I realize a number of my blog readers don’t think climate change is a problem. Hold that objection until the end.
Let’s say you think climate change is the biggest threat to humanity, and you also think Trump believes climate change to be a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, because he actually said that in the past. That’s a big problem, right?
Let’s put it in context and see if doing so changes your mind.
For starters, Trump has over fifty years of business experience, and according to all reports, he is a rational person in his private dealings. In public, however, he says all sorts of crazy, provocative, and untrue things. That is worrisome.
But at the same time, he tells us in public that he acts this way for effect, and we observe that his approach works. Trump secured the Republican nomination doing exactly what everyone in the world – except for a handful of trained persuaders – said he should NOT do.
You might understand why Trump’s approach worked in the Republican Primary, where things can get crazy, but you’re probably thinking the same approach will fail in the general election. And you’d be right. That’s why you already see Trump evolving. He’s moderated from super-provocative to simply provocative. And we have observed him acting presidential during victory speeches, and other times when it suits him to do so. Evidently he has control over turning on and off the provocative stuff.
We know Trump deals in hyperbole, and he bends the truth when that is the approach that is most persuasive. But he does it right in front of us, while explaining that he does it because it works. In an odd way, he is the most transparent candidate we have ever seen. He tells us that hyperbole (bullshit) and provocation get good results, and we observe that to be true. At least so far.
Given that Trump is light on policy details, and prefers provocation over facts, we can expect Trump’s real opinion on climate change is more along the lines of haven’t really looked into it yet. At least not in any detail.
Should you worry that the probable next President of the United States is not well-informed about one of the most important issues of our time?
If you hired a CEO for a major corporation, and she wasn’t scheduled to start the job for six months, would you expect her to have a detailed plan for the company today?
No, you would not expect that.
You would expect that the CEO would learn about each issue in detail, using the latest information and the best advisors, once on the job. For climate change, it might take advisors about three hours to bring a leader up to speed on the latest science. It isn’t a big deal. Trump is treating the presidency like any other job that you learn once you get there. That’s what Obama did. That’s what all presidents do.
Now for the fun part.
Imagine a Democratic President trying to persuade Republicans that they need to do something expensive to deal with climate change. That’s nearly impossible.
Now imagine a President Trump trying to deal with climate change. The Democrats are pre-sold. He doesn’t need to convince them of anything. But to change the minds of Republicans, you need to so something hypnotists call pacing and leading.
Trump is already pacing. That means acting like the people you plan to later persuade. In one-on-one situations, pacing might include matching the subject’s breathing, posture, and choice of words. In the public context it means saying what people are already thinking. Many Republicans believe climate change is not real. Trump said it. He paced them. Now they trust him, because he thinks the same way they do.
And that means Donald Trump is – literally – the only human being on Earth who can persuade Republicans that climate change is real. Some of you might recognize this technique as “Nixon goes to China.” Richard Nixon paced Republicans by being a commie-hater, just like them. When Nixon decided to get friendly with China, his supporters trusted him because they knew he thought the same way they did. When Nixon changed his mind on China, his supporters figured they could be flexible too. That’s pacing and leading.
Trump doesn’t need to change the minds of any Democrats to believe in climate change. They already believe it. But if Trump someday needs to change Republican minds, he’s in a position to do it. And easily.
I’m going to put this in the form of a citizen request. I’d like to see Trump offer to bring the climate change debate to the public. Make it part of the show, like Celebrity Apprentice, with advocates of both sides presenting to Trump on camera. Maybe bring in some experts on communication to help each side do the best job of making their cases. (Scientists are terrible at communicating.)
Trump isn’t claiming to know as much as a climate change scientist. He is staking out his brand as some sort of “common sense conservative.” Common sense says we should let the smart people on climate change present their arguments and see who has the best case. And it needs to be public.
If you think climate change is real, you probably love that idea of proving it in public. You want the world to know what you know. And if you think climate change is a hoax, you want a chance to show the world that you are right. And news organizations would eat it up. It would be a spectacle, and in the end, the public would be better-informed.
Does Trump really believe climate change is a hoax? Let me tell you the answer to that question in the clearest possible terms, based on everything I know about the field of persuasion.
But he might have doubts about the predictive ability of models. That’s a separate question.