Pinkerton: The Plutocrats vs. the People: Trump’s Climate Decision Exposes the Latest Battle in the Class War

A group of coal miners hold Trump signs as they wait for a rally in Charleston, W.Va., Thursday, May 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Steve Helber/AP

First of Two Parts…

1. The Latest Battle in the Class War, Blue Dots vs. Red Heartland

On Thursday, President Trump announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing from the United Nations Framework on Climate Change.  Speaking of the deal, which had been signed by President Obama in 2015 but never submitted to the Senate for ratification, Trump said:

The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers . . . and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.

At the White House, the audience applauded, and it’s a cinch that across the country, folks in the red states of Trump Nation, too, were pleased.

However, elsewhere, especially in the culture-crafting blue cities along the two coasts, opposition to Trump’s decision flowed, fast and furious.

Indeed, the reaction was so strong, and so deeply comprehensive—cutting across so many sectors of society and the economy—that one is left to wonder whether or not Trump’s decision will have the stimulative effect in the Heartland that he was hoping for—and that Heartlanders deserve.

That is, it’s possible that blue-state opposition will thwart red-state efforts to make more use of—or even to continue to use—fossil fuels.  We will consider this point more closely later, in Part Two.

Yet in the meantime, we can marvel over the totality of anti-Trump hostility: Just about every headline and press report in the Main Stream Media has been critical, with some going out of their way to neon-sign their negativity.  For instance, a writer in Politico declared that Trump’s decision “was about extending a middle finger to the world.”

In a similar vein, there was this headline in The New York Daily News: “Trump to World: Drop Dead.” Here, some of us old-timers might pause to recall that the Daily News was once the regular read of New York City’s working class, which was always interested in the lunch-bucket questions of jobs and growth.  But now that the paper is owned by a post-industrial billionaire, its editorial stance has changed dramatically; it no longer reflects Queens and Canarsie, but rather Manhattan and the Hamptons—and that might help account for its vanishing circulation.

As for other elite outposts, the reaction was just as fierce. “Hollywood suffers meltdown over Paris Climate Accord” was the headline for a “greatest hits” roundup on

Meanwhile, the left end of the political system, too, is reacting fiercely.  Indeed, the left is reacting with such ferocity that it threatens to jolt our constitutional system.  Hence this headline from Roll Call: “New York, California, Washington Form Climate Alliance in Wake of Paris Accord Withdrawal.”  An “alliance,” really?  How many more states will join?  And how far will this alliance go?

In addition, the anti-Trump forces have injected yet another disruptive element into our constitutional equation—the idea of dealing directly with foreign powers to undercut U.S. policy.  Here’s a New York Times header: “Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord.” The story outlines the efforts of non-federal activists to create their own foreign policy; they seek to do so by submitting a climate plan of their own, directly to the United Nations, pledging to meet the requirements of the Paris agreement.  According to the Times, the as-yet unnamed group includes 30 mayors, three governors, more than 80 university presidents, and more than 100 businesses.

Moreover, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charity of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, has committed $14 million to help fund the effort.  Once again, this is strange legal territory; the Logan Act, a federal statute since 1799, would seem to specifically forbid this sort of ex parte diplomacy.

So why all this fervor for U.S. participation in the Paris agreement?  After all, according to the UN’s own figures, if the U.S. doesn’t participate in the Paris deal, the atmospheric temperature will rise by a mere 0.3 celsius in the next century (that is, if one trusts these sorts of projections).

Many will ask: Is it really worth ripping up the political fabric of the U.S. for such a tiny goal?  Yet the answer that’s coming back, of course, is an emphatic “Yes!”

Thus we come to see that the climate change issue is perhaps better to be regarded as a matter of morality or even theology, as opposed to money, or science.

Indeed, maybe it’s akin to a religious revival—that is, a revival for the mostly non-religious.   And so The New York Times’ David Brooks probably spoke for many in his social class when he entitled his June 2 column, “Donald Trump Poisons the World.”

In that piece, Brooks outlined the ultimate rationale for many Trump opponents who have picked up a green hammer (among other kinds of hammers) to wield against the dreaded 45th president: “People yearn for righteousness. They want to feel meaning and purpose in their lives, that their lives are oriented toward the good.”  Such emotions can be viewed as either righteous or self-righteous, but either way, they are powerful.

By this reckoning, the sacred guideposts of this new worldview include not only the United Nations, but also the European Union.  And so it should come as little surprise that American elites openly side with the UN and the EU; that is, they prefer to associate themselves with, say, Angela Merkel of Germany, and never you-know-who.  Indeed, in this new world order, Merkel is now routinely  considered to be the world’s most moral political leader.

2. China Plays the Green Card

In their untiring enthusiasm to hammer Trump with everything available, the elites have made some curious choices.  Here’s a revealing headline from the MSM’s marquee name, the Times: Trump Hands the Chinese a Gift: The Chance for Global Leadership.”

Let’s try to get this straight: China as the global leader, because of climate change?  To many, that will seem like quite a stretch, since, under the terms of the Paris agreement, China must make precisely zero cuts in carbon emissions before “around 2030.”  In the meantime, China is emitting more carbon dioxide than any other country; indeed, even now it emits twice as much as the US.

Yet for their part, the Chinese, who seem relentlessly conscious of the strategic goal of de-industrializing the West, even as they themselves continue to industrialize, seem happy to play along with politically correct green thinking.

On June 1, China’s Premier Li Keqiang stood alongside EU leaders, intoning about the “global consensus” on climate change, and declaring the “international responsibility” to do something about it.  Given such high-minded words, nobody seemed to notice that China won’t start doing anything about carbon for another 13 years—maybe.

