Will Trump Bet Big on Bunk?


If Donald Trump’s word means anything, he’ll have to let the Standing Rock decision stand. After all, didn’t he just tell the New York Times that “Crystal clean water is vitally important?”

Oh, but he also assured the folks at the New York Times that he’s keeping an ‘open mind’ on whether climate change is real. Oops! His chief of staff, Reince Priebus, had to go on Fox News days later to set the record straight. Priebus told Chris Wallace that Trump’s ‘default position’ regarding the science on climate change is that ‘most of it is a bunch of bunk, but he’ll have an open mind and listen to people.’

Is his word worthless? Well, “bunk” does rhyme with “junk.” And Donald Trump bet big on bunk and won the White House with it. For Trump and his supporters, it’s a commodity more precious than gold. He trades in it gaily, and daily.

So, if bunk is going to be the preferred currency of the Trump administration, perhaps it’s a good time to revisit the historic southern origins of this nostalgic slang term for “nonsense.” In 1820, during protracted debates over whether Missouri should be allowed to enter the Union as a pro-slavery state, Felix Walker, a congressman from Buncombe County, North Carolina, delivered a “long, dull, irrelevant speech” to prove to his constituents back home in Buncombe that he was “on the job.”

Henceforth, “bunkum” — the phonetic pronunciation of Buncombe — became synonymous with “meaningless political claptrap.” Over time, it was shortened to “bunk,” and came to mean any kind of nonsense.

OK, end of history lesson. Back to those bushels of bunk Trump tried to sell the folks at the New York Times. His claim to have an “open mind” on climate change was widely reported. But unless you’ve read the entire transcript, you missed the grade-A, primo nuggets of nonsense that popped out of his mouth when publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and columnist Thomas Friedman asked him to elaborate:

“My uncle was for 35 years a professor at M.I.T. He was a great engineer, scientist. He was a great guy. And he was … a long time ago, he had feelings — this was a long time ago — he had feelings on this subject. It’s a very complex subject. I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know. I know we have, they say they have science on one side but then they also have those horrible emails that were sent between the scientists. Where was that, in Geneva or wherever five years ago? Terrible. Where they got caught, you know, so you see that and you say, what’s this all about. I absolutely have an open mind. I will tell you this: Clean air is vitally important. Clean water, crystal clean water is vitally important. Safety is vitally important.
And you know, you mentioned a lot of the (golf) courses. I have some great, great, very successful golf courses. I’ve received so many environmental awards for the way I’ve done, you know. I’ve done a tremendous amount of work where I’ve received tremendous numbers. Sometimes I’ll say I’m actually an environmentalist and people will smile in some cases and other people that know me understand that’s true. Open mind.”

For Donald Trump, it seems that all roads lead back to golf courses. When political reporter Michael Barbaro pressed Trump about his opposition to the proposed Scottish wind farms “that might interfere with the views” of his golf courses there, Trump expelled enough hot air to propel a few turbines of his own, if he were a fan of that form of renewable energy, which he most decidedly is not:

“…the wind is a very deceiving thing. First of all, we don’t make the windmills in the United States. They’re made in Germany and Japan. They’re made out of massive amounts of steel, which goes into the atmosphere, whether it’s in our country or not, it goes into the atmosphere. The windmills kill birds and the windmills need massive subsidies. In other words, we’re subsidizing wind mills all over this country. I mean, for the most part they don’t work. I don’t think they work at all without subsidy, and that bothers me, and they kill all the birds. You go to a windmill, you know in California they have the, what is it? The golden eagle? And they’re like, if you shoot a golden eagle, they go to jail for five years and yet they kill them by, they actually have to get permits that they’re only allowed to kill 30 or something in one year. The windmills are devastating to the bird population, O.K. With that being said, there’s a place for them. But they do need subsidy. So, if I talk negatively. I’ve been saying the same thing for years about you know, the wind industry. I wouldn’t want to subsidize it. Some environmentalists agree with me very much because of all of the things I just said, including the birds, and some don’t.”

If Trump sincerely wants to halt the needless slaughter of innocent birds, he’ll have to rethink his entire real estate empire, because tall buildings pose a far greater threat to birds than wind turbines do. According to the National Audubon Society, “about 599 million birds are killed annually in the U.S. when they fly into windows, trailing only loss of habitat and cats as the top causes of bird deaths.” Wind turbines, by comparison, account for roughly a mere 234,000 bird fatalities.

So, if Trump truly wants his policies to be for the birds, he’ll have to halt any further construction of skyscrapers. And he’ll need to consider a mass deportation of cats, who are not native to North America and kill somewhere between “1.4 to 3.7 billion birds in the lower 48 states each year.” Shouldn’t we ship these furry little avian assassins back to the Middle East, where they came from?

And, if Trump objects so strenuously to energy subsidies for renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power, he must surely be even more outraged about the billions in tax breaks that go to the oil and gas companies. Also, as a landlord used to negotiating the highest rents he can get for his properties, Trump will presumably demand top dollar from the ranchers, loggers and other private interests who’ve been extracting natural resources from our public lands for a pittance. Look out, all you gun-totin’ Bundys! There’s a new sheriff in town, and he’s got an itchy, twitchy Twitter finger.

Who knows what Trump will say or do about climate change next week, next month or next year? His mind is so porous it’s perilous. He’s vowed to dismantle NAFTA, which, as independent presidential candidate Ross Perot famously predicted in 1992, would create the “giant sucking sound” of US jobs heading south of the border to Mexico. He may even succeed. But don’t be surprised if you still hear a softer, more subtle sucking sound. Remember Grover Norquist’s stated ambition to cut our government down to the size where you could drown it in the bathtub? That gentle gurgle you hear is the sound of democracy circling the drain before it’s pulled down into the sewer. Who’da thunk bunk would make President Trump a slam dunk?