Washington appears to be in complete disarray. Several long-time conservative colleagues, big voices on climate and the environment, have either resigned or been forced out of office. Many view the President with nothing but contempt; other supporters, who for so long urged Americans to resist and defy Trump, now remain more worried than hopeful that they’ll make it out alive. Scandals and intrigues swirl around the president’s inner circle, and the media and professional golfers keep public criticism of Trump a low profile. A generous recent poll showed that a bare majority of Americans thought the President is doing an OK job.
After he entered the White House, this was how the president’s closest friends and associates assessed him: that he was capable of buffoonery; that he embraced narrow-minded grievance politics; that he held a deep distrust of the federal government and international institutions; that he was intellectually flawed and temperamentally unbalanced. While all these observations were true, they have not been true for some time now. It is telling that many of the President’s long-time supporters have, after almost two years of his Presidency, focused solely on Republicans in Congress rather than on Trump himself.
The truth is that, while the media often uses the term “far-right” or “conservative” to refer to a group that agrees with Trump and majorities of his fellow Republicans, in reality these are hardly the words most commonly used by Republicans or, even, less obviously, by most Republicans. The “far-right” is an umbrella term covering a bunch of different groups who have an unhealthy obsession with nativism, opposition to Obama and even the Civil War, and rejection of the belief that a United States can be a multicultural nation.
For many of these people, which seems to include many with a strong dislike of Trump, the term “far-right” describes any conservative who once supported the Civil Rights Act and wants to see the US return to its former ways.
While President Trump has clearly outraced many of his Republican contemporaries in these facets of his persona, his ability to earn a significant number of votes and create a broad coalition of Republican legislators that may come in handy as he attempts to turn the tide on climate change is not recognized by his most conservative supporters. This skepticism and unwillingness to attach a label to the President’s views on this issue continues to trouble many of Trump’s critics, but few seem to care. So long as they are unable to hold him accountable and wrap him in his own paranoia, they are satisfied.
There has always been an element of concern among climate activists about partisan politics. The issue is so deeply intertwined with identity politics that even those who care deeply about climate, if not sacrifice their personal freedom and make a significant amount of money in the process, never cease to worry that someone else in their party is going to come along and claim that they believe in or understand climate change better than they do. The current list of Republican Congress members who have described their support for climate action as a “novelty” is unnerving to many environmentalists, including me. In a general context, this means that the right wing is not just slowly moving away from climate change, but that the politics may ultimately define the issue itself.