Rediscovering the Inchcape Rock: A Climate Change Lesson for the Age of Trump

By: Larry J. Schweiger

English poet Robert Southey wrote about a 14th-century Abbot of Aberbrothok who mounted a bell on Inchcape Rock-a treacherous sandstone reef eleven miles off the east coast of Scotland to warn mariners during severe weather. As the story goes, a notorious pirate Ralph the Rover vandalized the bell and dumped it into the sea on his way to plunder merchant’s vessels. On his journey back, a severe storm struck Ralph the Rover’s ship. Without warning, the ship laden with booty struck the reef and sank. Southey writes of the Rover’s final moments: 

“But even in his dying fear,

One dreadful sound could the Rover hear;

A sound as if with the Inchcape Bell,

The Devil below was ringing his knell.”

For generations, “The Inchcape Rock” was taught as a cautionary tale to dissuade those who might destroy critical warning bells. Long forgotten, Southey’s poem has renewed relevance with Trump, who is the modern-day equivalent of Ralph the Rover.

Trump has destroyed warning bells at the CDC, EPA, Justice, Education, Energy, State and at the National Security Agencies by appointing special interest lobbyists and ideologues who are subverting the agencies’ purposes. He has fired inspector generals, forced out some of our best public servants, and Trump even dumps his appointees who refuse to play his corrupt game. 

The Jagged Rocks of Climate Change:

The World Meteorological Organization reported that the global temperature in 2016 climbed to about 1.2C above pre-industrial levels, dangerously close to the 1.5C threshold that the Paris climate agreement aimed at avoiding. The planet is setting new heat records. Not surprisingly, the earth is also setting new records for severe and devastating weather, including heatwaves and drought-driven wildfires, unprecedented storms, extensive flooding, and other climate emergencies.

Despite the many compelling warming signals across the planet, Trump has assembled an administration of lobbyists and special interests at EPA and other key resource agencies to accomplish his reckless ambitions against climate and environmental protections.

Trump and the Republican-led Congress were unrestrained for two years. They destroyed many vital warning bells through crippling budget cuts and by defunding vital programs, including much NASA climate research efforts to purge what the deniers call “politicized science.” By kneecapping NASA’s climate change research and shifting the funding to a “deep space” program in a blatant move to eliminate the warning bells of climate science. We will have lost four years in dealing with the climate crisis. Things can only worsen if the Trump administration gets another four years to ignore the growing threats from storms, sea-level rise, droughts, and forest fires. They will continue to ignore the consequences of heat-trapping pollution, and the carbonic acid acidifying the oceans. Regardless of political ideology, religion, or worldview, there will be a severe price to be paid for silencing climate science bells.

Environmental Protection Agency:

Once the warning bells of NASA were largely silenced, the Trump administration went about undoing EPA’s Clean Power Rules that would have cut emissions by 30%. He abandoned other vital carbon pollution regulations, including efficiency standards, auto rules, mercury controls, and hazardous air mission rules. Trump will fulfill his promise of abandoning the Paris Accord if reelected in 2020. His EPA gutted the Waters of the U.S. Rules that protected most of the headwaters and wetlands in the Nation. These were not idle campaign promises by the Twitterer-in-Chief when he mocked the very notion of climate change in 2016 and promised to end environmental regulations. 

Department of Energy:

At the Department of Energy, Trump replaced a brilliant physicist Ernest Moniz with a former Texas Governor. Rick Perry is best known for dancing with the stars and his promise to eliminate several federal agencies as a presidential candidate five years ago. When asked to name the agencies, Rick Perry forgot the Energy Department’s name and ended by saying “oops.” Perry’s time at the Energy Department was checkered with giveaways to the coal industry. It ended when we learned Perry was vying for an appointment to a Ukrainian Gas Corporation board.

State Department:
Trump’s failed international diplomacy is having disastrous consequences. His constant display of resentment to other leaders, profound ignorance, and egotistical behavior has offended our best friends. He and  Mike Pompeo, his Secretary of State, are undermining NATO by pulling U.S. troops from Germany and fomenting disunity among our best democratic allies. NATO is a vital security structure drawn from lessons learned during the First and Second World War. It is a successful joint defense agreement between the U.S. and the democratic countries in the European Union and England to protect and defend each other.

Meanwhile, Trump ingratiates himself with the world’s worst tyrants and right-wing dictators and has repeatedly failed to address Russia’s many misdeeds. Most troubling, Trump has failed to defend American soldiers in Afghanistan against Taliban bounty hunters funded by Putin. Instead, Trump attempts to reward Putin by getting him back into the G-7.

Ignoring 367,000 new infections in a single week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested at a recent press conference “of course the U.S remains the world leader in the pandemic.” Pompeo claimed the “world turns its eyes” to American scientists and researchers and to U.S. aid to assist the developing world in fighting their outbreaks.” He said this with a straight face as Trump has fractured our relationship with the World Health Organization. 

The U.S. has become a pariah Nation. Americans are banned from travel to the E.U. and Canada because of our raging pandemic setting new records for each of the past three weeks. Trump’s former Secretary of State and ExxonMobil’s CEO Rex Tillerson reportedly called Trump “a moron” in private. Tillerson never denied saying that and summed Trump as “pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read,” and repeatedly attempted to do illegal things. 

The National Institute for Health and CDC

Trump has made it clear that he takes no responsibility for the mismanagement of the deadly virus even though he failed to ramp up testing, and contact tracing. He ignored the best available science and encouraged Governors to reopen prematurely. He has been setting bad examples with maskless rallies. 

Trump repeatedly cut the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) budget, froze the CDC’s hiring, shut down the international pandemic response team, and fractured relationships with Governors trying to do the right thing for their constituents. Unbelievably, Trump is still asking Congress to cut the CDC’s budget in his pending budget proposal. Before the Supreme Court, the Attorney General’s office is seeking to kill the Affordable Health Care Act, stripping vital insurance from millions and ending protections against preexisting conditions, etc. during a rapidly expanding pandemic.

Trump blamed Obama and the CDC for the failures that occurred on his watch. He accused China of unleashing the pandemic then he blamed the World Health Organization. Now he has smearing Dr. Fauci. Trump shuts out the truth when it conflicts with his fantasies of infinite success and control. He particularly resents Fauci’s conviction for truth and science and fears Fauci’s frank communications harm Trump’s many mythical pronouncements about the COVID-19 virus. Trump is again putting on full display his oppressive interpersonal behavior with the CDC over schools reopening. He is especially targeting Fauci, who has a penchant for truth in the face of political pressure.

We are captives on Trump’s failing ship of state. We are dealing with a pandemic amplified by Trump, who once called the coronavirus a “Democratic hoax.” Encouraging governors to prematurely reopen worked so well that Trump plans to send international students back home unless Universities resume normal classes. Using racial slurs to describe the virus in a recent rally, Trump issued one of his many threats promising to cut off funding if public schools do not fully reopen this fall. Jails are too dangerous for Trump’s friends but classrooms are apparently safe for children and teachers. 

It turns out that people who watch Fox News and trust Trump’s judgment are more likely to get sick. Florida has set a new daily record with over 15,000 cases, and other red states are not far behind. Pittsburgh is spiking too. Many Americans feeding on fake news are still making dangerous decisions that are increasing the spread. 

America is in a violent storm, and the Inchcape Rock is nearby. Trump is our modern-day Ralph the Rover. He has assembled a dangerously corrupt crew and has torn down the warning bells that could have avoided his many failures and sinking poll numbers.

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