When one reaches a certain age, you begin to reflect on your legacy. For most folks, the legacy they leave to Colorado and the U.S. are well-raised kids, honesty, and being as good a person as you can. But for people who occupy high elective office, the question of legacy has far less to do with you as a person (for which Mr. Trump is profoundly grateful) and far more about the imprint you leave on the laws and leftovers you leave our nation. Presidents, good and bad, leave a profound imprint on the United States and Colorado, and Mr. Trump is, so far, leaving behind a trail of dishonesty, cooperation with foreign adversaries, few if any displays of his self-proclaimed status as a “very stable genius.” Oh, and he’s really messing up our environment.
There are two areas in which I fear the Trump legacy will far outlast his other policies:
The first area of historic relevance is in the appointment of federal judges. Trump has appointed two hard-right jurists to the U.S. Supreme Court (including the theft, by Senator McConnell, of Merrick Garland’s seat) and these essentially lifetime appointments will echo down the halls of the SCOTUS building for decades to come. But remember that the Supremes only get to hear a tiny fraction of the cases that enter the legal system every year. Far more impactful on the law are Trump’s lower court appointments, to include 43 to appellate courts and 99 to district courts.
With the House now in the hands of the Democrats, Trump’s ability to pass big bills is greatly reduced, thank goodness. When his party had control of every aspect of federal governance, his team only pushed through one major bill, the tax “reform” bill that put billions of dollars back in the pockets of the super rich and caused the deficit to soar to over $1 trillion. Remember when deficit spending was something Republicans opposed? Oh well, that entire issue must await a future column.
The second area I want to draw your attention to is the silent environmental crisis that Trump’s EPA and other agencies have created. The Trump administration has been quite active in rolling back environmental protections created by previous administrations, especially the Obama administration.
A recent New York Times (gasp!) story reported on the 83 environmental rollbacks that have occurred so far, with the future not looking too bright for old Mother Nature, as the frenzy to reduce regulations (good or bad, it seems) continues and will continue until Trump leaves office.
These rollbacks include reducing or eliminating controls on quite a few areas that will impact Colorado and the good folks who live here quite a bit. He’s rolled back 10 air pollution standards with 34 more rollbacks working their way through the Trump paperwork cycle. He’s rolled back nine regulations on drilling and extracting, with the second set of nine being worked on. Trump departments have rolled back protections of endangered animals. Recall, please, that it was Republican president Richard Nixon who created the EPA. These really shouldn’t be partisan issues, but in 2019, they are.
Which, of course, brings me to the Unarmored Three-spined Stickleback.
This little fish is highly endangered, living in only a few spots in California. Many years ago, the leadership at Vandenburg Air Force Base sought to build a new bridge that would span a watery area wherein, you guessed it, Sticklebacks like to swim, eat, and make little Sticklebacks (educational aside: the male Stickleback stays over the nest and protects the eggs his mate laid). Unfortunately, there were no engineering solutions to building a bridge without killing a bunch of endangered little fish, so the Air Force couldn’t build that bridge, and today, as far as I know, the little Sticklebacks are swimming happily.
New policy being issued by the Trump EPA will allow, for the first time, an economic impact to be considered when it comes to protecting endangered species. For previous administrations, Dem and GOP, the issue was whether the species would survive. Soon, a major factor in determining protections will be how much it costs to protect, say, a Stickleback. If I were, say, a Colorado-based Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse, I’d be a great deal more worried about receiving the protections I need. The same is true for many Colorado species.
While judges are important, the Trump legacy to our planet may well be one of briefly higher profits, on the backs of fewer creatures, and that’s a shame. Elections have consequences (hey! You folks trying to recall Polis, listen up!). We can only hope that Mother Nature can, yet again, take one for the team, until more insightful and wiser leaders are elected.
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.