By Larry J. Schweiger
Pittsburgh Current Climate Columnist
In addition to criminal acts of defiance and attempts to overthrow a free and fair election, in an act of defiance while ignoring the risks to Americans, Trump lifted travel bans from countries where the virus variants were spreading to allow more dangerous viruses to enter the U.S. on Biden’s watch.
Trump also failed to show even the simple, courteous, and respectful transition steps. He never met with President-elect Joe Biden and did whatever he could administratively to slow the orderly transfer of power. True to form, Melania also ignored protocol by declining to give the customary White House tour to her successor, Dr. Jill Biden.
Watching the otherwise inspiring inauguration, you may have noticed a significant protocol breach for the President to stand before a closed White House door. When President Biden and the First Lady approached the White House, their entry was awkwardly delayed as they were not greeted as a tradition by a butler. In an act of pettiness, Trump fired his lead butler and sent the entire usher staff home for the day to thwart the Biden’s arrival. The way the Trumps treated the Bidens is emblematic of what the Republicans will be doing to America for years ahead.
Profound Republican resistance started in earnest when Obama, a newly elected black president, faced the Great Recession created by the Bush administration’s reckless deregulation of the banking industry. Obama and the Democrats had to authorize the $800 billion bailout for the corrupted banking industry to avoid an economic collapse. Not a single Republican voted for the bailout plan despite their party’s culpability. Instead, most Republicans, with the remarkable exception of Senator John McCain and few others, repeatedly attacked President Obama. Not just as a partisan, they played off Trump’s lie about his birth certificate and painted him as a Muslim and an extreme threat to the American way of life.
Obama’s efforts to pass climate legislation was thwarted by Senate filibuster rules while the Democrats held both the House and Senate. Mitch McConnell vowed to make Barrack Obama a one-term President in an interview with the National Journal in October 2010. Republicans did everything possible to defeat Obama after one term, and they obstructed Obama throughout his two terms in office, forcing him to resort to ephemeral executive orders including the Clean Power Rules. McConnell refused even to hold a hearing on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in an ultimate act of obstruction. By stopping Obama’s efforts to control climate change, Republicans have profoundly harmed America and the world.
Republicans, with their false narrative, took back the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and then the Electoral College elected Trump in 2016. House Republicans have since branded themselves as the “Party of No,” and Mitch McConnell declared himself the “Grim Reaper,” stopping important legislation passed by house Democrats. Other than giving a massive tax cut for the wealthy and packing the court system with Federalist Society judges, McConnell and the Republicans blocked hundreds of essential bills passed by House democratic lawmakers.
A do-nothing Congress that started during Obama’s first term has extended to this day with President Biden forced to issue ephemeral executive orders rather than seeking legislation.
The Republican stoppers will do everything possible to stop progress in the days ahead, particularly on legislation to address the climate crisis. While Democrats now have a 51-50 majority with Vice President Harris voting, but due to obstruction by Mitch McConnell demanding that Senate Democrats preemptively surrender any reform of the filibuster for the duration of the 117th Congress, nothing legislatively is happening. To date, the Senate still has not passed an organizing resolution to establish the rules and procedures to address the multiple urgent crises we face.
With a split U.S. Senate, McConnell, who an Atlantic magazine column called “the strict obstructionist,” continues as the minority leader to stop Senate action. At the same time, facing growing Republican opposition, Biden urges Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion in COVID-19 relief package. Once again, McConnell and the Republicans, while harming every American, will not attend to the multiple crises we face. They do not care that 2020 brought not only a deadly pandemic but left unchecked the ravaging Western fires, collapsing glaciers, devastating hurricanes, and the second hottest year on record. Instead of uniting to fight a raging virus, inadequate vaccines, unemployment, food shortages, or a climate crisis, the Republicans are now opposing a second impeachment trial leaving the possibility for Trump to return as a dangerous threat to American democracy.
The repeated failure to tackle climate pollution now will lead to more fires, floods, famines, droughts, border wars, and civil unrest as the climate crisis is now destabilizing the climatic, oceanic, and ecological conditions for all life everywhere on earth. McConnell and the Republicans will use the filibuster to thwart the movement to clean energy in the 21st century with a planet that demands a speedy path to a “carbon-negative” future.
The doers in the Biden administration will face the climate crisis by focusing on possibilities, not letting stoppers continue to deter progress to the extent possible. President Biden has appointed many outstanding doers who are collectively committed to tackling climate change with their agencies’ limited tools. The U.S. Government spends $600 billion each year, and Biden’s new executive order calls for the “Buy American” portion of his Build Back Better promise. While limited by a lack of overarching climate legislation, the federal agencies have some powerful policy levers to change our energy path. They should also require clean energy in the production of products made for the U.S. government.
Doers listen to health and climate science and act responsibly. Stoppers do not and resist appropriate actions to protect people and the climate system. Doers listen to sound economists while stoppers listen to Faux News pontificators and block an increase in the minimum wage, tax reform and oppose additional relief funding.
As one example of a doer, Pete Buttigieg is ready to lead. Since transportation is our number one emitter of carbon pollution accounting for one-third of the nation’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Biden’s choice for Transportation Secretary is a critically important position. Buttigieg wants to bend the curve on carbon pollution from all forms of transportation. America lags the rest of the world in providing high-speed rail operated on clean power.
The Transportation Department should require state governments to improve their transportation policies to make way for EVs with charging stations and by requiring better clean mass transit systems like electric buses. EPA and the Transportation Departments can use fuel-efficiency standards for all new cars and trucks to promote electric vehicles. We must end a pattern of big automakers spewing out gas guzzlers when EVs are now more reliable, efficient, and the way forward. New jobs are possible for displaced pipeline workers as they can weld mass-transit rails instead of welding pipe.
We need progressive-minded lawmakers in both parties to work in a bipartisan way to end the stalemate and work for America’s future. With Trumpsters holding onto Republicans through a threat of primaries, that does not look promising. The first step to healing our land is to convict Trump and end his toxic political career, but finding seventeen Republicans to say “yes” to conviction is looking unlikely.
Journalism matters too. Doers defend the truth and defeat the lies by seeking and supporting accurate information outlets while rejecting the innuendo and rumors that emanate from Fox and other irresponsible media outlets and social networks. Stoppers applaud the lies. America has a profoundly split government, and the toxic media environment we witness feeds an intense struggle between the doers and stoppers that is not sustainable.
Larry Schweiger is an award-winning author who served as President of National Wildlife Federation, PennFuture and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Purchase his compelling and timely book with free shipping by clicking on the book-link.