Following Donald Trump’s interview with Piers Morgan on Wednesday where he talked about the weather changing “both ways,” noted that “it used to be called global warming,” then “climate change,” and now “it’s actually called extreme weather,” Eugene Robinson wrote: “it’s breathtaking that anyone could pack so much ignorance into so few words.”
Robinson is doing what so many others do: treat Trump’s statements on the climate crisis as though they merely reflect his ignorance on the issue.
The remedy for ignorance would be education.
On Monday, Prince Charles’ one and a half hours’ effort to educate Trump could have been driven by the assumption that if the Prince of Wales did all the talking, at least he wouldn’t have to be subject to as much drivel coming out of the U.S. president’s mouth. More likely, however, Britain’s heir to the throne naively hoped that he might be able to leverage his status and knowledge and help illuminate a small, dark, and vacuous mind.
The problem is this: to view Trump’s position on climate as merely a reflection of his ignorance is to gloss over so much evidence that Trump’s words and actions reveal calculated deceit.
It isn’t so much that Trump doesn’t get the issue; his conscious purpose is to deceive others in the service of his material interests.
Commentators who write op-eds or appear on television are hesitant to call out all Trump’s deceptions when they masquerade as ignorance. In part this is because the identification of such deceptions implies access to Trump’s thoughts and motives; equally it is because the audience being addressed needs no persuading that Trump is an idiot.
Needless to say, no one has direct access to another person’s mind. We rely on self reporting and inferences derived from behavior to form a picture of an interior life we cannot observe. And yet to be human is to make use of a working knowledge of other people such that we are not perpetually constrained by existential doubt — forced to treat everyone else as though their internal workings were a complete mystery.
Trump’s purpose in pushing back on the issue of the climate crisis is quite transparent — no mind-reading required. He actively tries to promote confusion by insinuating that the evolution in scientific terminology means climate scientists are themselves engaged in deception.
“Don’t forget, it used to be called global warming; that wasn’t working, then it was called climate change,” Trump says, employing the seemingly casual phrase “wasn’t working,” to signal to his audience that scientists are out to fool the public.
Trump is characterizing climate science as though it is a cynical exercise in messaging where terms get picked up only to later be discarded because they are failing to further the agenda of those who, from Trump’s point of view, could simply be described as the enemies of the fossil fuel industry.
Stated crudely, Trump and his business allies are fighting against those they see as the enemies of profit.
Following his meeting with Prince Charles, Trump’s most revealing statement was this:
“I’ll tell you what moved me is his passion for future generations,” Trump told Morgan. “He’s really not doing this for him; he’s doing this for future generations. And this is real — he believes that; he wants to have a world that’s good for future generations, and I do, too. You know, he’s Prince Charles; he doesn’t have to worry about future generations in theory unless he’s a very good person who cares about people. That’s what impressed maybe me the most, his love for this world.”
Here’s a man who, by Trump’s standards (and those of many other people), has the highest possible social status. In the not too distant future, he will be crowned as king. By virtue of that status (from Trump’s perspective) Charles has no need to worry about future generations.
Like many sad Americans, Trump seems to view wearing a gold and jeweled crown as the ultimate social achievement, signifying a rank above everyone else — as though with this lofty status there would be no reason to care about the little people below. And yet here’s a future king, very close to Trump’s age, who cares about other people and the world and the future. How remarkable!
That Trump could be moved by Charles’ passion for future generations says everything about his own lack of such passion.
The only fact about the future that matters to Donald Trump is that it won’t be very long before it’s a future in which he is absent.
The world Trump inhabits is a world in which all that matters is his presence.
Whether his properties are destined to be submerged under rising seas is of little consequence to a man who believes that after his death, everything will become worthless.