Trump’s Retreat On Climate All About Political Tribalism

Trumps rejection of the Paris Climate Agreement isn’t based on the facts nor does his base need any facts to support his climate denial position. For Trump’s loyal base of supporters, facts are irrelevant because climate denial has become a proxy issue for the support of the much larger conservative view of the world. Climate denial is at the heart of the culture wars and the conservative tribe uses it as a weapon to pound the establishment.

Our fractured political culture wars have divided us into a tribalism of the left and right with each distrusting the other. The conservative tribe of the right identifies and associates with others who agree with them. They automatically oppose positions held by the establishment in spite of factual information supporting the establishment view.

The conservative tribe is driven by conspiracy theories, a distrust of government, unbridled free enterprise and a rejection of conventional news sources. Trump’s vicious attacks on the media, “the media is the enemy of the America people” is the red meat he feeds to his conservative tribe. Facts supporting climate change become merely a distraction from the conservative world view. The view holds that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by big government, corporate greed and elitist scientists with an agenda of self-interest.

They reject the overwhelming establishment view shared by government, business leaders, the science community and the Pentagon that holds climate change is real and must be addressed through the Paris agreement.

Polling shows that just 22% of Trump supporters believe that human-caused carbon pollution is causing global warming. For the general public over 60% believe human activity is driving climate change.

According to Dan Kahn, a Yale researcher that has studied the growing political polarization and the causes for conservatives to dismiss climate facts. He explains, “What people believe about climate change doesn’t reflect what they know. It expresses who they are.”

Their loyalty to the conservative tribal world view requires them to reject any facts that might undermine the tribe’s commitment to climate denial. Any acknowledgment that there could be facts proving climate change is real is a threat to their tribe’s credibility and survival.

Trump offered some unsupported reasons for his rejection of the climate deal but they come from a small minority of researchers backed by the fossil fuel industries. His claims about saving jobs or defending the environment aren’t supported by the basic science community, business leaders, the Pentagon and by the world’s leaders. Trump’s allegations that America is giving up sovereignty or is bending to the will of other nations is simply fake news.

President Trump’s withdrawal has the world’s political and business leaders united in fierce opposition to his decision. But this opposition simply motivates him to be the exception, to be the disruptor. His decision places America as the odd man out among the community of nations. But his base loves him as the disruptor of the climate agreement because he is poking a thumb in the eye of the establishment view.

His message to his base (his tribe) is that he takes advice from no one. Remember, his numerous declarations during the campaign and since his election. He claims only he can get things done. In March, 2016 he said “I alone can solve it” (terrorism). Speaking at the Republican National Convention he claimed, “I alone can fix it.”  One of his campaign ads made similar claims, “Donald Trump will protect you, he is the only one who can.”

The political narrative he has promoted is; he alone is an agent of change and rebellion against all conventional establishment wisdom. In rejecting the Paris Agreement, he’s giving his middle finger salute to the world and his supporters love it. Facts mean nothing when Trump’s goal is to disrupt and create chaos to the established order.

This gives Democrats several opportunities to make climate an issue in 2018 and 2020. While his base may be happy with chaos, many voters may think Trump went too far by totally pulling out of the Paris deal. It makes him vulnerable to an accusation of being out of touch with average Americans’ environmental concerns.

Trump’s tribe of 35-40% may be solidly supportive no matter what. The other 10-15% may decide he is too much of a disruptor, particularly if Trump’s America becomes the black sheep of the world community.

Remember, many blue collar and union voters joined the Trump tribe in 2016. However, many of those same voters were a part of the Obama tribe in 2008 and 2012. If Democrats can offer solutions to those voters and their families, they can win them back in 2020.


by Rick Smith
Posted 6/6/17

5 Comments on "Trump’s Retreat On Climate All About Political Tribalism"

  • A very succinct and accurate assessment. Many Union leaders need to step up and regain credibility with their members instead of waffling on “jobs.” You would think fair wages and collective bargaining would trump the promise of ephemeral jobs.

    • Is this why the word elitist is used to describe bleeding heart liberals, because most of those blue collar union workers couldn’t understand two of your words , thus making your statement meaningless to them !

  • The tribe, team, State and us versus them is a echo of the Confederacy. Persecution complex more than actual thin skin positions a theoretical billionaire as a mouthpiece for a white underclass. Mob rule subverts the rule of law.

  • You are bang on except for one thing. The idea of “unbridled free enterprise” is a total myth fed to Trump’s tribe by, of all people, the Republican establishment. Corporate power in America does NOT rest upon an ABSENCE of government intervention; it rests UPON government intervention, without which we could not possibly have the kind of concentration of wealth and economic power we have today. Far from being based on “unbridled free enterprise,” today’s corporate-dominated economy is based on a huge network of government contracts, subsidies, preferential tax treatment, and phony “regulatory” legislation that makes competition more difficult and centralizes power in the hands of a small number of corporate players at the top. The biggest single contribution you can make is to unmask that reality, and to show voters that the rhetoric of free enterprise is total hypocrisy, nicely symbolized in the fact that Congress long ago gave itself exactly the kind of government-run health care the Republicans now want to deny to ordinary working Americans. For an extended treatment of hypocritical rhetoric, see my book, The Language of Politics in America: Shaping Political Consciousness From McKinley to Reagan (Cornell University Press, 1991).

  • Who is responsible for Environmental Abuse is at this point a waste of time as an argument ! Those who know Climate Change is happening can best fight, by pushing the jobs that cleaner energy will and is producing . After all this JOBS push by all ultra-conservatives is one of their main agenda objectives . Well stop calling it a climate necessity, instead bill it as new technological jobs, period ! Push the jobs agenda right back in their face , and the subliminal effect will be good for the environment . But alas most democrats prefer what doesn’t work, direct confrontation with facts that mean not a damn thing to those drinking the kool-aid ! Just ask yourself are they listening ? Then try another approach !

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