Climate Change Denial in the Age of Trump

Our best hope is perhaps that Trump comes to realize that climate change is a threat not just to human civilization but to the one thing he cares about—Trump.

by Michael Mann
Describing our study, one journalist summarized our key finding as "a snowball’s chance in hell that this was natural."(Photo: Oil Change International/Twitter)

Describing our study, one journalist summarized our key finding as “a snowball’s chance in hell that this was natural.”(Photo: Oil Change International/Twitter)

With a climate change denier in the White House, climate denialism has reached a new low point in America. Indeed, my co-author Tom Toles and I have devoted a whole new chapter to the matter (“Return to the Madhouse: Climate Change Denial in the Age of Trump”) in the new paperback edition of our book The Madhouse Effect (now available for pre-order).

But any chapter on the topic will inevitably become out of date quickly. Indeed, we have our latest episode in the saga. In a new interview with Piers Morgan, Donald Trump continues to deny the basic facts about climate change. As is often the case with Trump, the Costanza principle seems to apply: If Trump makes a claim, then the opposite almost certainly.must be true.

Let’s take a closer look at the veracity (or rather, lack thereof) of The Donald’s latest climate change claims:

1. When asked whether he accepts the scientific consensus behind human-caused climate change, Trump replied “There is a cooling, and there’s a heating”, a version of the standard denialist trope that “climate is always changing“. If you look past the year-to-year fluctuations in temperature due to natural phenomena like El Nino and volcanic eruptions (keeping in mind that Trump can’t even appear to see past day-to-day fluctuations in temperature), it is clear that planet is steadily warming and at a rate that is remarkably consistent with the model simulations as seen in this up-to-date comparison of model-simulated and observed warming produced by NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) Director Gavin Schmidt:

The last four years were the warmest, globally, on record–and that record warmth cannot be explained in terms of natural climate variability. My co-authors and I published an article last year demonstrating that the consecutive 2014, 2015, and 2016 global temperature records were extremely unlikely to have happened in the absence of long-term human-caused planetary warming. Describing our study, one journalist summarized our key finding as “a snowball’s chance in hell that this was natural”. So much for Trump’s first talking point…

2. Trump was also quoted as saying that “The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they’re setting records”.

In referring to the “ice caps” Trump fails to distinguish between sea ice (which floats on water and which does not contribute to sea level rise when it melts) and the continental ice sheets i.e. the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets (which store huge amounts of ice and once they begin to melt are difficult to stop). The distinction is important when it comes to larger climate change impacts, but for our purposes it doesn’t matter, because by either definition of “ice cap”, Trump couldn’t be more wrong with regard to the predictions. Ironically though he does get one thing right: The “ice caps” are setting records–records for rate of ice loss.

The long-term trend in Arctic sea ice is strongly downward and the late summer Arctic sea ice minimum is decreasing faster than the models predicted, as my co-authors and I showed in our 2009 Copenhagen Diagnosis report:

Attempting to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he was simply regurgitating the favorite climate change denier talking point that
“southern hemisphere sea ice is on the increase”. There is some truth to that–a small increase was seen for a number of years, though in the southern ocean sea ice extent has far more to do with changing circumpolar wind patterns than temperatures. But that increase is very small, and it is overwhelmed by the dramatic loss in Arctic sea ice. Globally, we are in fact seeing record sea ice….lows. We see that the opposite of what Trump said is in fact true.

OK, but what about the ice sheets? Arguably, from the standpoint of climate change impacts, the melting of the ice sheets is far more significant his is ice that is on land, rather than floating on the ocean, it contributes to sea level rise when it melts.

Here too the best evidence is that the ice sheets that are vulnerable to melting–the Greenland and west Antarctic Ice Sheets–are losing ice, and far sooner than the models predicted. Indeed, the latest research, in particular a 2016 study in Nature co-authored by Rob Deconto of the University of Massachusetts and my Penn State colleague David Pollard, identified processes that had not been include in previous climate modeling assessments that favor accelerated collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet. That finding has led scientists to double the projections of global sea level rise by the end of the century from roughly a meter i.e. roughly 3 feet (as indicated in the last IPCC report) to about two meters i.e. roughly 6 feet. Once again, the opposite of what Trump claimed is actually true.

Now, we all know that Donald Trump really only appears to care about himself, so perhaps what Trump really means is that climate change simply isn’t a problem…for Donald Trump. Well, even here, he is sadly misguided.