Why the maybe?   Let’s remember that this is the same People’s Republic of China that is flagrantly defying adjudicated international law on the high seas in order to protect its strategic interests.  Can that same regime really to be trusted to give up its economic interests?

To be sure, some American leaders outside of the Trump administration are courageous enough to call out this bizarre process.  One such is Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who last month laid out the stakes to Breitbart News’  Matthew Boyle:

About eight billion tons of coal is burned per year in the world.  The United States of America burns less than one billion tons of coal a year, so we’re less than one eighth of the world’s consumption.  That tells you seven-eighths of all the coal in the world is being burnt somewhere else.  Four billion tons is being burned in just China alone. [emphasis added]

In other words, the Chinese burn four times as much coal as we do, and yet we’re judged to be the bad guys.  Sad!

3. The Coming Battle: Plutocrats vs. People

We shouldn’t kid ourselves: The actions of the Trump administration notwithstanding, it’s still possible that green activists—greatly bolstered, as we have seen, by overall anti-Trump enthusiasm—will succeed in stopping fossil fuels in their tracks.  Indeed, if we go to the web page of the same Bloomberg Philanthropies, we see that already, Bloomberg and his allies have succeeded in shutting down 251 coal plants.  So we can ask: Did anything Trump decided on Thursday make it more likely that any one of those plants will re-open?

In the meantime, we can be sure that all the actors, activists, litigators, and regulators will keep right on going, true to their self-appointed righteous mission of  domestic energy shutdowns, freelance international diplomacy—and anything else they can think of.   Indeed, from their point of view, if bashing coal and fossil fuels means bashing Trump as well—all the better.   And of course, such Trump-bashing also has a way of becoming Trump-supporter-bashing.

For instance, Frank Rich, the longtime New York Times theater critic and columnist now writing for the similarly-minded New York magazine, looks askance at any possible effort, post-2016 election, to understand the motivations of Trump supporters.  Rich derides such efforts as “Hillbilly Chic,” adding:

For those of us who want to bring down the curtain on the Trump era as quickly as possible, this pandering to his voters raises a more immediate and practical concern: Is it a worthwhile political tactic that will actually help reverse Republican rule?  Or is it another counterproductive detour?

In other words, no sympathy for the hillbilly from that New Yorker—nor from many others.

Of course, the idea that city dwellers look down their noses at the “rubes” in the rest of America is nothing new; in fact, Manhattanites have been known to proudly proclaim their arrogance.

Moreover, it’s no shock that most Democrats—Manchin is just about by himself in his party on climate change—are inclined to oppose just about anything that a conservative or a Republican might wish to do.  That is, after all, what partisan politics is often about.

However, what might be surprising is the degree to which the very wealthy have turned against one of the historic engines of economic growth, namely, fossil fuels.

In fact, we can look back at the last three centuries and see that energy consumption has soared a thousand-fold since George Washington’s time.  It’s that growth in energy consumption that has fueled, literally, the standard of living that we enjoy today.  And, of course, nobody enjoys it more than the very wealthy.

In fact, the environment is, according crucial metrics, vastly better than it was in the old days, when people hunched over unventilated wood- or-peat burning hearths for cooking and for warmth, or else hunted down whales, nearly to extinction, for their blubber, which provided scanty amounts of fuel and tallow.

Yet today we find that many of the wealthiest families are now distancing themselves from economic growth.  Or, as they might prefer to say it, they are demanding that we “evolve” beyond fossil fuels.  Of course, it’s never clear  whether or not the world is ready to make such an economic leap of faith.

Indeed the reader might ask himself or herself: Is it wise to trust our “betters” when they tell us that the affluent-favored renewables—solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal energy—can be expanded rapidly enough to protect the well-being of the average American?

In fact, according to the National Academy of Sciences, in 2015 those four renewables made up less than eight percent of total U.S. energy consumption.  So realistically, what are the chances that they could be expanded sufficiently to take the place of the energy sources (fossil fuels, nuclear, hydropower) that are now out of fashion in high circles?

Or, is it wiser for the ordinary Joe and Jane to conclude that the Al Gore class simply doesn’t care what happens to them?  After all, the last few decades of environmental politicking, which have undercut so many Heartland industries and jobs, would seem to point to that bleak conclusion.

Indeed, speaking of haute, perhaps the most astonishing bit of plutocratic guilt-tripping can be seen in the choices made by the Rockefeller Family Fund, which announced in 2016 that, having deemed ExxonMobil to be “morally reprehensible,” because of its ongoing energy production, it was therefore choosing to divest itself of its stock in the company.

This is a remarkable turn of events, since ExxonMobil is descended from John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil.  In other words, the fortune that the Rockefellers enjoy to this day comes from fossil fuels.

We might note that “divestment” is not the same as “giving the money away.” That is, the Rockefellers, this branch of the family at least, are simply transferring their wealth from one stock to another.   Meanwhile, the rest of us might observe: If gains are judged to be ill-gotten, they should be renounced, not simply shuffled.

Yet in the meantime, these Rockefellers will now be free to join the swelling blue chorus that regards climate change as a greater threat than all the other threats, including—but certainly not limited to—terrorism, North Korea, and the Zika virus.

Yes, these are curious choices that some, especially in the toniest zip codes, are making.  But as we have seen and will see, they aren’t just making these choices for themselves; instead, they seek to make choices for the rest of us.

So that’s why should all be paying attention, and seeking appropriate strategies in response.

Next in Part Two: Fighting for the Many: The consequences of economic growth, slow or fast, for America.


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