A Party in Danger of Denial and Decline

By William Becker* – Huffington Post

It seems like a lifetime ago that candidate Donald Trump assured the media that he would be very different if he became president. “I’ll be more effective and more disciplined,” he said. “I will be so presidential, you will be so bored.”

It has not turned out that way. Instead, Trump and his White House have been far from disciplined and even farther from boring. The President and the presidency seem out of control in a very dangerous time.

For that reason, every member of the United States Congress should take a few minutes to read an article posted this week by Sen. Jeff Flake. Flake, a bona fide conservative, wants to shake his fellow Republicans out of their “unnerving silence” about the instability Trump is creating.

The entire article should be mandatory reading, but the headline sums it up: “My Party Is in Denial About Donald Trump. We created him and now we’re rationalizing him. When will it stop?” For the good of the Republic as well as the Republican Party, it had better stop soon.

The dangers of the Trump team’s performance range from subtle to stupefying. A subtle danger is that Trump’s tweet storms and soap-operate twists will distract us from the damages he is doing to the standards we should expect from a president. Trump has shown little regard for decency, honesty, accuracy and ethical conduct. In his White House, nepotism, conflicts of interest, profiteering, falsehoods, rumor mongering and bullying are presidential prerogatives.

His base doesn’t seem to mind. Flake has something to say about that: “We shouldn’t hesitate to speak out if the president ‘plays to the base’ in ways that damage the Republican Party’s ability to grow and speak to a larger audience.”

In regard to the exercise of power, Trump has squandered international respect for the United States and the strength of its influence around the world. By thumbing his nose at the Paris accord and revoking reasonable regulations on fossil energy production, he is positioning us not only to regain the title of the world’s biggest carbon polluter but also to become the largest carbon exporter. Trump wants America to be the world’s dominant producer of fossil fuels despite warnings from scientists that most fossil energy reserves must remain in the ground. He is betting our future and that of our children on his unsubstantiated and irresponsibly uninformed belief that climate change is a hoax.

Trump’s team is methodically dismantling decades of bipartisan progress on environmental stewardship. Unfortunately, most of those decades were long ago. Now Scott Pruitt’s “back to basics” plan for EPA is actually pushing America back to the 1950s. Those were the days when polluters used the environment as a dump, a sewer and an unofficial laboratory for seeing what pollutants do to people. As TIME recalled earlier this year, rivers stank and burst into flames, hundreds of New Yorkers died from smog, and automobile exhaust was high enough to cause birth defects.

EPA has become an easy foil for those who believe that government should not tell them what they can and cannot do. It would be comforting to believe that an unregulated fossil energy industry would do everything right to protect the environment, public health and the nation’s long-term energy security. Unfortunately, history shows that many companies want to do everything that is profitable, not everything that is right.

As the EPA was being created in 1970, President Richard Nixon gave an explanation that other Republicans would do well to embrace today:

Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions. It has become a common cause of all the people of this country…Clean air, clean water, open spaces-these should once again be the birthright of every American.

EPA went on to achieve some of the nation’s most important wins for public health and safety, including the discoveries that several of the industrial products and byproducts we considered important to progress were actually silent killers, among them lead, asbestos, mercury and now the greenhouse gases that lead to deadly changes in the world’s climate.

The most irresponsible of Trump’s behaviors, however, is his reaction to the hacking of our democratic process. Rather than welcoming a thorough investigation into Russia’s influence on last year’s election, Trump keeps trying to scuttle it, firing the head of the FBI, berating the objectivity of the special counsel and his team, and subjecting his own Attorney General to public humiliation in an apparent effort to make him resign so that he can be replaced with an AG who will do the President’s bidding. Trump has arguably crossed the line into obstruction of justice – one of the charges on which the House voted to impeach President Clinton.

All in all, Trump is making history by being on the wrong side of it. The White House is a multi-ring circus right now, a spectacle of tweets, turmoil and potentially impeachable behaviors. It is easy for the media and the American people to watch the circus while missing the deeper and more lasting damages that Trump and his team are doing.

So, what does Sen. Flake say about this to his fellow conservatives? He points out that Congress’s constitutional duties include the obligation to “do something about an executive branch in chaos”.

“Too often, we observe the unfolding drama along with the rest of the country, passively, all but saying, ‘Someone should do something!’ without seeming to realize that that someone is us,” Flake writes. “(Our) unnerving silence in the face of an erratic executive branch is an abdication, and those in positions of leadership bear particular responsibility.”

Trump has had ample opportunity to become more disciplined, effective and presidential. Instead, we have reached the point where the Republican majority in Congress must act to protect the integrity of its own party, and the Republic itself, from a White House in ongoing disarray, presidential appointees who oppose the missions of the agencies they lead, and a president whose ethical standards and conduct are beneath the office he holds.

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*William Becker has convened national thought leaders since 2007 to develop recommendations to the President of the United States on climate and energy policy. Becker’s background includes 15 years at the U.S. Department of Energy and a journalism career that began when he was a combat correspondent in Vietnam at age 19. He is an internationally known expert and lecturer in sustainable development, clean energy and mitigating the risks of global climate change.

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