In an article my co-authors and I published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) last year, we showed that the latest projected increases in sea level rise, combine with more intense hurricanes, combine for greatly increased flood risk where things hit home for Trump–New York City. We even produced a map of maximum projected flood extent that Trump might want to check out—Trump Tower itself is eventually within the danger zone.

By now, most of us have also heard about the special approval that Trump got to build a sea wall to defend his golf course in Ireland from the mounting threat posed by global sea level rise (yes hypocrisy thy name is trump). And Trump’s “winter White House” Mar-a-Lago? Yeah, that’s probably toast too, if we don’t act on climate change.

When it comes to climate change policy in the current administration, our best hope is perhaps that Trump comes to realize that climate change is a threat not just to human civilization but to the one thing he cares about—Trump. But don’t count on it.


Michael Mann Michael Mannis Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University. He was recognized with other Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change authors for their contribution to the IPCC’s 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Follow him @MichaelEMann

 

The Tax-the-Rich Animation that Riled the 1%’s Most Fervent Cheerleaders

Reprinted under a Creative Commons 3.0 License

By Fred Glass

Five years ago, an eight-minute cartoon delightfully demolished all the conventional rationales for grand concentrations of private wealth.

“Do Kids Die, Mom?”

Facing the Future With Trepidation in the Age of Trump
By Frida Berrigan

As a mother and an activist, here’s what I’ve concluded as 2018 begins: it’s getting harder and harder to think about the future — at least in that soaring Whitney Houston fashion. You know the song: “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way…” These days, doesn’t it sound quaint and of another age?

The truth is I get breathless and sweaty thinking about what life will be like for my kids — three-year-old Madeline, five-year-old Seamus, and 11-year-old Rosena.  I can’t stop thinking about it either.  I can’t stop thinking that they won’t be guaranteed clean air or clean water, that they won’t have a real healthcare system to support them in bad times, even if they pay through the nose in super high taxes. They may not have functional infrastructure, even if President Trump succeeds in building a yuge gilded wall on our southern border (and who knows where else). The social safety net — Medicare, Medicaid, and state assistance of various sorts — could be long gone and the sorts of nonprofit groups that try to fill all breaches a thing of the past. If they lose their jobs or get sick or are injured, what in the world will they have to fall back on, or will they even have jobs to begin with?

The country — if it even exists as the United States of America decades from now when they’re adults — will undoubtedly still be waging war across the planet. Our Connecticut town, on a peninsula between Long Island Sound and the Thames River, will be flooding more regularly as sea levels rise. And who knows if civil discourse or affordable colleges will still be part of American life?

What, I wonder all too often, will be left after Donald Trump’s America (and the possible versions of it that might follow him)?  Will there, by then, be an insurgent movement of some sort in this country?  Could Indivisible go rogue (please)?  Maybe they’d have a nonviolent political wing the way the Sandinistas did in Nicaragua in the 1980s?  With the help of volunteers from all over the hemisphere, they eradicated illiteracy, brought in the coffee harvest, and vaccinated against diseases (while their armed wing fought against the U.S.-backed Contras). Maybe in our city, my grown-up kids can harvest potatoes — no coffee grows here, not yet, anyway — teach reading, and write revolutionary propaganda.

And when it comes to dystopian futures, I’ve got plenty more where that came from, all playing in a loop on the big screen in the multiplex of my mind as I try to imagine my kids as adults, parents, grandparents. Please tell me I’m not the only one in America right now plagued in this fashion.  I’m not fixated on passing our modest family house down to my three kids or making sure that our ragtag “heirlooms” survive their childhood.  What preoccupies me is the bleak, violent, unstable future I fear as their only inheritance.

It’s enough to send me fumbling for a parental “take back” button that doesn’t exist. I just don’t know how to protect them from the future I regularly see in my private version of the movies. And honestly, short of becoming one of those paranoid, well-resourced doomsday preppers, I have no idea how to prepare them.

Recently, I had a chance to school them in the harshness of life and death — and I choked. I just couldn’t do it.

Death and Breakfast

“When will I die, mama?” Madeline asked at breakfast one day recently.  She’ll be four next month. Her tone is curious, as if she were asking when it will be Saturday or her birthday.

“Not for a long time, I hope,” I responded, trying to stay calm. “I hope you’ll die old and quiet like dear Uncle Dan.”

“I want to die LOUD, mama!”

I’m not sure what she means, but already I don’t like it.

