When I sat down to write today’s column, I had planned on writing about the outrageous emoluments abuses currently being conducted by the Trump family. You recall that “emoluments” is the fancy Founders word for anything of value one gets from a job. For example, as a career military officer, my salary was an emolument, but so too were my medical benefits, my housing allowance, and such. The Founders wrote clearly that a person in office should not, in simple terms, make money (beyond the basic salary and such) off service in government.
I was further going to write about the truly outrageous and hypocritical funneling of public moneys into the Trump family empire in the form of Air Force layovers at Trump-owned properties. I was also going to note that the millions of dollars spent buying jet fuel at an airport very near a Trump property in Scotland may well have kept that airport — and therefore kept the Trump resort — in the black. When I was a military cop in a military patrol car, I had to fill up at the military fueling facility, unless it was closed. If closed, I had a military credit card and I was required to find the cheapest gas I could, close to the base. I was going to write about that hypocrisy and my outrage at my beloved Air Force being pulled into the corrupt world of Trump family finances.
But I’m not going to write about any of that…
Because, you see, I came across yet an article by Colorado Politics noting that Colorado car dealers are, to a large degree, supporting President Trump’s decision to cancel California’s decades-long exemption from federal clean-air standards, which allowed California to place much higher clean-air rules on cars sold in that state. Colorado also had higher standards and was working toward even cleaner air — very important along the Front Range in particular.
In reading that article, and others, I reflected on what has been a mantra for Republicans for decades and decades — “States' Rights!”
You recall, either from personal experience if you are an older and wiser Coloradan, or from school if you are a young whippersnapper, that the GOP has long called for reduced federal government power and more independence for states. You may recall, during President Obama’s time in office, that Republicans often yelled “states' rights” regarding Obamacare, and denounced the idea of, for example, protecting people with pre-existing conditions, as a vast overreach of federal governmental power. States were to be largely independent of federal meddling, the GOP spouted, and should act as 50 “laboratories” of democracy. We saw positive results from such a point of view in several areas, such as welfare reform in Wisconsin, and, as noted, we saw California establish much stricter state emission regulations, yet another laboratory of liberty.
Today, sadly, the Republican Party has once again made itself ethically “for sale” on the issue of states rights. The Trump administration has announced that it is canceling California’s right to self-regulate emissions — hardly the position of a party once dedicated to reduced federal governance.
Now, it’s not a surprise that the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association has announced support for the clean air rollback in California and, presumably, eventually Colorado. After all, the CADA is in the business of selling cars, and the fewer restrictions on those sales, the higher the possible market share. I’m a capitalist, and I get this. It is interesting, however, that several of the big car makers — Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, and BMW — have announced that they will stick with the California rules, even though they don’t have to.
Readers will likely recall the core message of the famous book, 1984, which warned that governments become extremely dangerous when they can switch positions, and claim all along that they are being consistent, and you should ignore that silly free press saying otherwise. One cannot help but note the similarities to today, where Mr. Trump has repeatedly called news stories critical of him “fake news” and far more troubling, has said that the free press itself is the actual threat to liberty and enemy of the people, and his followers should only listen to him.
Colorado is one of 11 states committed to working toward zero-emissions vehicles as part of an overall clean-air commitment. If Mr. Trump and the Republicans were at least a little bit honorable, they might say that while they disagree with the program, they support the rights of these states to experiment with regulations, toward a better tomorrow. Unfortunately, I have long since given up on honorable and consistent behavior from the modern GOP. The Republicans, some of whom once denounced Trump in the strongest possible terms, have now all rolled into line, to support policies that were, at least for a while, the reverse of what they once stood for.
That’s truly a pity.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.