Illustrations: DonkeyHotey / Flickr
Have you heard? Steve Bannon — President Trump’s chief strategist and architect of the “America first” doctrine — appears to be doomed.
The feisty, hard-nosed populist has become increasingly isolated in the White House after bungling the infamous executive order on travel and immigration that targeted seven predominantly Muslim countries, but did not hold up in court. Since then, the firebrand has ruffled a few too many feathers on Pennsylvania Avenue, including Trump’s. The President was reportedly outraged that Bannon appeared on the cover of Time as the “Great Manipulator,” cast by the magazine as the administration’s puppeteer. “I’m my own strategist,” Trump said just a few days ago, throwing shade at his aide.
The decline of Bannon’s influence is welcome news to environmentalists. He is still connected to Breitbart News, an alt-right publication he once lead that routinely runs articles calling climate change a hoax and a conspiracy foisted on American taxpayers. Eco-friendly policies, especially ones requiring international cooperation, have no place in Bannon’s aggressive, nationalist agenda. He remains one of the loudest voices urging the President to abandon the Paris Agreement.
Taking his place, at least for now, are Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the President’s daughter and son-in-law. Yes, that Ivanka Trump. The one who, apparently, is rather sympathetic to climate change. She now has an office in the White House to go along with an unpaid position, giving her free and frequent access to her father.
First and foremost, Ivanka is concerned with the administration’s image, which is inextricably tied to her family’s image, which is vital to her business. The media has been skeptical of her moderating influence, especially as it relates to the environment, but they may have been a bit hasty.
Family or not, it takes time to accrue power in Trump’s White House. After going head-to-head with Bannon, Ivanka and Kushner have ascended to the President’s right hand — at least for the time being — and their influence is beginning to show, slowly but surely.
The pair reportedly convinced President Trump to spare criticism of the Paris Agreement from the executive order targeting Obama-era climate policies, like the Clean Power Plan. Ivanka and Bannon have been sparring over climate change for a while now, and it appears Trump’s daughter has come out on top.
Leaders of environmental nonprofits and celebrities championing the cause should be blowing up Ivanka’s phone, requesting meetings and preparing proposals she can bring to the President.
But what about Trump himself? Even if Ivanka becomes some sort of shadow climate czar, will the President be willing to sever a rat’s nest of complicated business and political ties to the fossil-fuel industry just because his daughter is showing signs of becoming a tree hugger? No, of course not. But political progress is made an inch at a time.
Perhaps something like the Conservative Climate Solution — which would implement a carbon tax and return the dividends to working-class Americans — could finally hold water, especially with Gary Cohn, a registered democrat and carbon tax supporter, also rising to prominence in the White House. Or maybe Democrats can find a way to weave considerations for wind and solar energy into the infrastructure bill President Trump is so keen on tackling. He is more likely to compromise in the wake of his early failures on immigration and healthcare.
Remember: The Trump administration has already refused to challenge the Endangerment Finding and has so far left the Paris Agreement untouched. With the rise of moderate advisers open to tackling climate policy, now is the time for activists to put away their pitchforks and sew the seeds of compromise.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Trump, it’s that he only cares about looking good and being the best. He acts as though he’s beholden to no one — not even his supporters. Policy and politics are afterthoughts to the President, who is little more than a pompous billionaire embracing the villain’s role in his greatest reality TV stint yet. He has been manipulated over and over — by Russia, the fossil-fuel industry and Bannon, among others — and there’s no reason environmentalists can’t take advantage of him, too.
The President has proven he’ll sign off on just about anything if it’s presented to him properly and persuasively. With Ivanka, Kushner and Cohn consolidating power, the stars are aligned for a Trojan-Horse style attack on at least some of the administration’s ecocidal agenda. Is it likely? No. But it’s worth a shot.
There has never been a better opportunity for environmentalists to seize President Trump’s ear. Regardless of past failures, they’d be wise to at least try.