Trump is going to be the best US president since Ronald Reagan and for at least one of the same reasons: he was never the GOP establishment’s preferred candidate, which means he has the attitude, the independence and the leeway to be much more radical — and effective — than any of his rivals would have dared to be.
Nowhere will this become more evident than in the fields of energy and climate change. It’s true that there were other climate–sceptical presidential candidates, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio among them, but it’s unlikely that when push came to shove any Republican other than Trump would have had the will to take on the powerful and entrenched green establishment once in office.
Partly it’s down to temperament: Trump relishes confrontation and, unlike most conservative politicians, feels under no pressure to moderate his position on the environment lest he be perceived as nasty or uncaring. Partly it’s because as a property developer he has much personal experience of the way environmental red tape impedes business. Partly, as one admiring DC insider explained to me, it’s because he’s the first US president since Reagan who doesn’t identify with the ‘bicoastal urban elite’.
‘The Democrats have been waging a war on rural America for decades. And the Bushes didn’t do a damn thing to help them. Trump actually promised he would do something and rural America got that. These are his people and he gets their problem. If you dig up stuff, if you make stuff or you grow stuff, then Donald Trump has got your back.’
How does Trump mean to Make America Great Again? He spelled it out in May last year in a speech in North Dakota. As well as withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, he would allow fracking on federal lands, ‘save’ the US coal industry, revoke environmental regulations like the ‘Waters of the US rule’ (a massive assault on property rights by the Environmental Protection Agency), revive the Keystone XL pipeline and put all future regulation to a simple test: ‘Is this good for the American worker?’ If it doesn’t pass this test, the rule will not be approved.
To sophisticated centrists this might come across as empty populist rhetoric; and to those on the green liberal-left as something worse: a scientifically illiterate, ideological recipe for unfettered capitalist greed and ecological disaster. In truth, though, it’s probably the most sensible, courageous and well-informed environmental policy plan articulated by any conservative leader anywhere in the world in decades. If that sounds like hyperbole, you can’t have understood the extent to which environmental policy has damaged the global economy in the past few decades. Obama famously boasted that electricity rates would ‘necessarily skyrocket’ under his rule. The very fact that he thought this a good thing shows just how out of touch the world’s governing elites had grown. Why would any sane person — unless presented with an overwhelmingly compelling reason — think it desirable to have their cost of living ramped up by government fiat?