“I want to die like a rock star!” her brother Seamus interjects. He is in kindergarten and thinks he’s both wise and worldly.

Great, I think, just great. What does that mean? “Yes,” I say, my voice — I hope — neutral, “rock stars do tend to die, buddy.”

“Do kids die, mom?” he asks suddenly.

“Yes,” I reply, “kids die sometimes.”

My head, of course, is suddenly filled with images of dead kids, little Syrian bodies washing up on Turkish beaches, little Afghan bodies blown to bits, little Yemeni bodies brittle with starvation or cholera. There’s no shortage of images of dead children in my head as I talk with a kind of painful calmness to my two small ones on a school-day morning in southeastern Connecticut.

“Do teenagers die?” Seamus asks. They love teenagers.

“Yes,” I say, my voice heavy and sad by now, “teenagers die sometimes, too.” New images swirl through my head of teenagers drunk, in cars, on drugs, in stages of undress, in mental anguish, dying because they don’t believe they can. I keep all of this to myself.

“People die,” I say, trying to regain control of the conversation. “We all die eventually. But you don’t have to worry. You have a lot of people working hard to make sure you have what you need to live long, happy lives.”

Long, Happy Lives and Other Lies

And that was the end of that. Their existential, morbid curiosity satisfied for the moment, they moved on to an argument about the fantasy character on the back of their cereal box.

I, on the other hand, haven’t moved on.  I’m still right there, sitting at that breakfast table discussing life and death — the when, the where, and the grim how of it all — with my three-year-old and five-year-old.  And wondering if I’ve already failed them.

When I was a kid, my own parents, Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister, Catholic peace activists who spent long stretches of time in jail as nuclear weapons disarmament activists, never missed a chance like this to knock some hard lessons about the power structure’s monopoly on violence into my head. Innocent queries about life and death were regularly met with long discourses on nuclear weapons and how such Armageddon weaponry threatened to ultimately cheapen all life, including mine and those of my brother and sister.

To this day, I can still replay those homemade history lessons that regularly began with tales of rapacious white colonizers landing on these shores, wiping out Native Americans from sea to shining sea, and launching the succession of seizures, invasions, and wars that built the United States into an imperial power and guaranteed its future global dominance. (At a certain age, we could even follow along in our own copies of A People’s History of the United States by their friend Howard Zinn). Those lessons were an education in violence and its bloody, brutal efficacy, at least in the short term.  They were also an introduction to its fundamental failures, to the way such violence, deeply embedded in a society, requires an accompanying culture of pathological distraction, fearfulness, and deep insecurity.

That was my childhood. Some version of that once-upon-a-time-in-America, no-sleep-for-you nuclear nightmare of a bedtime story was always playing in my house. And thanks to their clear-eyed, full-disclosure approach to parenting, I grew up feeling prepared for a brutal, unequal, unfair world, but in no way protected from it.  At least as I now remember it, I felt exposed, terrified, and heart-broken too much of the time.

If Madeline and Seamus were 10 years older and asking such questions, what would I have told them? If their big sister and my step-daughter Rosena (who lives with us half the time) were there, would I have been less circumspect? Could I have shared my fears of the future and the myriad ways I dread the passing of each year? Like my parents, would I have held forth on the long-term consequences of our settler-colonial origins, the ways the use of force and violence at the highest levels have come to permeate society, corroding every interaction and threatening us all? Could I have lectured them on guns, drugs, and sex — on the cheapening of life in the era of the decline of this country’s global version of a Pax Americana? Would I have pulled back the curtain to show them that everyone is not working hard to make sure that they — or any other kids — have what they need to lead long, happy lives? I don’t think so.

All these years later, I’m not convinced of what such rants — however well reasoned and well footnoted — truly accomplish. I’m not convinced of what such demoralizing verbal versions of a Facebook scroll of bad news and hypocrisy do for any of us, which is, of course, why I’m sparing my kids, but dumping all my fears on you.

A World on Fire and on the Move

As for my kids, I tried my best to keep that breakfast of ours in the upbeat realm of death-is-part-of-life. That’s where I want to live with them. That’s how my father died — as he lived, surrounded by the people who loved him. His two closest brothers died that way, too. When I imagine the deaths of those I love, I hear a last gasp of breath, feel a last grip of fingers, witness a peaceful slumber that doesn’t end.

