GUESSING AT THE CONSEQUENCES OF DONALD TRUMP’S PRESIDENCY
Stunning as Trump’s upset (and upsetting) capture of the White House was, prognosticators swung into immediate speculation about what it would mean for science and medicine. Note that speculation is pretty much all it is–or can be–at this point. That’s because, while Trump’s policy declarations have been sweeping and startling, they also utterly lack details.
Said Damien Garde at STAT: “[H]ere in the world of science and medicine, the election of Donald Trump has left many trying to make sense of the vagaries, reversals, and red herrings that have marked his rhetoric on key issues from research funding to drug pricing.” Also at STAT, Sharon Begley dove a bit deeper into scientists’ perplexity at those vagaries, reversals, and red herrings.
Science’s Jeff Mervis queried science policy types about who would end up as Trump’s science advisor. But he quoted Arizona State’s Robert Cook-Degan, an old Washington hand, as saying it may not matter. Why? “[B]ecause there won’t be any ‘policy’ apparatus, but only traffic cops and damage control fire brigades. Science won’t get much attention, except when it gets in the way or bolsters support for a political priority.”
Except, possibly, for biotech and pharma (of which more below), the consensus seems to be that the election results are unlikely to turn out well for science and medicine.
BAD NEWS FOR CLIMATE CHANGE
The quintessential elephant in the room. This most important of topics arose only indirectly during the campaign, in declarations about energy policy. Climate change itself was almost never mentioned by either candidate, and no questions about it were asked by journalists.
To borrow Trump’s favored locution, a disaster. Clinton had a forward-looking climate policy on paper. But for hopes of slowing down Earth’s warming, Trump’s election is unrelieved bad news. He has, for one thing, called the idea of global warming “bullshit” and has said that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.
The election was summed up at the climate-change denial site Watt’s Up With That? via this jubilant hed: “In Trump, U.S. Puts a Climate Denier in Its Highest Office and All Climate Change Action in Limbo.” Poster David Middleton crowed, “This is the best election aftermath I have ever seen.”
BAD NEWS FOR THE PARIS AGREEMENT
“The billionaire climate skeptic has said he would not only disentangle the United States from the deal reached by nearly 200 countries last year near the French capital but also withdraw all funding from the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and redirect climate programming funds to infrastructure projects,” notes Climate Wire’s Jean Chemnick in a post reprinted at SciAm.
Needless to say, these things will be more complicated than Trump declared during the campaign. Chemnick explains that countries wanting to withdraw from the Paris agreement must go through a four-year process, and there’s a one-year process for leaving the UN climate change effort. Also, Trump may hesitate to withdraw because it could complicate dealing with world leaders to get other things he wants.
OTOH, says Paul Voosen at Science, there are practical forms of sabotage that are far more doable. One is failing to fund the $800 million yearly US commitment to help less developed nations cope with climate change. Given that all three branches of government are now under Republican control, with the purse strings in the hands of Congress, it’s unlikely that money will be forthcoming.
BAD NEWS FOR THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY AND ENERGY POLICY
ClimateWire’s Robin Bravender is reporting that Trump has appointed Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, as head of transition plans for EPA. “His participation in the EPA transition signals that the Trump team is looking to drastically reshape the climate policies the agency has pursued under the Obama administration,” Bravender says.
Voosen says attempts to get rid of existing regulations such as fuel efficiency standards would end up in court. Regs not yet finalized would be more vulnerable to being blocked or watered down.
Ebell has said Obama’s Clean Power Plan for greenhouse gases is illegal, and the plan is already in court. “Efforts by the Trump administration to change EPA’s position would likely face more litigation, stretching out for many years. And even if the administration did find a way to stop the plan, the collapse of the coal market would likely continue, driven by the low price of natural gas, a competing fuel,” Voosen notes.
“The most important thing scientists can do, however, is find a way to help Trump understand their pressing concerns about climate change,” Voosen argues hopefully. He quotes Princeton geoscientist Michael Oppenheimer: “The community has a job to do here. It can’t go off and sulk about the outcome of the election.”
BAD NEWS FOR OBAMACARE
Everybody seems to agree that the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is dead in its current form. Still, on Wednesday, the day after the election, more people signed up for Obamacare than on any other day of the current open enrollment period, says Mary Ellen McIntire at Morning Consult. There seems to be some agreement that this insurance will continue in force at least through 2017.
Sarah Kliff outlines four ways the Republicans could dismantle Obamacare at Vox. At Covering Health, Joanne Kenen outlines some possible immediate actions that the new Trump administration could take after his Inauguration Day, January 20–for example, dropping the Obama administration’s fight against a court challenge to the government subsidies that enable most ACA enrollees pay for health insurance premiums.
But Obamacare may not be completely dead in all forms. Repealing and replacing the ACA, one of Trump’s most high-profile campaign promises, will be a lot more complicated than it appears from outside Washington. Julie Rovner walks us through some of the possibilities at Kaiser Health News. Also at KHN, Jay Hancock and Shefali Luthra say that the “replacement” will inevitably retain some features of Obamacare.
Nearly 16 million of those newly enrolled in medical insurance plans enrolled through Obamacare’s funding of state Medicaid programs for the poor. It won’t be just an easy matter of dumping poor people from the program, though, because that would also be a blast at people with political power, like doctors and hospitals, who need the ACA to pay for their services. Phil Galewitz explains some options at Kaiser Health News.
