How will Trump be remembered? That depends on climate action


President Trump’s most recent State of the Union address was met with widespread audience approval. Some of the President’s lines, such as his thunderous proclamation that “America will never be a socialist country,” will go down in the history books as defining ideals of his presidency. But one line, in particular, has replayed in my head on a loop since his speech: “What will we do with this moment? How will we be remembered?”

When it comes to climate change, I’m afraid the answers are, respectively, not enough and not favorably.

{mosads}As an avid student of history, I was encouraged to hear Trump reflect on his own legacy. From the American Revolution to the Civil Rights Movement, history has a way of characterizing those who lived through it in stark terms of right and wrong, winner and loser, hero and villain. Trump’s actions (or lack thereof) on climate change will shape how history treats him, and America’s response to this threat will be one of the defining issues of our time. How will he — and the GOP — be remembered?

Consider two possible versions of the future. In the first, America plays catch up to lead the world to take strong collective action to combat climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions fall, global temperatures stabilize, the seas stop rising, and my generation is spared the expensive environmental deficit we are on track to inherit. Under this “urgent action” scenario, history will praise us — and those who lead us — for rising to the challenge and conquering one of the gravest existential threats to face our planet. 

The other version of the future is far bleaker. America continues to dither, fighting along partisan battle lines. We throw away the last best chance we have to prevent a global catastrophe of our own design. Global temperatures spiral out of control, ice caps melt, and sea levels continue to rise. Over time, the planet undergoes widespread desertification and suffers mass extinctions. Powerful storms and extreme conditions such as drought and deluge become common characteristics of everyday life, transforming a previously lush planet into a giant nightmare factory.

No wonder so many Americans have embraced radical plans like Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) New Green Deal. Absent a credible Republican alternative, Americans will take a chance on any solution over none at all.

Trump has tremendous power to influence not only what the history books say about him, but which version of the future we get. An about-face on climate could prove to be the catalyst America needs to bring our political factions together in search of a solution. Just imagine if Trump put forth a bold plan for comprehensive climate action; conservative Republicans skeptical of climate science would likely heed his call. Rather than bickering about whether climate change is real, we could finally bring together our brightest scientific, economic, and technological minds from both left and right to unleash the power of American innovation and save the planet.

History is therefore presenting Trump with an enormous opportunity — one most leaders can only dream of. Successfully fighting climate change will take a gargantuan social commitment involving effort and sacrifice from all Americans over multiple decades, not unlike our fight against communism in the Cold War. Trump could be the one who unites our political factions and leads the way. And if we succeed, future generations of Americans will remember all of us in the same terms that the president outlined so eloquently in his State of the Union address, “they knew that America had to prevail. Their cause was this nation, and generations yet unborn. Why did they do it? They did it for America — they did it for us.”

John Sweeney is a New York spokesperson for and treasurer of the New York City Metropolitan Republican Club.

Tags Climate change Donald Trump John Sweeney White House

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