But the peace that I treasured in my father’s death, the joyful stability I want for my children, these things that I can tell myself are the bedrock of a meaningful life, are already denied to so many people on this planet. In fact, in a world engulfed in flames (both the literal and figurative fires of war), increasing numbers of them are running as fast as they can in hopes of somehow getting away.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, 1.7 million people are reportedly displaced, mostly fleeing from one part of that vast African nation to other regions to escape spreading violence. In total, four million people are displaced within that fractured land alone. Similarly, in Myanmar, the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group subjected to terrible violence, have been on the move in staggering numbers. In the wake of a deadly crackdown by that country’s security forces, 647,000 Rohingya fled into neighboring Bangladesh where many are now living in fetid, desperately overcrowdedrefugee camps. And that’s just to mention two countries on an increasingly desperate planet.

Last year, an estimated 65.6 million people were displaced, a record for the post-World War II period, and tens of millions of them crossed a border, becoming refugees as they fled war, poverty, persecution, and the destructionof urban areas (from major cities to small towns). They regularly left their homes with what they could carry, kids on their hips, in search of imagined safety somewhere over the horizon, just as people have done for millennia, but increasingly — with a twenty-first-century twist — consulting Google maps and WhatsApp, while constantly sharing intel on social media.

And scientists are predicting that this world in motion, this world already aflame, is just the prologue. As the effects of global climate change become more pronounced, the number of displaced people will double, then triple, and possibly only continue to grow.

Charles Geisler, an emeritus development sociologist at Cornell University, predicts that two billion people may be displaced by rising sea levels by the turn of the next century. Coastal peoples will press inland, while farmland off the coasts is likely to be increasingly compromised by drought and desertification. He concludes: “Bottom line: Far more people are going to be living on far less land, and land that is not as fertile and habitable and sustainable as the low-elevation coastal zone… And it’s coming at us faster than we thought.”

Madeline and Seamus will be in their eighties (god willing) when Geisler’s predictions come to pass. They can’t, of course, know about any of these possible catastrophes, but I already sense that they’re picking up on something subtly fragile and vulnerable about our relatively settled lives together. How do I respond to them? What do I as a parent do in the face of such a potentially bleak future?  How and when do I break news like that? Am I supposed to help my children cultivate a taste for crickets instead of hamburger or start building a solar powered hydroponic farm in our basement? Worse yet, whatever I could imagine suggesting wouldn’t be enough. It wouldn’t protect them. It wouldn’t even prepare them for such a future.

I’m No Fireman

In 1968, my uncle, Dan Berrigan, called Vietnam the “land of burning children” in a beautiful polemic he wrote to accompany a protest by a group that came to be known as the Catonsville Nine. He and eight other Catholics — including my father (long before he was a parent) — publicly burned hundreds of draft files at a selective service office in Catonsville, Maryland, a symbolic attempt to obstruct the sending of yet more young men to the killing fields of Vietnam. My father served years in prison due to actions like that one. Throughout my life, my family drew hope from such creative acts of resistance, elaborate and effective performances of street theater that extended right into the courtroom and sometimes the jailhouse. My uncle, a poet and Jesuit priest, turned that Catonsville trial into an award-winning playthat’s still performed.

And yet, despite their sacrifices, almost half a century later, children are still on fire and I’m no fireman. I’m not breaking into whatever the equivalent of draft boards might be in the era of the all-volunteer/all-drone military. I’m not sitting in at my congressman’s office either. I’m nowhere near a “movement heavy” (a Sixties-era term I often heard applied to my dad). I’m just a gardener who tries to be a good neighbor, a mother who tries to look after a whole community of kids. I’m just one more set of hands. And even though these hands of mine are working hard, my efforts feel ever more paltry, inadequate, token.

Still, I’ll get up tomorrow morning and do it again, because if my efforts don’t matter, what does?  I’ll hug my kids tight, answer their endless questions, and try to equip them for a future that scares the hell out of me. Even if I can’t see that future clearly, I do know one thing: it will be desperate for love, humor, some kind of balance, and the constant if distracted probing of inquisitive children.


Frida Berrigan harvests lettuce with her daughter Madeline, 2

Frida Berrigan, a TomDispatch regular, writes the Little Insurrections blog for WagingNonviolence.org, is the author of It Runs In The Family: On Being Raised By Radicals and Growing Into Rebellious Motherhoodand lives in New London, Connecticut.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, as well as John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2018 Frida Berrigan

Trump’s bizarre obsession with his questionable intelligence

Trump is “very intelligent.” Just ask him. (Actually, you don’t have to ask—he’ll tell you.)

