Trump Already Having an Effect on Attitudes & Policies

Trump’s Executive Orders and Twitter announcements continue day by day and it is pertinent to consider their effectiveness and possible implications so far:

  1. Job Approval ratings in US polling show a slightly higher net rate of disapproval of Trump, on average – 48.3 to 46, with more disapprovals than approvals (see attached on Polling on Trump Job Approval). But the protests shown on our TV, and the imbalance in the news, clearly exaggerate the opposition to Trump. It is probably little different to the election, albeit more aggressive. Even “our ABC” felt it had to mention support for Trump in last night’s TV news.
  2. Despite Trump’s critical remarks about NATO, the meeting of European leaders in Malta on Feb 3 seems to have produced mixed views about Trump (see EU on Trump). The British PM (the only one to have met Trump as President) told them that the US under Trump would still cooperate on defence. The French PM, whose approval polling in France was in single figures the last time I looked, attacked Trump’s support of Brexit (but in front of May). It appears that the meeting was mainly concerned with helping Libya stop emigrants to Europe across the Meditarranean and improving controls on entry of refugees.   However, the current President of the EU (actually of the Council), Tusk, thought the US is a threat to the EU!
  3. Most comments on the exchange between Trump and Turnbull over the resettlement of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island seem to have missed the main point viz that Trump’s announced policy of  implementing stronger controls over US borders meant that he could have been seen in the US as allowing a breach of that policy if he simply told Turnbull “no problem” with his agreement with Obama made at the end of Obama’s presidency. Turnbull should have immediately indicated publicly that he told Trump that Australia has a tough border control policy too. He didn’t say this publicly until he had an interview on 7.30 and he appears to have “overlooked” that, bluster aside, Trump has done him a favour in agreeing to the resettlement, subject to “extreme vetting” (which is also claimed to be what we do in our refugee policy). As Greg Sheridan points out (see attached Sheridan on Trump & Turnbull), the claim that Trump has been discourteous to Australia needs to be compared with Obama’s more than discourteous treatment of Abbott on climate policy when he was PM.
  4. There have also been suggestions of possible policy changes by Australia as a result of Trump. One such has been that, as a quid pro quo for the resettlement, Trump may ask for Australian support on his policy of destroying ISIS (for which he has already issued an executive order). But we already have a small force in Iraq/Syria helping train Iraqi soldiers and it is difficult to believe that, if asked, we would not agree to join the US in putting “troops on the ground”. It would surely be in our interests to help destroy ISIS.
  5. Another suggested change relates to climate policy. Turnbull has already indicated that the technology used to produce energy might be shared between renewable and coal and gas. This appears to be a policy designed to be used to attack the extent of Labor’s support for renewable but the Turnbull policy doesn’t seem to have been well put together. In particular, the reference to the possible use of “Clean Coal ” because it would have lower emissions doesn’t seem to have taken account of its much higher cost and the resultant (further) upward increase in electricity prices. Having acknowledged that coal should be a part of energy policy, it would seem desirable instead to endorse the use of “ordinary” coal until the cost of Clean Coal comes down. There is also a need to tell the states with high use of renewable and restrictions on developing gas that this is contrary to national economic policy and will result in changes to grants to offending states unless they change their policies.
  6. There are also signs that at least some parts of the media are at last giving credibility to the sceptical view. In his article in The Australian last Friday, environment editor, Graham Lloyd, drew attention to the attendance of a number of journalists from major newspapers at a briefing in London at the UK’s sceptical think-tank ,established by former UK Treasurer Nigel Lawson, by the American Myron Ebell who was closely involved in drafting Trump’s election policy on climate policy.Lloyd points out that “ Ebell’s analysis is as relevant for Brexit as the US presidential race and provides some clues as to how debate is being fundamentally recast in other democracies, including Australia. Trump was elected President, Ebell says, largely because he figured out and supported policies that were popular in the heartland of the US, that are not those of the bicoastal elite. Energy policy is central to the divide. “The people in New York and Boston and Seattle and Los Angeles think that their lives and jobs don’t really require much energy,” Ebell says. “The people who don’t live in the areas dominated by the ­bicoastal urban elite, the people who dig up stuff, make stuff and grow stuff for a living are the people who have direct experience of the consequences of the policies that create higher and higher energy prices,” he says.

    “California has electric rates twice the national average. The Obama strategy was to try to turn the whole of the country into something representing California or New York, where energy prices are high and where the energy-intensive industries have disappeared and gone somewhere else. “The thing is the people of California still need energy-intensive goods — they have outsourced them all.“The question is if you turn Indiana and Ohio and Michigan into replicas of California, what is going to happen to the economy of those centres when they aren’t part of a financial centre or a hi-tech Silicon Valley or they don’t have Hollywood and who is going to produce those goods?’’ Ebell says. “The answer is they will go to places in the world that still have low electric rates and have not adopted.”

    This (Lloyd says) is the lesson in Victoria’s Portland aluminium smelter, which was faced with closure due to rising energy prices before state and federal government intervention. Like Trump, the federal government is putting itself on the side of the worker, whom it says Labor has abandoned with high renewable energy targets and ­energy costs. Ebell says Trump won the election because he appealed to those people and during the campaign he learned a lot from talking to them so his mandate is clear and he knows who he got it from.

    Ebell says rejection by the American people of what they were told by the bicoastal urban elite was not an isolated phenomena and had been seen in Britain in the Brexit vote. “The people of America have rejected the expertariate and I think for good reason because I think the expertariate have been wrong about one thing after another, including climate policy,” Ebell says. “If you think the science is settled, I agree to this extent. There is a consensus and I am sure everybody who is familiar with climate science agrees with it. “There are greenhouse gases, the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases is increasing as a result of human activity and all things being equal there will be some warming in the climate, that is the consensus.’’

    But he says people who promote the “alarmist agenda” have claimed the entire consensus goes much further. “If there is a claim that catastrophic climate change is imminent, it is based on model predictions which the facts are proving to be untrue,” he says.

It is not difficult to envisage that the kind of remarks made by Ebell will be repeated by Trump when he issues an executive order on climate policy. As Lloyd concludes in his article, “under this scenario, the Paris deal and the UN climate change process will effectively be dead and Australia’s renewable energy response will look very different ­indeed”. But there is no indication that the Turnbull government has prepared for such a situation.

It would be most helpful if a private entrepreneur in Australia financed a visit to Australia of Ebell or one of his colleagues who worked on the Trump environmental policy. I have a contact with one of those.

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