At a February 2015 fundraiser for then Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker, Rudy Giuliani declared that President Obama, because of his policies, didn’t really love America. For Giulani and the pundits who defended this verdict, policy is proxy for love of country. Well, two major policy issues — the Constitution, and climate change — provide a good pass-fail test of whether the current Republican presidential candidates really love America.
Donald Trump might love America, but it’s a distant second to himself. Worse, even the conservative media (Fox News, Forbes, National Review) concluded that Trump doesn’t love the U.S. Constitution after he summarily pronounced the 14th Amendment to be, yes, unconstitutional. How so? Its right of citizenship by birth or naturalization applies to all Americans, not just the flavors Donald likes. He’s also ready to junk other basic constitutional rights that guarantee Americans will not be deprived of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” No wonder Russia’s Vladimir Putin praises Trump as a soulmate. Both lead the whopper-telling contest. And both love the big A: the one in Autocracy, not America.
Not to be outdone, Cruz, Carson, Huckabee, Paul and Santorum regurgitated Trump’s view of the Constitution as a restaurant menu: keep this amendment, send that one back to the kitchen. Ditto their attitude toward science: Accept the facts you like, veto the ones you don’t. It’s doubtful that’s how they’d treat a medical diagnosis from their physician. Yet, faced with the overwhelming diagnosis that humans are propelling global warming, they intone the veto speech: “Well, I’m not a scientist, but ...”
Hello? If you’re not a climate scientist, ASK ONE! If Trump, Cruz and company really love America, they’d ask their own Department of Defense, which ranks climate change among the top global threats to American national security: drought, hunger, massive coastal flooding, virulent disease, civil and regional wars, millions of refugees, anarchy, and economic havoc. Or they’d ask NASA, or NOAA, whose sensors in space, on land and on the oceans register the perilous effects of global warming on America’s air, water and soil, our croplands and wildlands, our coastal cities, and on weather-related disasters.
But, rather than asking, listening and learning, they trash talk, blithely wishing climate change away as liberal propaganda, or scientific conspiracy. Or, according to Marco Rubio, “God’s will.” Even if the scientists are right, he says, “for all we know, God wants the Earth to get warmer. (If) it pleases Him to see half of Manhattan under water or Miami wiped out completely, then we cannot stand in His way.” Really? That must be news to Pope Francis, who recently lamented climate change as Earth’s “physical ailment,” its “painful disfigurement.” Perhaps the pope will inform Rubio that defaulting to God as an excuse to do nothing constitutes neither reverence nor leadership.
What part of America do these candidates love? Apparently not the vulnerable cities, people and economies along the coasts of Florida, the Carolinas, the Northeast, California,and the Pacific Northwest. Or the breadbasket “red states,” which will suffer more intense heat waves, more drought in dry areas, more rain and floods in wet areas, and a dustbowl agricultural economy. Or Alaska, where an average three-degree heat rise has brought drought, wildfires, insect infestations and devastated forests. The permafrost, which underlies 80 percent of Alaska, is thawing, with consequent upheaval of roads, buildings, bridges, dams and homes, and release of toxic pollutants. And thousands of Native American communities are being driven to extinction as their lifeblood of fresh water, fisheries, and animal game disappears.
Rubio, Cruz, Trump and company invoke Ronald Reagan but don’t follow his lead. Despite Reagan’s personal uncertainty whether CFCs were destroying the ozone layer, he asked the chemical industry to fashion a plan nonetheless — an insurance policy — just in case science turned out to be right. Which it did. Memo to the candidates: Trade in the trash talk for mature, civil, thoughtful debate. Heed your own country’s DoD, NASA and NOAA warnings about climate change. And honor your own country’s Constitution.
— Leonard Krishtalka is director of the Biodiversity Institute and a professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Kansas University.