BY BRADFORD McKEE
There can scarcely be any overstating the threat the Trump presidency poses to the interests of the landscape architecture community, which center ardently on the welfare of human society and ecology and the planet. If design is the sum of all constraints, as Charles and Ray Eames said, this presidency will be the greatest constraint many of us will work under in our lifetimes, on the order of anathema to everything landscape architecture has ever stood for. We have to get right to work and be very canny about it, or the Trump administration, along with a Congress controlled by some of the most venal people ever to lodge themselves into American politics, will be a disaster well beyond the many ways we can name even now.
During the campaign, Trump’s positions on public policy, such as they were—and fairly obscured by endless evidence of his career as a liar, a swindler, a bully, a bigot, and a sexual predator—did not, to me, warrant detailed study. They weren’t policies in any developed sense. (OK, there was the child-care one, but what was that?) They consisted largely of frequent impulsive eruptions calculated only to produce outrage among his disaffected rabble and people of greater composure, though different strains of outrage, for sure. However masterful he is at plucking a populace, in terms of governance I kept thinking of the line about the French revanchist and anti-Semite Paul Déroulède, who was said to have “the political vision of a child.” If you heard what I heard during Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention this summer, you got a gothic harangue of wild paranoia and vengeance. It was pure Tarantino. I found myself fantasizing that Ronald Reagan would appear in the form of a fireball to relay a few words from God.
No, what got my attention most then and since is the Republican Party platform. The section on natural resources begins on page 17. On oil drilling: “[W]e support the opening of public lands and the outer continental shelf to exploration.” On President Obama’s Clean Power Plan: “We will do away with it altogether.” On coal: “The Democratic Party does not understand that coal is an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource.” On the Keystone XL pipeline: “After years of delay, the President killed it to satisfy environmental extremists. We intend to finish that pipeline and others.” On climate change: “Climate change is far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue.” On the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: “We propose to shift responsibility for environmental regulation from the federal bureaucracy to the states and to transform the EPA into an independent bipartisan commission…. We will enforce the original intent of the Clean Water Act, not it’s [sic] distortion by EPA regulations. We will likewise forbid the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide, something never envisioned when Congress passed the Clean Air Act.” On the 640 million acres of public lands in the federal portfolio: “Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states.” And on the tentative progress made toward reversing climate change: “We reject the agendas of both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement….”
With notable consistency, Trump himself has expressed hatred for the EPA. In March, he promised to “get rid of [EPA] in almost every form. We are going to have little tidbits left, but we are going to take a tremendous amount out.” Among the people named as most likely to be appointed EPA administrator, Trump has only to figure out the most hostile. And he is reported to be already looking at ways to extract the United States from the Paris Agreement.
This is the least of it for now. As I write this tonight, a prominent anti-Semite, Stephen Bannon, is being named a White House strategist. We know our obligation. I am proud to be part of ASLA because its vision is this: Leading the design and stewardship of land and communities. We know that in fulfilling it we stand against self-interests and conflicted interests. The job description just got bigger for us all.