Photo Credit: a katz / Shutterstock.com

Many Americans complain that Donald Trump has a tiny vocabulary. But he disproved his critics Wednesday during an impromptu press conference on the South Lawn of the White House.

In the past, Trump has repeatedly reminded people about his keen intellect by insisting “I’m smart.” Wednesday, he dug deep into his massive personal word bank and uttered a five-word sentence, “I’m a very intelligent person.”

Not only is that sentence three words longer than “I’m smart,” it is also three words longer than the phrase “f**king moron,” which is what his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson allegedly called him not long ago.

Wednesday’s boast came in response to a reporter who asked Trump if he should be more civil.

“Well I think the press makes me more uncivil than I am,” the president said, and then quickly switched the topic from his manners to his mind.

“You know, people don’t understand, I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student. I did very well. I’m a very intelligent person.”

Even long before he started running for president, Trump repeatedly claimed that he’s both well-educated and brainy. Each time, it isn’t clear if he’s trying to convince his interviewers or himself.

In a 2004 interview with CNN, Trump said, “I went to the Wharton School of Finance. I got very good marks. I was a good student. It’s the best business school in the world, as far as I’m concerned.”

In 2011, in an interview with ABC, Trump said, “Let me tell you, I’m a really smart guy. I was a really good student at the best school in the country,” referring once again to Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania’s business school, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1968.

“I went to the Wharton School of Finance,” he said during a speech in Phoenix in July 2015, a month after announcing he was running for president. “I’m, like, a really smart person.”

The next month, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Trump describedWharton as “probably the hardest there is to get into.” He added, “Some of the great business minds in the world have gone to Wharton.” He also observed: “Look, if I were a liberal Democrat, people would say I’m the super genius of all time. The super genius of all time.”

During a CNN-sponsored Republican town hall in Columbia, South Carolina, in February 2016, Trump reminded the audience that he had gone to Wharton and repeated the same boast: “Look, I went to the best school, I was a good student and all of this stuff. I mean, I’m a smart person.”

Even after winning the White House, Trump couldn’t help reminding people about his mental muscles. He did it a few days after his inauguration during a visit to CIA headquarters. Trump’s handlers staged the event so he could demonstrate his full support for the agency (despite having spent much of his campaign bashing the nation’s intelligence community) and to divert media attention away from the 750,000 Americans who had come to Washington, D.C., that day to protest Trump’s presidency. But Trump’s scripted remarks turned into an impulsive rambling rant that included attacks on the media and his insistence that as many as 1.5 million people attended his inauguration (despite photos revealing no more than 250,000).

In the middle of his tirade, Trump felt the need to tell the nation’s top spies that he was a bright guy.

“Trust me,” Trump said. “I’m, like, a smart person.”

Last December, Trump repeated those same words while explaining why he intended to be the first president since Harry Truman to avoid getting daily updates from intelligence professionals about national security threats.

“I’m, like, a smart person,” he told Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

Anyone who feels compelled to boast how smart he is clearly suffers from a profound insecurity about his intelligence and accomplishments. In Trump’s case, he has good reason to have doubts.

Trump has the kind of street smarts (what he’s called “gut instinct”) characteristic of con artists and hucksters, but his limited vocabulary, short attention span, ignorance of policy specifics, indifference to scientific evidence, and admitted aversion to reading raise questions about his intellectual abilities—his capacity to absorb and analyze information and ideas.

Many observers have noted that Trump has a difficult time expressing himself and speaking in complete sentences. A linguistic analysis by Politico found that Trump speaks at a fourth-grade level. A study by researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University compared last year’s Republican and Democratic presidential candidates in terms of their vocabulary and grammar. Trump scored at a fifth-grade level, the lowest of all the candidates.

Some might suspect that this is not an intellectual shortcoming, but instead Trump’s calculated way of communicating with a wide audience. But Tony Schwartz, who spent a great deal of time with Trump while ghostwriting his 1987 book The Art of the Deal, noted that Trump has a very limited vocabulary. It would hardly be surprising if these observations infuriated the vain and insecure Trump.

Trump’s persistent insults directed toward anyone who disagrees with him also suggest his deep insecurity. Trump has constantly denigrated his opponents and detractors as “losers,” among them actresses Rosie O’Donnell, Cher, and Meryl Streep, civil rights icon John Lewis, businessman Mark Cuban, GOP political operatives Karl Rove and Ana Navarro, NBC’s Chuck Todd, Jeb Bush, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and conservative columnist George Will.

