Terror attacks like the recent one in London send a shudder through Americans. Since 9/11, they have been the definition of what TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon calls “national (in)security.” They’ve also been the lifeblood of a media machine that loves to focus 24/7 on immediate and obvious horrors (especially against folks like “us”). In the age of Donald Trump, preventing such attacks has, if anything, become even more the essence of what American security is all about.
And yet, in the context of the insecurity to come in this world, they are essentially nothing. It is, of course, a terrible thing when some disturbed fanatic or set of fanatics gun down or run down innocent civilians in London, Berlin, Paris, or San Bernardino (as it should be, but in our American world isn’t, when a U.S. plane or drone kills innocent civilians in distant lands). But if, for a moment, you stop to think in either nuclear terms (as in the pairing of North Korea’s unnerving leader Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump) or in climate change terms, then those attacks are the smallest of potatoes when it comes to national insecurity. If you really want to think about acts of “terror,” consider what Donald Trump and his climate-denying crew at the Environmental Protection Agency and elsewhere in his administration would like to do to the environmental policies of the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Trump’s urge is clearly to negate every positive act of the Obama administration when it comes to reining in the use of fossil fuels — from the Paris climate agreement to the Clean Power Plan aimed at shutting down coal-fired power plants. In the end, if a Trump presidency takes this country out of the climate change sweepstakes entirely, if it opens the flood (and fracking) gates yet wider on the development of fossil fuels of every sort while tamping down the development of alternative energy sources, you’re talking about an act of terror on a scale that would once have been inconceivable. What the Trump administration is already trying to do should lead to constant headlines of a sort that would put the recent London ones to shame. However, because the full impact of Trump’s climate terror won’t strike home until the era of our grandchildren or even great-grandchildren, because his version of terror will be enacted on a time scale that plays havoc with our usual sense of history and of our own lives, he’ll undoubtedly get only the most modest of attention for it — while Khalid Masood, the London killer, and his successors will remain the eternal headliners du jour.
Still, make no mistake about it, in his rented vehicle of choice President Trump will run over future generations. Even on a less drastic time scale, as Rajan Menon makes vividly clear today, he will certainly prove to be a heavyweight in the national (in)security business.