What to Expect—and Ways to Respond—as the Trump Administration Assumes Power

January 19, 2017 | 4:03 pm
Photo: Tim Brown, IIP Photo Archive/CC-BY-NC 2.0, Flickr
Michael Halpern
Former Contributor

On Friday, Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. We are entering a time of significant uncertainty; it will be many weeks before the administration is fully staffed with lower-level political appointees. But there are several conclusions we can draw from the events of the past two months, and a number of actions to watch out for.

A major strategy has been—and will likely continue to be—to institute radical proposals by overwhelming the public with an avalanche of activity and by attempting to distract us with the president’s cult of personality.

The stage is set. The transition team was filled with climate conspiracy theorists who have made careers of attacking scientists and undermining government efforts to respond to climate change. President-elect Trump has appointed an extreme, corporate cabinet whose members collectively possess a mind-boggling and unprecedented amount of wealth, and, by and large, have expressed antipathy towards the agencies and departments they are being asked to lead.

The Senate is intent on confirming these appointees with minimal debate. The House of Representatives passed new rules that expand its power to attack public servants and depose the public. Collectively, these actions enable significant industry influence over the role of science in government decisions.

What will likely happen

President Trump will take several immediate actions. President Obama issued several executive orders and other directives within the first 24 hours of his presidency, including one on government transparency. We don’t know what will be on Trump’s list, but it could include a few issues that impact the science community and the people we serve, from immigration to science-based public protections.

The Trump Administration will set its plans into motion before the President-elect finishes his Inaugural Address. The transition team has put in place “beachhead teams” comprised of temporary political appointees that are skipping the Inauguration to be at their desks the moment the president takes the oath of office. Sean Spicer, incoming press secretary for Trump, said to expect a “flurry of activity” on Monday, January 23.

Congress will continue to ram through radical legislation that would eviscerate the scientific foundation of our nation’s public health and environmental laws. Two bills that would substitute politics for scientific judgement passed the House in the first days of the new Congress, before new members even had their phone lines working. A third, the Regulatory Accountability Act, passed the House last week and would effectively paralyze the government, preventing it from adding, modifying, or removing any rules designed to protect the public (more on this below).

The Senate will try to confirm Trump’s appointees as quickly and with as little scrutiny as the public will allow. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a newfound sense of urgency, and his strategy is clear: ram the appointees through by holding multiple hearings in a single day (yesterday it was for the EPA, Department of Education, and Department of Commerce) so that senators and the public cannot sufficiently weigh in on their suitability before votes are held.

Websites will be altered and web pages taken off line. Inside EPA reported, and a transition team member confirmed, that the EPA and other government agencies will remove information related to climate change and efforts to mitigate it. Other issues will be targeted, too. There are a bunch of efforts to preserve data, websites, and tools that allow the public to use government data, including the End of Term Harvest and DataRefuge.

How you can respond

Persistent and energetic engagement will be necessary. Here are a few steps you can take today:

Urge your senators to get commitments from Trump’s nominees to meaningfully enforce existing scientific integrity policies. The Obama administration has put these policies in place to protect federal scientists from political interference in their work. EPA nominee Scott Pruitt, Commerce nominee Wilbur Ross, and Energy nominee Rick Perry all must promise to respect the independence of science by implementing the policies. The Senate switchboard number is 202.224.3121.

Urge your senators to oppose the Regulatory Accountability Act. We expect that bill to be considered by the Senate in coming weeks. Clean air, clean water, nuclear security, the food system, vehicle fuel efficiency, disease prevention—the bill would undermine the development of any kind of public protection. Even if you think one of your senators is hopeless or a solid vote, call them and let them know you are paying attention. Public pressure still matters. Again, the Senate switchboard is 202.224.3121.

Volunteer at a DataRefuge event. Over the next few days and weeks, citizens and scientists are teaming up to preserve government data and websites. Join them.

Pay attention and avoid distraction. Do not share articles on social media about a stupid tweet or inauguration sign. Instead, share media that explores the impact of the systemic changes that various interests are attempting to advance. Try this piece in The Atlantic or this piece in Politico.

Secure your communications. Government surveillance of citizens is certainly not expected to decrease, and Russian influence over the election demonstrated how vulnerable we all are to hacking. Here’s a guide to how you can better protect yourself with minimal effort.

Appreciate life and read some books. This guy makes sweaters of places and then takes pictures of himself wearing the sweaters at those places. Michael Mann and Tom Toles wrote and illustrated The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Making Us Crazy. Shawn Otto wrote The War on Science. And my friend John wrote the utterly delightful and depressing dystopian novel Splinterlands. All are worth your time. Joy is a form of resistance.

And finally, make sure you’re getting up-to-date information from UCS. If you’re an expert, sign up for the UCS Science Network. If you’re a concerned citizen, join our Action Network. We will need your sustained engagement in the coming months. (And feel free to throw a few dollars our way to keep our work going).