It turns out that loser is one of Trump’s favorite words. An archive of Trump’s Twitter account reveals that between 2009 and his January 2017 inauguration he used the word “loser” 234 times. His other favorite insults included “dumb” or “dummy” (222 tweets), “terrible” (202), “stupid” (182), “weak” (154) and “dope” (115).

On May 8, 2013, at 6:37pm, Trump tweeted: “Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest -and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, it’s not your fault.”

At 3:52 pm on Sept. 26, 2014—nine months before he announced his candidacy for the White House—Trump tweeted: “I wonder if I run for PRESIDENT, will the haters and losers vote for me knowing that I will MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN? I say they will!”

On September 17, 2016—after CNN anchors criticized Trump for promising a “big announcement” to get the media to come to an event, only to use the moment to tout his new hotel and then invite several military figures onstage to praise him—Trump had another Twitter tantrum at 8:13am: “CNN just doesn’t get it, and that’s why their ratings are so low – and getting worse. Boring anti-Trump panelists, mostly losers.”

Trump sometimes uses other words to convey the same thought (he recently called Tennessee Senator Bob Corker a “lightweight”), but his insults all seek to demean his critics in order to boost his own ego. Whether he’s attacking Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona or San Juan’s Democratic Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, Trump views the world in zero-sum terms, as if there were a finite number of IQ points.

Truly smart people don’t have to constantly boast about how smart they are. Only someone who doubts his own intelligence would feel compelled to make these kinds of public statements.

Trump surely knows he didn’t get into Wharton on his own merits. He transferred into the University of Pennsylvania’s undergraduate program after spending two years at Fordham University in New York, where he had no significant achievements.

“No one I know of has said ‘I remember Donald Trump,’” Paul F. Gerken, a 1968 Fordham graduate and president of the Fordham College Alumni Association, told the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Whatever he did at Fordham, he didn’t leave footprints.”

According to Gwenda Blair’s 2001 biography, The Trumps, Trump’s grades at Fordham were not good enough to qualify him for a transfer to Wharton. Blair wrote that Trump got into Wharton as a special favor from a “friendly” admissions officer who knew Trump’s older brother, Freddy. The college’s admissions staff surely knew that Trump’s father was a wealthy real estate developer and a potential donor. Other than his father’s money and his family’s connections, Trump had no qualifications that would have otherwise gotten him into Wharton. (Most people who mention Wharton refer to its prestigious MBA program, but Trump was an economics major in the undergraduate program.)

Moreover, Trump has for years exaggerated his academic accomplishments at Penn.

On at least two occasions in the 1970s, the New York Times reported that Trump “graduated first in his class” at Wharton in 1968. That’s not true. The dean’s listfor his graduation year, published in the Daily Pennsylvanian, the campus newspaper, doesn’t include Trump’s name. He has refused to release his grade transcripts from his college days.

It is likely that Trump was the original source for that falsehood, but it isn’t entirely clear, since neither Times article attributes it directly to him. But the fabrication that Trump was first in his class has been repeated in many other articles as well as books about Trump, so he clearly knew it was out there in the public domain and has never bothered to correct it.

“He was not in any kind of leadership. I certainly doubt he was the smartest guy in the class,” Steve Perelman, a classmate of Trump’s at Wharton, told the Daily Pennsylvanian in 2015.

Upon graduating from college, Trump didn’t have to apply for jobs or go through interviews with potential employers who would judge him on his merits. Instead, his father Fred Trump handed young Donald the keys to his real estate empire. Trump’s insecurity about his accomplishments is also revealed in his efforts to portray himself as an up-by-the-bootstraps self-made entrepreneur.

“It has not been easy for me,” Trump said at a town hall meeting on October 26, 2015, acknowledging, “My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars.”

At a news conference last year, Trump repeated the same story: “I got a very, very small loan from my father many years ago. I built that into a massive empire and I paid my father back that loan.”

An investigation by the Washington Post in March 2016 demolished Trump’s claim that he made it on his own. Not only did Trump’s multi-millionaire father provide Donald with a huge inheritance, and set up big-bucks trust accounts to provide his son with a steady income, Fred was also a silent partner in Trump’s first real estate projects. According to the Post:

“Trump’s father—whose name had been besmirched in New York real estate circles after investigations into windfall profits and other abuses in his real estate projects—was an essential silent partner in Trump’s initiative. In effect, the son was the front man, relying on his father’s connections and wealth, while his father stood silently in the background to avoid drawing attention to himself.”

