Dueling Perspectives: thoughts on Russia, Trump, and Climate Change

I got a new car a few months ago and it came with a subscription to Sirius XM. I had never had it before, except in a rental, and never appreciated it. Now I have it, and it’s fueling my news addiction. That only matters because it’s directly responsible for me writing something this morning, for the first time this month. A former Congresswoman, a republican, was on CNN. I was listening in the car, and didn’t recognize her voice, nor was I listening when they introduced her and told us who she was. Without the chyron below, showing her name, the piece ended and I was left not knowing who she was. She was asked about the difficulty being a republican in Congress in the time of Trump. She spoke, more frankly than most republicans do these days, about the clear evidence that there was bad behavior by the Trump campaign. She said something like, “honestly, we have to be concerned about the people surrounding the President who were involved with the Russians.” But, in the end, she drew the line and differentiated between what the President (then candidate) knew and did. It’s a funny line to draw, and leaves me with some competing narratives: dueling perspectives…which in my head quickly pivoted to Climate Change. Follow me for the ride.

Let’s start with Russia. What do we know:

George Papadopoulos: either a close foreign policy advisor or somebody not very involved with the campaign who was indicted for lying to the FBI. What did he lie about: he lied about when he learned about Russians having “dirt” on Clinton. He said he knew about it before joining the campaign, but he actually learned about more than a month after joining the campaign. He told the FBI that his contact was “a nothing” when he knew that his contact had close ties with government officials, and he hid that he had tried to set up meetings with the government officials and members of the campaign. This is spelled out clearly in the now unsealed document that can be read here. To be clear, he was indicted for lying, and the lie was that he didn’t try to coordinate the sharing of Russian intelligence with the Trump campaign, meaning that he DID in fact try to coordinate sharing of Russian intelligence with the Trump campaign.

Paul Manafort: Manafort was indicted for a slew of illegal business dealings with pro-Russian Ukrainian officials. Manafort had a plea deal, but it was thrown away because the Special Counsel caught Manafort in lies.

Michael Flynn: Admitted that he lied to federal investigators when he said he didn’t have conversations with Russian officials during the transition, after the election.

We know more than that, but these things we know, there are clear ties between members of the Trump campaign (at least two of whom were senior members) and Russian officials, and that the members of the Trump campaign lied when asked about them. First, it seems more than a mere coincidence that so many people with Russian ties would be part of a presidential campaign. Second, people don’t usually lie about things that don’t seem nefarious, and if they do and get caught, they go to great lengths to explain why it wasn’t nefarious. These folks didn’t do that. So here’s what I’m left to believe: Either, A) the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to help win the election, or B) certain members of the Trump campaign, without telling the boss of the campaign, coordinated with Russian officials to help win the campaign. I honestly find A more believable in some ways, but also don’t see B as impossible. Neither, however, paints the president in a good light. If it’s A, then the President of the United States won an election in part because of Russian propaganda, or at least in coordination with a Russian campaign to spread negative information about his opponent. That’s the worst case scenario for the country. It doesn’t, however, mean that Russia necessarily wanted Trump to win because they thought he would work with them to accomplish whatever it is they want (e.g., control of Ukraine, Syria…who knows). It could mean that they wanted him to win because they thought he’d be the most disruptive to America, and an America that is disrupted is less likely to be in a position to pay attention to Russia. All that said, it’s certainly possible that B is the correct option, and that Trump had no role in this. That wouldn’t change the motivation for Russia, but it certainly does sort of exonerate Trump. He’s still responsible for hiring the folks who caused these problems, but he wouldn’t have been directly responsible. But does that mean he’s in the clear? I’m not sure. For some reason, it makes me think of a situation that happened in my graduate school department. The department, like most graduate psychology programs, had faculty working with laboratory animals. One of these scientists (Bob) hired a research technician who was a secret member of an animal rights organization. This technician did a lot of harm to the scientist who hired him, and to another scientist in the department. Imagine if, as this was all happening, Bob’s response was to say that none of it was true, it was all a hoax, and he had nothing to do with it. His colleagues would have thought he had gone nuts. First of all, it was obvious that it happened (like it’s clear that the Russians had a campaign to spread negative news about Clinton). Second of all, whether or not Bob was a part of the campaign, he still hired the technician in the first place, so “I had nothing to do with it” is a bullshit response. And if totally unaware it was happening, the reasonable guy would express shock that it was happening right under his nose, and likely want nothing more than to see the responsible person (people) punished. In case you’re wondering, that was Bob’s response.

How does that get us to Climate Change? Well, it’s a bit of a winding path, but thinking about these kinds of messages that make no sense, it got me thinking about what deniers of climate change science often say. Things like, it’s a made up story to get votes. It’s making a big deal out of nothing (to get votes?). It’s all about money, and people are getting rich selling the lies of climate change. I can appreciate feeling like people are making stuff up to get votes. I certainly feel that way about how some folks on the right (FoxNews excels at this) whip up fear of certain groups of people. But in that case, it seems like the votes come by capitalizing on subsurface (or blatant) bigotry and prejudice. I also feel like many of the folks who peddle the bigotry actually believe it to be true. So, it’s not as if they’re lying about Mexicans coming to rape your mom, they genuinely believe that Mexicans are coming to rape your mom (and their mom; they might not care as much about your mom). So does climate change fit into that? Is it playing into an irrational fear, the same way FoxNews does with Mexicans? Perhaps, but let’s think about the consequences of giving into that. Even if the scientists are wrong, and human activity actually has nothing to do with any changes in climate, what does the “green” movement want to happen that’s so bad. More energy efficient cars? Who, all other things equal, wouldn’t take an energy efficient car over a gas guzzler? Same HP, same torque, same engine sound (computer-generated in one case), same appearance, same speed, same handling, same everything…doesn’t everybody pick the more efficient version? And who doesn’t want less air pollution? Is there anybody who really wants more air pollution? I’m not saying that there aren’t people who say they would rather live with air pollution than give up their BBQ grill, but if you could find a way to use the BBQ grill with less smoke (same heat, same flavor, same everything else), wouldn’t you take that? I’m sure the fear is that it won’t be the same. That an energy efficient car will never feel quite like a gas-powered hemi…but what’s wrong with trying to get that? That’s what I don’t get.

Worst case scenario, climate change believers are wrong and the climate isn’t changing, but while trying to address the change that wasn’t happening, isn’t happening, and won’t happen, we reduced pollution. What if, while trying to address the change that wasn’t happening, isn’t happening, and won’t happen, we found ways to get the same products and services using renewable sources of energy that won’t run out like gasoline/oil will someday? Would lots of people working in the gas/oil industry be out of jobs? Maybe, but I actually doubt it. If you look at the websites and corporate documents of most oil companies, they no longer think of themselves as oil companies, and they now think of themselves as energy companies. They are ready to make the transition. Could it cause a total re-ordering of the world stage, one with widespread effects that we can’t predict? Maybe. Oil rich nations would have to find another way to make money, but they likely would. And who are those oil rich nations anyway, Venezuela? They aren’t doing all that well with all their money anyway. I appreciate the concern that a restructuring like that could cause, but there’s no way that we’ll drop fossil fuels in one afternoon, and folks will have time to adjust and move forward. And for those who think it’s all a ploy to make money…it’s amazing to me that those people aren’t equally skeptical of the climate science deniers, who have a clear monetary reason to hold on to their oil profits.

And so my mind wandered this morning. It was a good drive to work…and just took a little time between meetings to get it all out.


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