This Jan. 17, 2017, file photo shows General Electric light bulbs on display at a store, in Wilmington, Mass. 
Elise Amendola, File/AP Photo

Trump pitches his lightbulb policy as a matter of personal vanity

Two weeks ago, the Trump administration rolled back lightbulb energy-efficiency standards, which, as we’ve discussed, represented a pointless step backwards for U.S. energy policy.

As The Hill’s report on this noted, the new rule “will increase U.S. electricity use by 80 billion kilowatt hours over the course of a year, roughly the amount of electricity needed to power all households in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to an analysis by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.”

Last night, at a campaign rally in New Mexico, the president defended the policy by emphasizing the importance of his personal vanity.

“I wanted incandescent light. I wanted to look better, OK? I wanted to pay less money to look better.”

For now, let’s put aside the fact that energy-efficient lightbulbs, in the long run, end up costing consumers less money. Instead, let’s note that Trump has been talking to the point of preoccupation about lightbulbs and his perceptions about his personal appearance.

Here he was, for example, at a campaign rally in North Carolina last week:

“I’m not a vain person, and I know I have no vain people especially these incredible ladies in the front, but I look better under an incandescent light than these crazy lights that are beaming down on us.”

A few days later, he addressed the House Republican Conference:

“The lightbulb. People said, ‘What’s with the lightbulb?’ I said, ‘Here’s the story…’ And I looked at it – the bulb that we’re being forced to use – number one, to me, most importantly, the light is no good. I always look orange.”

Stanford’s Ken Schultz joked last night, “The Republican argument for inefficient lightbulbs has gone from individual liberty to individual vanity.”

All of this comes nearly seven years after Trump published a bizarre tweet in which he warned the public that energy-efficient lightbulbs “can cause cancer.” (In reality, energy-efficient lightbulbs are not bad for your health.)

If I were to try to come up with a caricature of Trump, I might argue that he’d base elements of his energy policy on his personal concerns about his appearance. And yet, satire is difficult in 2019 because the president routinely says out loud the kind of things fiction writers might attribute to a cartoonish version of him.