Fred Trump’s real estate fortune was hardly due to his faith in the free market, but instead stemmed from his reliance on government subsidies. He made his money building middle-class apartments financed by the Federal Housing Administration.

In 1954, when Donald was 8 years old, his father was subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Banking Committee on allegations that he had ripped off the government to reap windfall profits through his FHA-insured housing developments. At the hearings, the elder Trump was called on the carpet for profiteering off public contracts, including overestimating the construction costs of his projects in order to get larger mortgages from FHA. Under oath, he reluctantly admitted that he had wildly overstated the development costs.

Donald has followed in his father’s corrupt footsteps. Trump’s career is littered with bogus businesses (like Trump University); repeated ripoffs of suppliers, contractors and employees whom he failed to pay for services rendered; and the misuse of the Trump Foundation to feather his own nest while trying to look like a philanthropist. Six of Trump’s businesses have gone bankrupt.

Despite this, on April 18, 2015, Trump tweeted this falsehood: ”For all of the haters and losers out there sorry, I never went Bankrupt.”

Trump has also lied about the size of his wealth, as various business publications have pointed out. Many observers suggest that one reason Trump has refused to release his tax returns is that they will show that he has repeatedly and wildly exaggerated his wealth and thus his success.

Embarrassed by his lackluster academic record, his dependence on his family’s connections and wealth to get into college and to succeed in business, and his troublesome and abusive business practices, Trump lashes out at anyone who challenges him, no matter how insignificant the matter.

Many observers have noted Trump’s sociopathic, thin-skinned, demagogic, authoritarian, impulsive, and vindictive personality. Although Trump has the self-awareness of an adolescent, it is obvious to many others that his compulsion to constantly boast “I’m smart” and to deride others as “losers” is rooted in his profound sense of insecurity.

Presidents don’t have to be geniuses. But a successful president must recognize his own limitations and be willing to rely on others’ expertise. He has to take constant criticism—from the media, political opponents, and his own advisers—without taking it too personally. Surrounding oneself with yes-men and -women who are afraid to tell the president he’s wrong is a recipe for disaster. Most important, an effective president needs good judgment—to be able to hear different viewpoints, weigh evidence, think several steps in advance rather than act impulsively, and be calm under intense pressure. Trump fails each of these tests.

Beneath Trump’s public bravado is a deeply insecure, troubled man who is unfit to be president. This makes him a danger to the country and the world.


Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books).

How should we protest neo-Nazis? Lessons from German history

How should we protest neo-Nazis? Lessons from German history

File 20170820 22783 12tnnxh
A supporter of President Donald Trump, center, argues with a counterprotester at a rally in Boston on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017.
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

By Laurie Marhoefer, University of Washington

After the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, many people are asking themselves what they should do if Nazis rally in their city. Should they put their bodies on the line in counterdemonstrations? Some say yes.

History says no. Take it from me: I study the original Nazis.

We have an ethical obligation to stand against fascism and racism. But we also have an ethical obligation to do so in a way that doesn’t help the fascists and racists more than it hurts them.

History repeats itself

Charlottesville was right out of the Nazi playbook. In the 1920s, the Nazi Party was just one political party among many in a democratic system, running for seats in Germany’s Parliament. For most of that time, it was a small, marginal group. In 1933, riding a wave of popular support, it seized power and set up a dictatorship. The rest is well-known.

It was in 1927, while still on the political fringes, that the Nazi Party scheduled a rally in a decidedly hostile location – the Berlin district of Wedding. Wedding was so left-of-center that the neighborhood had the nickname “Red Wedding,” red being the color of the Communist Party. The Nazis often held rallies right where their enemies lived, to provoke them.

The people of Wedding were determined to fight back against fascism in their neighborhood. On the day of the rally, hundreds of Nazis descended on Wedding. Hundreds of their opponents showed up too, organized by the local Communist Party. The antifascists tried to disrupt the rally, heckling the speakers. Nazi thugs retaliated. There was a massive brawl. Almost 100 people were injured.

I imagine the people of Wedding felt they had won that day. They had courageously sent a message: Fascism was not welcome.

But historians believe events like the rally in Wedding helped the Nazis build a dictatorship. Yes, the brawl got them media attention. But what was far, far more important was how it fed an escalating spiral of street violence. That violence helped the fascists enormously.

