Influencers Opinion

California cannot let Trump’s attacks detract from our environmental diligence

Offshore oil rigs line the Santa Barbara Channel in March 2015. The Trump administration is proposing to open more of the California coast for oil and natural gas exploration.
Offshore oil rigs line the Santa Barbara Channel in March 2015. The Trump administration is proposing to open more of the California coast for oil and natural gas exploration. Los Angeles Times/TNS

The Trump administration is waging war on California’s coasts and inland areas. This month, it took steps to open 1.6 million acres of public land in the state to oil drilling and fracking.

In January, the administration proposed expanding offshore oil drilling in the Pacific, while asking the Interior Department to reconsider several safety regulations aimed at preventing another spill like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

California’s leaders are largely united in seeking to protect the state’s coasts and maintain federal regulations on fracking. But they may not always know how to go about pushing back on Trump.

Many oppose Trump’s environmental policies by pointing out that the president simply has his facts wrong. For instance, environmental experts and advocates labored to debunk Trump’s outrageous tweet about the California wildfires, and his refusal to acknowledge the role of climate change.

But arguments based on facts will not persuade this administration. It is not that Trump is averse to facts per se. He just doesn’t like it when reality fails to suit his goals. So he routinely and strategically twists facts – or creates new ones out of whole cloth – to serve his own political purposes.

MindyRomero
Mindy Romero

Indeed, his tweet about the fires raging across our state has nothing to do with misunderstanding climate science. It is not about facts at all. It is a purely tactical maneuver. Trump is intentionally fueling a populist backlash against California to undermine our state’s leadership on environmental issues, loudly playing to his base in his usual, hyperbolic style.

For Trump, California is an especially useful scapegoat. Targeting the Golden State, even in its hour of need, helps fan his popularity among his supporters, while providing justification for his appointees to dismantle our environmental protections.

He is attempting to cast California and its leaders as irresponsible, and far to the left of the national mainstream. Instead of debating policy differences on their merits, Trump portrays our leaders as crazed liberals out to destroy progress and industry. According to this version of reality, only Trump can save the rest of the nation from California’s influence.

If California can be made to look extreme and elitist, this logic goes, then maybe Trump’s positions can be made to look reasonable and fair. This is not just an attack on our state’s hard-won, democratically achieved policies. It is an effort to reshape the entire political debate by making moderate environmental and social positions suddenly seem extreme.

This is a common approach for Trump. Just recently, he framed our state’s sanctuary policies on immigration the same way, painting them as dangerous and illegal. And his wholly unsupported claims of voter fraud carried out by millions of “illegals” imply that even our state’s elected leaders do not hold office legitimately.

These tactics seem to work with many of his supporters. However, they may also persuade middle-of-the-road voters. The average person who tunes in to Trump’s twisted anti-California discourse may wonder: Who could possibly want to support California’s “extremist” policies?

The answer is that Californians do. We need to push back on Trump’s misrepresentations and attacks, to protect our environmental policies.

We may not all agree on how best to protect our state’s resources. But we have sorted out our policy differences based on reasoned debate and our own values as Californians. Regardless of political affiliation, we should not let Trump back us into a deceptive and inaccurate confrontation that falsely pits California against the nation. Trump’s attacks need to be called out for what they are – an unconscionable ploy to vilify and harm our state for the president’s political gain.

Mindy Romero is director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California and a participant in The Sacramento Bee/McClatchy Influencers series. She can be contacted at msromero@usc.edu. Find the series (with more on offshore drilling Monday) at sacbee.com/influencers.

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