No one in American public life has more disdain for experts and their expertise than President Donald Trump. And yet, there he was in late August, on the south portico of the White House (a “dump,” he had called it a week earlier) eyeing a near-total eclipse of the sun without special glasses.
Similarly, there was Trump four days after Hurricane Harvey deluged Houston with unprecedented (for that city) flooding, seeking photo opportunities where he could find them. The same thing in Florida after Hurricane Irma, the strongest ever to hit that state.
What do those appearances have to do with scientists and their expertise? Trump was only on his back porch to view the eclipse because astronomers forecast decades earlier that there would be one at the precise moment he emerged from the Oval Office to join his wife (who wore glasses recommended by experts) and his young son (who did not).
It turned out science was right — to the precise second.
It was similar in Texas. Experts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted decades ago that a gigantic flood could occur in and around Houston, which they called a “huge city built on a very flat flood plain.” When it happened, Trump responded without mentioning those very accurate experts.
Other scientists for years have warned that hurricanes striking America will be increasingly severe because of the climate change roiling weather patterns everywhere on Earth. Trump disdained that prediction, cut the budget of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and then — when it came true — milked the scene for all the positive publicity he could.
Just a week or so before Harvey, Trump revoked a Barack Obama-era regulation increasing standards for post-flood reconstruction that uses federal money. Among other items, the rule called for such construction to be elevated beyond the reach of possible flood waters. Insisting he knows more than the experts who pushed Obama for that regulation, Trump called it a “job killer.”
“No longer,” he said, “will there be one job-killing delay after another.” But experts in Houston during the height of Harvey warned that rebuilding a city of hodgepodge zoning and disorganized building codes without requiring changes like higher foundations would invite a repeat catastrophe that could waste billions of tax dollars.
Trump, as usual, ignored the experts, just as he did while pulling America out of the Paris climate change accord. Like many skeptics with…