Violent confrontations with antifascists gave the Nazis a chance to paint themselves as the victims of a pugnacious, lawless left. They seized it.

It worked. We know now that many Germans supported the fascists because they were terrified of leftist violence in the streets. Germans opened their morning newspapers and saw reports of clashes like the one in Wedding. It looked like a bloody tide of civil war was rising in their cities. Voters and opposition politicians alike came to believe the government needed special police powers to stop violent leftists. Dictatorship grew attractive. The fact that the Nazis themselves were fomenting the violence didn’t seem to matter.

One of Hitler’s biggest steps to dictatorial power was to gain emergency police powers, which he claimed he needed to suppress leftist violence.

Thousands of Nazi storm troops demonstrate in a Communist neighborhood in Berlin on Jan. 22, 1933. Thirty-five Nazis, Communists and police were injured during clashes.
AP Photo

The left takes the heat

In the court of public opinion, accusations of mayhem and chaos in the streets will, as a rule, tend to stick against the left, not the right.

This was true in Germany in the 1920s. It was true even when opponents of fascism acted in self-defense or tried to use relatively mild tactics, such as heckling. It is true in the United States today, where even peaceful rallies against racist violence are branded riots in the making.

Today, right extremists are going around the country staging rallies just like the one in 1927 in Wedding. According to the civil rights advocacy organization the Southern Poverty Law Center, they pick places where they know antifascists are present, like university campuses. They come spoiling for physical confrontation. Then they and their allies spin it to their advantage.

A demonstration on the University of Washington campus where far-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos was giving a speech on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

I watched this very thing happen steps from my office on the University of Washington campus. Last year, a right extremist speaker came. He was met by a counterprotest. One of his supporters shot a counterprotester. On stage, in the moments after the shooting, the right extremist speaker claimed that his opponents had sought to stop him from speaking “by killing people.” The fact that it was one of the speaker’s supporters, a right extremist and Trump backer, who engaged in what prosecutors now claim was an unprovoked and premeditated act of violence, has never made national news.

We saw this play out after Charlottesville, too. President Donald Trump said there was violence “on both sides.” It was an incredible claim. Heyer, a peaceful protester, and 19 other people were intentionally hit by a neo-Nazi driving a car. He seemed to portray Charlottesville as another example of what he has referred to elsewhere as “violence in our streets and chaos in our communities,” including, it seems, Black Lives Matter, which is a nonviolent movement against violence. He stirred up fear. Trump recently said that police are too constrained by existing law.

President Trump tried it again during the largely peaceful protests in Boston – he called the tens of thousands who gathered there to protest racism and Nazism “anti-police agitators,” though later, in a characteristic about-face, he praised them.

President Trump’s claims are hitting their mark. A CBS News poll found that a majority of Republicans thought his description of who was to blame for the violence in Charlottesville was “accurate.”

This violence, and the rhetoric about it coming from the administration, are echoes – faint but nevertheless frightening echoes – of a well-documented pattern, a pathway by which democracies devolve into dictatorships.

The Antifa

There’s an additional wrinkle: the antifa. When Nazis and white supremacists rally, the antifa are likely to show up, too.

“Antifa” is short for antifascists, though the name by no means includes everyone who opposes fascism. The antifa is a relatively small movement of the far left, with ties to anarchism. It arose in Europe’s punk scene in the 1980s to fight neo-Nazism.

The antifa says that because Nazism and white supremacy are violent, we must use any means necessary to stop them. This includes physical means, like what they did on my campus: forming a crowd to block ticket-holders from entering a venue to hear a right extremist speak.

The antifa’s tactics often backfire, just like those of Germany’s communist opposition to Nazism did in the 1920s. Confrontations escalate. Public opinion often blames the left no matter the circumstances.

What to do?

One solution: Hold a counterevent that doesn’t involve physical proximity to the right extremists. The Southern Poverty Law Center has published a helpful guide. Among its recommendations: If the alt-right rallies, “organize a joyful protest” well away from them. Ask people they have targeted to speak. But “as hard as it may be to resist yelling at alt-right speakers, do not confront them.”

This does not mean ignoring Nazis. It means standing up to them in a way that denies them a chance for bloodshed.

The ConversationThe cause Heather Heyer died for is best defended by avoiding the physical confrontation that the people who are responsible for her death want.

Laurie Marhoefer, Assistant Professor of History, University of Washington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Reprinted under a Creative Commons License

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