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Commentary: He’s no Ronald Reagan.

Some have compared Trump’s wrecking crew to the one brought in by Ronald Reagan in 1981. But there are crucial differences between then and now.

Commentary: He’s no Ronald Reagan.


December 24, 2016

By Peter Dykstra

Environmental Health News

Follow @pdykstra

Some have compared Trump’s wrecking crew to the one brought in by Ronald Reagan in 1981. But there are crucial differences between then and now.

Marion Doss/flickr

Ronald Reagan routed an incumbent President and chose an EPA Administrator and Interior Secretary who would have been perfect fits in a Trump Administration. The gruff, chainsmoking Anne Gorsuch Burford immediately went to work on EPA’s clout and staff morale. Her ideologically zealous counterpart at Interior, James Gaius Watt, did the same.

Whatever their best/worst intentions, Burford and Watt had strong restraints on their impacts. Both houses of Congress were controlled by Democrats. Beat reporters on the environment occupied network news staffs, virtually every major newspaper coast to coast, and many DC bureaus.

Even many Congressional Republicans had a strong environmental heritage, like Vermont Senator Bob Stafford, Rhode Island’s John Chafee, and Oregon’s Bob Packwood.

None of those safeguards exist today. Congress is in the hands of a Republican Party in full anti-regulatory frenzy. With a few notable exceptions, environmental journalism has been virtually banished from beat status at newspapers, networks, and particularly in the dwindling number of Washington DC bureaus.

The Reagan Administration also gave the world at least one lasting environmental triumph. Its diplomacy was key to the creation of the Montreal Protocol, the global pact that reversed destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer. Back then, George Shultz was Secretary of State.

Now 96 years old, Shultz is one of the most prominent Republican retirees calling for action on climate change. Any such diplomatic breakthrough in the Trump Administration would fall to Rex Tillerson—if his nomination survives bipartisan concern over his bromance with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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