To say the Trump administration doesn’t value science and education is an understatement. Even before entering the Oval Office, Donald Trump was overtly anti-science. And in just the first year of his presidency he has proposed, supported, and passed bills that undermine science and public education in an aggressive assault on our environment, wildlife, healthcare, technology, and clean energy. He has stripped protections from two of our nation’s oldest and most beloved national monuments, censored US government websites that mention climate change, and dropped the term from the list of national security threats. He has proposed major cuts in federal science spending for the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of the Interior, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He withdrew the US from the Paris Climate Accord and has restricted the EPA’s use of certain studies and data vital to communicating environmental policy to the public. Under Trump, the EPA has stopped requesting methane emissions data from oil and gas companies. And let’s not forget his administration itself is chock-full of climate change deniers and less-than-experts in any scientific field, all of whom are grossly unqualified to fulfill the duties of their position.
Trump’s most recent attack on the science and academic communities is yet another abuse of power. In the final days of 2017, the US Department of the Interior adopted a policy by which certain grants will be screened by the government to ensure projects being funded “promote the priorities” of the Trump administration. The December 28, 2017 memo, sent from Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Scott J. Cameron and titled “Guidance for Financial Assistance Actions Effective in Fiscal Year 2018,” will put up a wall for science, academic, and even non-profit organizations engaging in advocacy. To be clear, this includes 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4), 501(c)(5), and 501(c)(6) organizations, along with higher education institutions and groups or individuals seeking grants of $50,000 and above to acquire land. A review process for grants is nothing new, but one that aims to fulfill the priorities of the Trump administration can be dangerous. The guidelines for this process, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s “Top Ten Priorities” for department grants, include “utilizing our natural resources,” “protecting our people and the border” (prioritizing efforts to secure the southern border), and “striking a regulatory balance” (characterized as the need to “reduce the administrative and regulatory burden imposed on US industry and the public” and to “ensure Endangered Species Act decisions are based on strong science and thorough analysis”).
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) said of the new initiative, “This grant approval process looks like a backdoor way to stop funds going to legitimate scientific and environmental projects.” Already, Interior has ordered the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to halt studies conflicting with the administration’s goal of expanding domestic fossil fuel production; one study focused on the health effects of surface coal mining and the another on enhancing oil and gas inspection. Regardless of the strides the Obama administration made to address climate change, the climate crisis continues, and Trump’s neglect only accelerates a dangerous spiral.
I’m hardly the first to say it, and I won’t be the last: Trump’s insatiable thirst for power should remind all of us of the perilous dictators of the past. His authoritative behavior, rolled out little by little, slowly chips away at our democracy and our constitutional freedoms. Reason, rationality, and facts have little place in Trump’s plan for the United States, and, though he can’t fool us all, he continues to be successful in controlling the media, controlling the Right, and has lost no momentum in his rampage of destruction. With such an unwavering and unreasonable leader, we must focus on replacing anti-science legislators with those who prioritize science and aren’t afraid to say it.