Why is the Trump administration afraid of a teenager? Or, more accurately, afraid of a movement of mainly teenagers, started by Greta Thunberg when she was 15?
It’s clear they’re afraid of the effect the climate strike movement is having on the minds of humanity, since both Donald Trump and, today (Jan. 23), his sycophantic Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin attacked Thunberg at the World Economic Forum summit in Davos. Trump’s attack alone would not be conclusive evidence, since he can hardly keep from blurting out whatever gripe or self-adulation spews from his brain. But Mnuchin’s parroting Trump’s attack shows it’s on today’s agenda. The Davos crowd is no more likely to be the target of this propaganda than it is of Thunberg’s reality-based message. Rather, Davos is a stage for broadcasting to the world. And Mnuchin’s plaint shows the administration is running scared.
Mnuchin superciliously asked if Thunberg was the chief economist, and told her to go study economics in college, because apparently only economists can have a voice, despite their miserable track record. Similarly, Trump questioned her age, as if no one should listen to teenagers, and in his Davos speech he decried unnamed “prophets of doom” who had predicted various unrealized catastrophes in the past—obviously a list put together by speechwriters, since Trump knew nothing about these alleged predictions. And of course it suits him to hide the actual overwhelming consensus of climate scientists and their multiple alarming reports behind unnamed prophets of doom who never had such a scientific consensus behind them. Trump prattled, “This is not a time for pessimism,” perhaps forgetting that a large part of the climate denial crowd has switched to pessimism as their go-to message: okay, climate change is real, but it’s too late to do anything about it, so let’s not try; or it would be too disruptive to the economy, as if that won’t be disrupted far more by climate chaos.
Thunberg has ably slapped down this kind of criticism a dozen times in the past year. She points out that it is a diversion from responding to the actual science, and when the opponents start making personal attacks, it shows they can’t attack the actual argument and the facts.
Another telling fiction in Mnuchin’s speech was this: “President Trump absolutely believes in clean air and clean water and having a clean environment.” Of course, that’s a lie. Trump has rolled back an unprecedented number of environmental regulations, including today stripping protection from many streams and wetlands so that BP and other companies and farmers can dump pollutants into them, and he has slashed enforcement. Just as importantly, this reveals a deliberate red herring on Trump’s part. When asked about the climate crisis, Trump often replies (falsely) that the U.S. has “the cleanest air and crystal-clean water.” Reporters have sometimes assumed that Trump doesn’t know the difference between pollution and climate change. Wrong! It’s the old switcheroo, faking you out on purpose—as is clear from Mnuchin making the same maneuver.
What these ridiculous attacks reveal above all is that the polluters and their political representatives are well aware that they are losing the battle for the minds of humanity, as more and more people are waking up to the absolute urgency of confronting the climate crisis. And the youth climate strike movement is at the forefront of that battle.