Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump did not mention climate change — a reality he may or may not acknowledge — during his first State of the Union Address last night. He did mention the slew of disasters that hit the United States this year, from Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria to the wildfires that tore through the western United States — all fueled in one way or another by climate change.
What Trump laid out was a racist, xenophobic vision for what a warmed world could look like, and how he intends to keep warming it: promoting “big, beautiful clean coal,” heaping generous tax incentives onto carbon-intensive corporations like ExxonMobil and Chrysler, and empowering Scott Pruitt to treat the Environmental Protection Agency as an arm of the fossil fuel industry.
But his vision for our climate-changed future doesn’t just include opening the floodgates to extraction; there are few policy fields that won’t be touched by climate change at some point in the next century. Take immigration. Climate-fueled droughts in the Middle East contributed to a bloody war that has already forced millions to flee from Syria. One 2010 study found that, by 2080, climate-related causes could send as many as 6.7 million people to the United States from Mexico alone, where temperatures will climb and widespread crop failure could become persistent, compounding the economic pain already created by other destructive US policies.
Trump spent much of the speech ginning up racist anger at immigrants from below the border, conflating all of them with “savage” MS-13 members. “CJ,” Trump said, speaking to an ICE agent in the audience targeted by the gang, “we’re going to send you reinforcements and we’re going to send them to you quickly.” He went on to lay out his plan to “begin moving toward a merit-based immigration system,” which will hand-select immigrants “who are skilled, want to work, will love and respect our country,” as well as further militarize the southern border. Especially under Donald Trump, immigration policy is climate policy.
Puerto Ricans are US citizens, though hundreds of thousands have been forced to come to the US mainland thanks to the climate-fueled storm that plowed into an island that’s dealt for decades with the disastrous combination of colonialism and austerity. He mentioned the island — where around a third of the population remains without power — just once in passing, omitting the fact that tomorrow, FEMA will cut off its post-disaster supply of food and water.
Without some major course correction, the approach the US has taken to Puerto Rico could become a model for how the US responds to the climate crisis as its impacts become unavoidable: picking and choosing who deserves amenities as basic as food, electricity, and clean water, and basing access to those life-or-death services — for citizens and immigrants alike — on nationalistic criteria,doling out critical resources for recovery along largely racial lines. If corporations can swoop into make a profit in the wreckage, all the better.
In one of the night’s more chilling and cryptic lines, Trump said he hopes to “remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people,” which might well imply a McCarthy-style purge of bureaucrats who don’t meet his jingoistic standard of loyalty. Draining the federal workforce of talent — as the EPA has already started doing on various fronts — could make it perilously difficult to respond to climate change in earnest once Trump leaves office, leading to a brain drain of the skilled and dedicated people needed to respond to what may well be the most considerable logistical challenge in American history.
There’s no worse time for white nationalist austerity politics than in the midst of the greatest existential threat humanity has ever known. And as Trump proved last night, that’s exactly what we’ve got.