King-George-Trump.jpg

King George III, topped by Trump
3 July 2017

On the first July 4 of the Trump era, a declaration

John Mecklin

John Mecklin

John Mecklin is the editor-in-chief of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of Miller-McCune (since renamed Pacific Standard), an...

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In January, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists made its annual announcement on whether the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock would move and, if so, which way and by how much. At the time of the announcement, Donald Trump had been president of the United States for only six days. Even so, the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board moved the Clock forward by 30 seconds, to two and a half minutes to midnight, based in part on Trump’s words and actions during the presidential campaign and the months immediately following his election. Even before he moved into the White House, Trump had, in the board’s view, said and done things that had made the world more dangerous.

Now, about halfway through Trump’s first year in office, it is unfortunately obvious that this negative assessment was correct, if anything underestimating the president’s proclivity for intemperate and careless behavior with regard to matters that threaten the whole of humanity and the future of civilization. Traditionally, the Doomsday Clock is set once, at the beginning of the year, and the minute hand does not subsequently move for light or transient causes. This July 4, the Clock remains at two and a half minutes to midnight, because the Science and Security Board foresaw and factored into its calculations what has very unfortunately come to pass in the past six months.

Just the same, when a long train of abuses—of fact, of science, of logic, of expertise, even of syntax itself—evinces a president’s wanton disregard for the security of every person on Earth, silence is not a reasonable response. Let facts be submitted to a candid world, that its citizens may hold Donald J. Trump to account, in the courts of public opinion and relentless satire, for the endangerment of humanity:

He has caused the United States to withdraw, on false and unscientific pretenses, from the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change, threatening the well-being of future generations and encouraging the scourge of know-nothingism.

He has made reckless threats of military action against North Korea, even though that country has nuclear, chemical, and conventional weaponry that could kill hundreds of thousands of people instantly, along with a leader at least as unpredictable as any reality television star.

He has undermined the NATO collective defense principle, sowing discord and confusion among European allies, encouraging Russian adventurism, making nuclear war more likely, and causing Angela Merkel to seem likeable by comparison.

He has continued to express disbelief in intelligence reports about Russian cyberattacks and information warfare that threaten democratic institutions around the world, except when, in a feat of illogic unmatched outside the pages of Alice in Wonderland, he has blamed former President Obama for failing to respond vigorously to those same intelligence reports.

He has chosen an Environmental Protection Agency administrator who does not believe the heavily documented, consensus scientific view of climate change; who has spent a career suing the EPA, the agency responsible for enforcing climate change regulations; and who thinks oil company lobbyists draft environmental policy briefs that are so, so amazing.

He has appointed an Energy Secretary who once called for the elimination of the Energy Department, and who, upon his appointment, was not aware that the department’s main job involves maintaining and securing the United States’ nuclear stockpile. Oh, and there’s that congressional testimony about Al Franken and a couch, too.

He has encouraged mean-spirited plans to shrink the American health care system, convey massive tax cuts to the wealthiest of citizens, and eat out the substance of the neediest—in the process undermining protections against natural pandemics and instruments of biological warfare that could threaten millions of lives around the world.

He has supported massive reductions in funding for scientific research and development, particularly in areas that are critical to combatting climate change, thereby endangering global efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions and the American economic engine on which much of the world relies for its science, technology, and well-being.

He has undermined democracy by declaring open war on a vital protection against tyranny—the free, factually responsible press—and attempted to confuse citizens about the very concept of truth by supporting propaganda organizations and by spewing, from his own mouth and Twitter account, an unremitting litany of easily disproven lies.

Donald Trump has not plundered the seas, ravaged America’s coasts (yet), or burnt any towns that I am aware of, but he has continued to indulge in the reckless behavior and language that the Bulletin’s science and security experts rightly warned of six months ago. That their early judgment has been proven correct is no source of satisfaction. In this case, the words “we told you so” reflect a terrifying reality: Because of his carelessness, unwillingness to heed expert advice, refusal to acknowledge well-established science, and apparent lack of impulse control (among other concerning tendencies), the president of the United States is a threat to the future of civilization.

The proper response from free peoples the world over will include, of course, the disdain and satirization Trump has well and truly earned. But public disregard from those most inclined to oppose him will not rein in the dangerous excesses of Trump and the leaders of other strident, nationalist-authoritarian, “populist” movements on the political march around the world. Protecting the world from irresponsible leadership will require interest groups of dissimilar ideology, captains of business and industry who generally steer clear of controversy, and the mass of ordinary citizens who usually pay fitful attention to politics or governance to make active, common cause against a common danger. In the United States, this will mean, above all, that Democrats and Republicans of conscience loudly join forces to limit Donald Trump’s ability to threaten the world with nuclear weapons and climate change denial, recognizing that in the course of human events, there are times when concern about personal and partisan consequences need be laid aside, to secure humanity and the planet to our posterity.