by Anne Polansky and Michael Termini
More than one full year into a Donald Trump presidency, we are taking stock of the new political landscape, already marked by turmoil and volatility. Never before in modern US history have we seen such instability and unreliability in basic governance at the federal level. Here in the nation’s capital, just about everything feels upside down and inside out. Each day’s news serves as a reminder that what once would have been considered abnormal behavior is increasingly giving way to the bizarre. The rapidity and growing accumulation of a host of upsetting, precedent-breaking developments can feel as dizzying and disorienting as being swept up in a Kansas farm house, spinning in a cyclone towards Oz, and waking up in the Twilight Zone.
Well-established scientific findings (such as those regarding anthropogenic global warming and climate change impacts) and simple facts are routinely cast aside by the Trump White House and virtually every federal department head. A significant proportion of executive branch positions remain vacant (including key positions in science and technology – we still do not even have a White House Science Advisor). The White House has been preoccupied with the judicial branch, hastily filling the courts with judges whose views and track records align politically with the (extreme) right wing. Meanwhile, government employees continue to leave their posts in droves. Those who remain privately confess to us their growing frustration at the disrespect they feel from top management, and from feeling prevented from doing the job they were hired to do. Congress is failing to conduct proper oversight, accountability is going out the window, and employees feel chilled into silence. Without a functional democracy, there can be no federal role in responding to voter demand, not only for a clean energy economy that is less dependent on fossil fuels, but also for clean air, water, large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and a robust federal climate change science program.