. The importance of this endless flow of dollars is often overlooked, yet it lies at the very heart of America’s global power. It is the very reason why the U.S. has been able to uphold the ‘exorbitant privilege’ of emitting the world’s reserve currency after the collapse of the Bretton Woods international monetary system, and hence the privilege of being able to run twin deficits (government and current account) without adverse economic effect. On the contrary, this flow of dollars has increased liquidity in the U.S. financial markets and pushed interest rates down for decades, contributing to non-inflationary growth in America. It has been instrumental in the relentless financialization of the U.S. economy and the growth of an increasingly predatory financial system, which has made possible the debt-fueled economic expansion of the last decades and enabled many Americans and the U.S. government to live beyond their means. It has, also, made it possible to finance the growth of the U.S. military apparatus and the extension of its military presence across the globe, which prime objective is to ensure that nobody messes with the system that conveys dollar-denominated oil to the U.S. or to its trading partners, and billions of dollars back to America. It has, finally, enabled an international build-up of debt denominated in U.S. dollars, which itself further boosts the international demand for dollars and their regular flow back to the U.S. It has been instrumental, in fact, in the maintenance of a global economic system that not only allows one country to exert disproportionate control over international financial flows, but also, and more fundamentally, that enables less than 5% of the world’s population to consume close to 20% of global energy – and even significantly more when taking into account the energy consumed in other countries to produce ‘stuff’ for the American consumer.

This ‘wealth pump’ effect is, in fact, characteristic of an ‘imperial’ system, which in the case of the U.S. is intrinsically linked to the continuous and growing use of fossil fuels. In other words, fossil fuels – and the carbon emissions that their use generates – are at the very heart of America’s global power. The U.S., it can be argued, is fundamentally a carbon-based empire, which regardless of what its politicians may say does not have an objective interest in promoting the ‘decarbonization’ of the world’s economy – that is, if one chooses to ignore or deny the long-term effects of climate change. Nor does it have an objective interest, it should be noted, and contrary to widespread belief, in reaching ‘energy independence’. Such independence would indeed stop the flow of petrodollar recycling into the U.S. financial system and economy and, over time, wreck the ‘wealth pump’ that has made the U.S. the global superpower that it still is. The U.S., in fact, did not become wealthy and powerful by producing energy but by consuming it – directly and indirectly – and by putting in place the means that ensure that it can consume far more than others.

The debate about Donald Trump’s decision to pull out from the Paris Agreement therefore probably misses the point if it remains focused on the inanity of the American President’s climate change denial, on the outrageous political influence of the U.S. fossil fuel lobby, or on the fact that America may be missing the train of the ‘clean energy’ revolution. These are of course very important issues, which deserve careful consideration. In particular, the capability of variable renewable energies such as solar and wind to power the modern world requires further examination. Despite recent investments, technological progress and price drops, solar panels and wind turbines still only produce a small fraction of the world’s energy, and it would actually take giant technological leaps forward for wind and solar to become more powerful, economic, convenient and versatile sources of energy than fossil fuels, capable of delivering energy on the scale needed to replace them. But what is much more fundamental to understand America’s course is that the intended transition away from the exploitation of ‘stocks’ of concentrated chemical energy and towards the harnessing of diffuse and intermittent natural energy ‘flows’ represents much more than just a substitution of a set of energy sources by another. If carried out in full, it will amount to a complete re-engineering of humanity’s societal ‘metabolism’ (i.e. the set of processes by which human societies and their various components ‘exchange’ energy and matter with their biophysical environment and between themselves), as well as of the corresponding power structures and relations. A re-engineering that is probably incompatible with the perpetuation of America’s imperial ‘wealth pump’, and perhaps even with the existence of any kind of imperial wealth pump for that matter.

One could think that America is capable of facing up to the demise of its carbon-based empire, which is anyway destined to wane as fossil fuels get depleted, and hence as their energetic quality and productivity decreases. Yet it has for many years obstructed international climate change remediation efforts, including under Barack Obama. And if it finally signed up in 2015 to an international agreement aimed at reducing carbon emissions, it was in fact to an agreement that, despite being the best the international community could achieve, is largely toothless and inadequate to contain global warming under the intended 2 degree Centigrade threshold – something that would require a far deeper and much faster ‘decarbonization’ of Western economies. Even this agreement was too much, though, for the new U.S. President, a man with no filter and little capacity for the hypocrisy that forms an integral part of international diplomacy, especially when it comes to climate change.

Once Donald Trump is removed from office, in 2020 or earlier, his or her successor might decide to bring America back into the Paris Agreement. This will maybe help reduce the damage inflicted to America’s international reputation by The Donald, but it won’t necessarily mean that the country is anymore committed to decarbonizing its economy. The U.S., which per person emits carbon at nearly double the level of Japan and three times the level of most European countries, is among the countries that have the widest margin for emissions reduction, and its greenhouse gas emissions are already on the way down: since their peak in 2007, they have actually decreased more in absolute terms than those of any other country. However, this drop has resulted from the replacement of coal with natural gas in electricity generation and from the economy’s sharp slowdown after the 2008-2009 global recession rather than from the growth of renewable energies, and it may not continue if the American economy picks up significantly. America, despite the Obama administration’s standing on climate change, looked already set to miss its emissions reduction pledge under the Paris Agreement before Donald Trump’s decision to pull out, and even before his election.

It is therefore easy and probably justified to vilify Donald Trump for his decision to exit the Paris Agreement, and to condemn him for his ‘crimes’ against the planet. This decision, though, does not mean that America dramatically reverses its course on carbon emissions reductions, but rather that it ceases to pretend. Imperial powers never voluntarily give up on what forms the basis of their imperial rule; on the contrary, they tend to cling to it and fight – literally – to maintain it for as long as they can. America’s carbon-based empire has no reason to be any different, and it will not give way without a fight, not even for the sake of Paris.