ScienceDebate.org, a coalition of fifty-six leading U.S. nonpartisan organizations, including the American Chemical Society of which I am a member, recently sent a comprehensive questionnaire to the four major presidential candidates. Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson declined to participate. The answers given by the other three candidates give us a very good look at their vision for our country, particularly as it relates to science & technology, and the investments we need to make as a country to harness the benefits science & technology in the best way possible.
You can read their full answers HERE.
As I read through the answers, one thing was immediately obvious. Hillary Clinton’s answers are invariably longer than the others. I wondered if that’s because she simply is better at blathering out politicalspeak with little substance. However, that was not the case. Her answers were nearly always substantive, talking about specific programs – both existing programs as well as programs she is proposing – along with concrete goals and proposals.
While Jill Stein was rarely as comprehensive in her responses, they were significantly more descriptive and useful than those of Donald Trump. Trump more frequently gave one or two sentence responses with little to offer in the way of strategic vision or specific policies and programs. For example, when asked how his administration would “balance national interests with global cooperation when tackling threats made clear by science, such as pandemic diseases and climate change, that cross national borders”, Trump’s non-answer response suggested that we could deal with these things through tax, trade, and immigration reform:
Our best input to helping with global issues is to make sure that the United States is on the proper trajectory economically. For the past decade we have seen Gross Domestic Product growth that has not provided adequate resources to fix our infrastructure, recapitalize our military, invest in our education system or secure energy independence. We cannot take our place as world leader if we are not healthy enough to take care of ourselves. This means we must make sure that we achieve our goals in tax reform, trade reform, immigration reform and energy independence. A prosperous America is a much better partner in tackling global problems that affect this nation achieving its national objectives.
When asked “What are your views on climate change, and how would your administration act on those views?”, Trump’s non-answer response made it crystal clear he is a climate change denier:
There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of “climate change.” Perhaps the best use of our limited financial resources should be in dealing with making sure that every person in the world has clean water. Perhaps we should focus on eliminating lingering diseases around the world like malaria. Perhaps we should focus on efforts to increase food production to keep pace with an ever-growing world population. Perhaps we should be focused on developing energy sources and power production that alleviates the need for dependence on fossil fuels. We must decide on how best to proceed so that we can make lives better, safer and more prosperous.
In sharp contrast, Clinton gave a lengthy response that both acknowledged the global threat of climate change and spelled out concrete steps her administration would take, including steps that “will deliver on the pledge President Obama made at the Paris climate conference — without relying on climate deniers in Congress to pass new legislation.”
In response to the question, “How would your administration work to ensure all students including women and minorities are prepared to address 21st century challenges and, further, that the public has an adequate level of STEM literacy in an age dominated by complex science and technology?”, Trump’s non-answer response was pure corporatist dogma:
There are a host of STEM programs already in existence. What the federal government should do is to make sure that educational opportunities are available for everyone. This means we must allow market influences to bring better, higher quality educational circumstances to more children. Our cities are a case-study in what not to do in that we do not have choice options for those who need access to better educational situations. Our top-down-one-size-fits-all approach to education is failing and is actually damaging educational outcomes for our children. If we are serious about changing the direction of our educational standing, we must change our educational models and allow the greatest possible number of options for educating our children. The management of our public education institutions should be done at the state and local level, not at the Department of Education. Until more choices are provided in our cities, those who tout their concern about educational outcomes cannot be taken seriously.
Trump’s non-answer response to a question about providing safe, clean drinking water to every American will provide little solace to the people of Flint, Michigan or the farmers in Iowa or Nebraska. He thinks we should “explore all options to include making desalinization more affordable.”
Finally, Trump’s non-answer response to how he would deal with America’s opioid abuse epidemic appears to be “build a wall and make Mexico pay for it”:
We first should stop the inflow of opioids into the United States. We can do that and we will in the Trump administration. As this is a national problem that costs America billions of dollars in productivity, we should apply the resources necessary to mitigate this problem. Dollars invested in taking care of this problem will be more than paid for with recovered lives and productivity that adds to the wealth and health of the nation.
Given that much of the opioid abuse in America comes from pharmaceuticals, that wall is likely to have little impact, of course.
Trump’s two-dimensional cartoon view of the world isn’t an accident. It’s a perpetuation of an approach that goes back to at least the candidacy of Ronald Reagan. It is much easier to paint the world in “either/or”, “black/white”, “right/wrong” terms than it is to discuss complex problems and their complicated solutions. Donald Trump knows this and is serving up the pablum in great heaping spoonfuls. And THAT is largely why he’s not getting creamed by Hillary Clinton.
I’ll leave you with a snippet of lyrics penned by Joe Jackson after watching President Reagan defend his administration’s policies in Nicaragua. Reagan told Americans, “I’ve spoken recently of the freedom fighters of Nicaragua. You know the truth about them. You know who they’re fighting and why. They are the moral equal of our Founding Fathers and the brave men and women of the French Resistance. We cannot turn away from them, for the struggle here is not right versus left; it is right versus wrong.”
It’s a perfect representation of the Reagan/Trump approach.
I think I hear the President
The pied piper of the TV screen
Is gonna make it simple
And he’s got it all mapped out
And illustrated with cartoons
Too hard for clever folks to understand
Yeah, they’re more used to words like:
But they say it’s not the issue
They’re not talkin’ ’bout right or left
They’re talkin’ ’bout… Right and wrong