Trump Team Revives McCarthyism in War on the Environment

12/12/2016 06:08 am ET Updated Dec 13, 2017

It is worth watching old Apprentice tapes to understand the Trump leadership style and what his administration will look like. Promote kiss-ups who tell you what you want to hear and fire anyone with an independent thought. During his campaign Trump "fired" his campaign manager in June and two senior aides at the end of July, and then demoted another campaign manager in August. From the transition team we see a demand for fealty from potential subordinates as they are paraded in front of the camera on the way in and out of interviews and a level of vindictiveness, especially in the treatment of Chris Christie.

True to this "leadership" model, the Trump transition team is now circulating a 74-question survey at the federal Department of Energy. Some of the questions are informational and seem designed to figure out how the department functions. Others promote the Trump agenda of privatizing government activities and commercializing federal agencies. But some are frightening and reminiscent of earlier "Red Scares" when people were purged from government positions because they were critical of policies or where suspected of left-wing views or connections decades in the past.

The Trump energy team is headed by Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance and the Institute for Energy Research, anti-regulation groups funded by the fossil fuel industry and the rightwing Koch brothers Super-Pac. Scott Pruitt, the Trump administration's nominee to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently Oklahoma's attorney general. For the last six years, in close coordination with the fossil fuel industry, Pruitt waged war against Obama administration climate and clean air initiatives. Like Donald Trump, Pyle and Pruitt do not believe in science. They reject the overwhelming scientific consensus that human actions cause climate change.

Question 13 on the survey asks for a list of "all Department of Energy employees of contractors who have attended any Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings?" It also demands copies of material distributed at the meetings, emails associated with the meetings, and "materials created by Department employees or contractors in anticipation of or as a result of those meetings?"

The Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon (IWGSCC) is an Obama administration initiative bringing together experts from federal energy, scientific, and economic agencies to assess the impact of fossil fuels on the environment and the economy and regulation alternatives. As part of their evaluation, Interagency Working Group experts developed three integrated assessment models (IAMs). In Question 14 the Trumpsters want to know who worked on the models and whether they employed "proper equilibrium climate sensitivity"? Climate change deniers argue that the Earth's climate sensitivity is so low that humans can use the atmosphere as a garbage dump pumping out carbon dioxide without worrying about global warming. Donald Trump has called climate change a "hoax" and tweeted that "global warming" a plot by the Chinese "to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."

Trumpsters see the Obama Administration's IWGSCC initiatives as too closely aligned with United Nations efforts including the 2015 Paris agreement to stem the destructive impact of climate change. Question 30 on the Trump energy survey demands to know "which programs within DOE are essential to meeting the goals of President Obama's Climate Action Plan," the plan Trump wants canceled. The ten hottest years on record since 1880 have all been since 1998. When final figures are in, 2016 will probably emerge as the hottest year. But Trump vows to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate change accord.

Trump's efforts to discredit and dismiss opposition is a new version of McCarthyism. Anti-communist crusaders in the late 1940s and the 1950s used smear tactics and innuendo to promote their own political careers and bludgeon political opposition in the United States into silence. Malefactors included Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, J. Edgar Hoover, and Bobby Kennedy, but the worst of the lot was Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, whose name became identified with unsupported charges of treason.

So far no Republicans want to risk their relationship with Trump and challenge outrageous actions by the President-elect and his transition team. It is worth remembering one Republican official who did stand-up against unfounded accusations and purges and defend democratic principles during the McCarthy "Red Scare," Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine.

In 1950, Smith told the Senate she feared "national suicide and the end of everything that we Americans hold dear." Speaking as a Republican, a woman, a United States Senator, and as an American, Smith charged that the Senate had been "debased to the level of a forum of hate and character assassination sheltered by the shield of congressional immunity" and unable to tolerate "self-criticism and self-appraisal." She worried "Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism: The right to criticize; The right to hold unpopular beliefs; The right to protest; The right of independent thought."

As temperatures continue to climb, planet Earth is waiting for one prominent Republican to finally speak out again.

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