After the White House announced plans for a presidential speech on the environment, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement, “Donald Trump is resorting to greenhouse gaslighting the public to try and cover-up the fact that he is the worst president in history for the environment, climate and public health.”
That’s a good line. It also happens to be true.
Before we talk about what Trump said on the subject, part of what made yesterday interesting was the fact that the Republican delivered remarks on the subject at all. The New York Times had an interesting behind-the-scenes report:
Reviewing new polling data, consultants working for President Trump’s 2020 campaign discovered an unsurprising obstacle to winning support from two key demographic groups, millennials and suburban women. And that was his record on the environment.
But they also saw an opportunity. While the numbers showed that Mr. Trump was “never going to get” the type of voter who feels passionately about tackling climate change, a senior administration official who reviewed the polling said, there were moderate voters who liked the president’s economic policies and “just want to know that he’s being responsible” on environmental issues.
So for nearly an hour in the East Room on Monday afternoon, Mr. Trump sought to recast his administration’s record by describing what he called “America’s environmental leadership” under his command.
It’s easy to imagine an awkward conversation between the president and his political advisers who pressed him to give a speech on a subject he neither knows nor cares about. I can almost hear them telling Trump, “Just fake it for 46 minutes and it’ll help with some key constituencies.”
And so, he did.
The trouble, of course, is that it’s awfully tough to pretend that the president has a laudable record on the environment. It’s important that Team Trump considered this necessary – it’s emblematic of public attitudes shifting in a progressive direction – but he failed to make a compelling pitch because Trump had so little to work with.
It’s why the Republican was reduced to lying, over and over again. The White House went so far as to release a fairly brief “fact sheet” to tout Trump’s environmental record, and it included increased gas production as an accomplishment of note.
I’d be remiss if I neglected to highlight my favorite part of Trump’s remarks:
“I spoke to certain countries, and they said, ‘Sir, we’re a forest nation.’ I never thought of a country – well-known countries: ‘We’re a forest nation.’ I never heard of the term ‘forest nation.’ They live in forests and they don’t have problems.
“One was telling me that his trees are much more susceptible to fire than what they have in California, but they don’t have fires because they manage, they clean, they do what you have to do. There’s not so much to burn. And we’re going to start doing that. And it’s called, remember, ‘management.’ It’s called ‘forest management.’ So it’s a very important term.
“When I went to California, they sort of scoffed at me for the first two weeks and maybe three weeks, and not so much — four weeks. And after about five weeks they said, ‘You know, he’s right. He’s right.’”
Almost all of this is gibberish; Trump still can’t speak coherently about California’s wildfires; and no officials in the Golden State ever conceded that he was “right” about the subject, because he wasn’t.
But if yesterday was any guide, we’ll hear the president say this many times in the coming months anyway, reality be damned.