In addition to wrestling with Obamacare and facing the political prospect of suddenly depriving 22 million citizens–a number of whom probably voted for Trump–of their medical insurance, the new administration will have to deal quickly with several other medical policy issues. Julie Rovner outlines them at KHN.
UNCERTAIN NEWS FOR MARIJUANA
Seven more states legalized cannabis, either for medical or “recreational” use. Weed is now legal in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada, while Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota approved it for medical use. At STAT, Ike Swetlitz tells residents of those states what they need to know.
Nevertheless, the pot industry is worried. Trump’s anti-drug stance is well known. Marijuana Business Daily reports great uncertainty about what his election “means in terms of federal regulations and enforcement, with some fearing an eventual crackdown.”
I assume the election results will also mean continued federal barriers to cannabis research. As I keep saying here at On Science Blogs–just last week, in fact–the US is engaging in a giant uncontrolled experiment on the population, and millions more subjects have just been added to the n. Scientifically speaking, we know little about the effects of weed, and next to nothing about whether it really works on medical conditions.
AND NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS, SUCH AS IT IS
From Rebecca Robbins at STAT: “Biotech stocks rallied on the news that Republicans would control both the White House and Capitol Hill, buoyed by the perception that a ruby-red federal government won’t take action to rein in high drug prices.” Another bellwether: pharma spent a ton of money to defeat California’s Prop 61, which would have lowered drug prices. It worked.
But even here there are many unsettling uncertainties. Jonathan Gardner explains some at Evaluate. Also, my guess is that lower drug prices would be hugely popular with Trump’s voters. It’s a interesting question whether he will be pursuing their interests when he actually has the power to do so. Much may depend on whether he will want to run for a second term in 2020.
Now there’s a thought.
FINAL NOTE ON THE GENETICS OF THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
I’m wiped out, even though I ignored several topics. More next week perhaps, if there’s more to say about an election where–for the second time in this still-young century–the person who got the most votes is not our new President.
But last word, on the demography of this election. There’s an idea around that the election exposed a voting chasm between those who went to college and those who didn’t. Aaron Zitner and Dante Chinni summarized the idea in the Wall Street Journal last month: “The clearest dividing line in this year’s presidential election now falls along educational lines: Whites without a college degree have consolidated behind Donald Trump and those with a four-year degree are tending to back Hillary Clinton.”
It’s a common trope, one echoed by New York Times columnist David Brooks on the PBS Newshour on the Friday before the election. And he added another familiar trope: genetics. “[B]asically, less educated or high school-educated whites are going to Trump. It doesn’t matter what the guy does. And college-educated going to Clinton. . .People are just going with their gene pool and whatever it is.”
This suggests that Brooks believes that the electorate broke into anti- and pro-Trump voters on the basis of educational attainment and intelligence–and that these traits are partly genetic. That’s a common trope too.
I probably don’t need to remind you, however, that the precise contribution genes make to educational attainment and intelligence has been in raucous dispute for well over a century, and continues to be enormously controversial. Some people even still argue that genes are irrelevant.
That’s not my position. But it seems to me the data are pretty clear that the election results are not explicable wholly on the basis of education and/or intelligence, whatever their genetic component.
The data suggest a different explanation. One that rests on a different characteristic. A trait that is incontrovertibly, irrefutably, unassailably , uncontroversially genetic.
Voting data are available several places; I’m using a table from Clare Malone’s post at FiveThirtyEight. (See also Zack Beauchamp’s Vox analysis of research by University of London researcher Eric Kaufmann on the racism of Trump’s strongest white supporters.)
Yes, it’s true that many white male college graduates were more likely to vote for Clinton than for Trump. But at only 39%, nowhere near a majority. And note that nearly one out of four (23%) non-college white men also supported Clinton. Which suggests to me that a college degree was not the most important factor.
Yes, it’s true that non-college white men were solidly for Trump (72%)–but so were well over half (54%) of white men with college degrees.
Nor did Clinton do particularly well with white women. White non-college women, while somewhat more favorable to Clinton than men were, still gave a whopping majority (62%) of their votes to Trump. And white women with college degrees gave Clinton only a bare majority (51%).
So yes, education had some impact on white voting patterns. But it’s a great mistake to view this as a “working class” revolt, a movement that was by and for the uneducated. Huge numbers of college graduates voted for Trump too.
It’s absolutely clear that what really mattered was skin color. Let me stress again that white women were in no way overwhelmingly supportive of Hillary Clinton. She captured only 51% even of educated white women. A majority of white voters, nearly 60% and whatever their education, cast their ballots for Trump.
Please note: This means, whew, that more than 40% of whites did not succumb to this lack-of-melanin loyalty.
Yeah, lots of other issues were floating around and doubtless had some influence on white voting patterns: job loss, trade deals, party loyalty, sexism, whatever.
But at the root of these election results is a simple explanation that has also been at the root of most of Homo sap‘s most ruthless, vicious behavior for thousands of years: hegemony.
It was the rage of folks who have believed themselves superior to others for centuries but are now being (successfully) challenged. After eight years of a black President, a majority of American whites who voted were making a last stand, trying to beat back a tsunami of Those People.
As even they must know, it’s a temporary victory. Let us hope it’s not a horrendously costly one for us all.