In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s lead protagonist, Scout, is forced to spend Christmas day with her spoiled, snotty, cravenly racist cousin Francis. Spending time with Francis, according to Scout, “gave me the sensation of settling slowly to the bottom of the ocean.”
For many millions of people, the ceaseless vicissitudes of the Donald Trump experience, the serial humiliations, degradations and compounded outrages, leave us baffled in our efforts to simply get through the day. Trump is our collective Cousin Francis, and we are all sinking slowly.
The policy bowl of rancid jellybeans was overflowing again this past week, but one cluster of events stood out in stark relief. On Tuesday, Trump winged his way to a big-dollar fundraiser in the tech-heavy San Francisco Bay area. He is so popular in California that the location had to be couched in secrecy; it was as if a bunch of comic book villains planned a get-together somewhere Batman couldn’t find them.
“Donors invited to the event — whose tickets cost up to $100,000 per couple — were told only to arrive at a parking place where they would be transported to the event, without any advance notice of where it was or who was hosting it,” reported The Wall Street Journal. Ibid. re: simultaneously astonishing and not at all surprising.
While in California, Trump made a point of denouncing the problem of homelessness, not because of the toll it takes on human beings, but because he sees homeless people as an eyesore for the landed gentry. “We have people living in our best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings,” he told journalists in between fundraising stops, “where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes, where they went to those locations because of the prestige.”
On Wednesday, Trump announced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would issue the city of San Francisco a violation because, he argued bizarrely, homeless people there are supposedly polluting the oceans by dropping needles into storm drains. Medical waste washing up on beaches in places like California and New Jersey is a definite concern, but a vast majority of the needles in the water arrived there by way of illegal dumping. Homeless people polluting the ocean is, pardon the pun, a drop in the bucket of this particular problem.
“Wealthy people in California have absolutely failed to look out for their neighbors,” writes Splinter News journalist Naomi LaChance from the realm of the real, “while the state would rather criminalize poverty than treat people with dignity. The homelessness problem is the direct responsibility of all the state’s powerful and famous who don’t pay their fair share in taxes. But since when does Trump care about pollution? Don’t forget this is the guy who said that windmills cause cancer.”
In fact, Trump is so concerned about pollution in the Golden State that he also revoked California’s auto emission standards on Wednesday, standards which have for decades been higher than federal standards by way of a waiver no previous president has ever seen fit to meddle with. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted California’s higher standards in the face of accelerated pollution-caused climate disruption.
California has announced its refusal to comply with the edict, and the other states sharing the same emissions standards may follow suit. This puts the U.S. auto industry squarely between a rock and a hard place, if for no other reason than California is the largest auto market in the country. “The outcome could split the United States auto market,” reports The New York Times, “with some states adhering to stricter pollution standards than others. For automakers, that would be a nightmare.”
Trump made no bones about his expectation that the auto industry will fall into line with his ongoing range war against the climate itself. “Automakers should seize this opportunity,” he tweeted from a Los Angeles hotel on Wednesday, “because without this alternative to California, you will be out of business.”
Without question, Trump’s decision is going to draw lawsuits the way garbage draws flies, and may wind up before the Supreme Court, a deeply unsetting prospect given that court’s current political makeup.
“If the courts allow this unprecedented reversal, and the Trump EPA massively rolls back the federal Clean Car Standards, then President Trump will have done more to destroy the planet than any other president in history,” former long-time EPA official Jeff Alson told CNN.
Here we are once more, settling slowly to the bottom of Cousin Francis’s needle-encrusted, fiction-infused ocean. It’s as good a place to be as any, since it’s about to get harder to breathe up there where the cars are.