Thomas Friedman: Connect the dots to see an ugly picture

Thomas Friedman. (AP Photo/Stephen Chernin)
Thomas Friedman. (AP Photo/Stephen Chernin)STEPHEN CHERNIN

Just when you think you've seen and heard it all from Donald Trump, he sinks to a new low that leaves you speechless and wondering: Is he crazy, is he evil, is he maniacally committed to unwinding every good thing Barack Obama did, or is he just plain stupid?

I mean, what president would try to weaken emission standards so American-made cars could pollute more, so our kids could breathe dirtier air in the age of climate change and when clean energy systems are becoming the next great global industry and China is focused on dominating it?

But that's the initiative Trump has embarked upon of late — an industrial policy to revive all the dirty industries of the past and to undermine the clean industries of the future.

It is a policy initiative that is not only perverse on its face, but that utterly fails to connect so many dots that are right now harming our national security, economy, weather and competition with China.

The dots Trump refuses to connect:

Dot No. 1: Get the term "global warming" out of your head. What's actually happening is better described as "global weirding." The warming of the atmosphere makes the weather weird. First, the hots get hotter. This then leads to greater evaporation, which means there's more water vapor in clouds for precipitation. So the wets get wetter and the floods get wider. But the droughts in dry areas also get drier. At the same time, the hurricanes that are fueled by warmer ocean temperatures get more violent. That's why you're seeing weird weather extremes in all directions.

Let's go to Dot No. 2: On May 30, the National Weather Service declared that in the continental U.S. "there's never been a wetter 12 months than the period that recently ended" — since it began keeping records 124 years ago, CNN reported. But this global weirding not only devastated Midwestern farmers, requiring huge insurance payouts, it also hammered the U.S. military. The Air Force had to request $4.9 billion to repair just two weather-ravaged bases.

The then-Air Force secretary, Heather Wilson, declared "that 61 projects — consisting largely of operations and maintenance — at air bases in 18 states would not happen if the supplemental disaster funding does not come through."

Dot No. 3: So June 6, Trump signed a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill, boasting: "Just signed Disaster Aid Bill to help Americans who have been hit by recent catastrophic storms. So important for our GREAT American farmers and ranchers."

Dot No. 4: THE VERY SAME DAY, The New York Times reported, "The world's largest automakers warned President Trump on Thursday that one of his most sweeping deregulatory efforts — his plan to weaken tailpipe pollution standards — threatens to cut their profits and produce 'untenable' instability in a crucial manufacturing sector."

The story explained that Trump's new rule "would all but eliminate the Obama-era auto pollution regulations, essentially freezing mileage standards at about 37 miles per gallon for cars, down from a target of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025." And because California and 13 other states are committed to higher standards, it will split the U.S. auto market into two — a huge problem for the car companies.

Personally, I have no sympathy for the automakers. They brought this on themselves. But as any industrial designer will tell you, smart, steadily rising environmental standards spur innovation and inspire companies to race to the top and become global market leaders. Obama's emission standards spurred the U.S. auto industry to catch up, and now Trump wants the companies to slow down their innovation and pollute more, in order to drive up their short-term profits. It's like burning your furniture to heat your house.

University of Oregon law professor Greg Dotson, a former senior energy congressional staffer, has pointed out that this rule change is a boon for China: "Reversing course on the EPA's tailpipe standards threatens to yield this competitive advantage to other nations."

When you actually connect all of the dots they draw a line pointing straight backward: Trump is trying to lower auto emission/mileage standards that were making our car companies more competitive against Chinese and Japanese automakers — and making our air cleaner — while Trump is signing multibillion-dollar bailouts for farmers and Air Force bases ravaged by extreme weather that has been amplified by climate change that is amplified by carbon pollution, while Trump is having his bureaucrats hide evidence of climate change and while Trump is forcing Americans to pay billions in tariffs on Chinese imports to protect against, among other things, future competition from Chinese vehicles.

This is not strategic. This is not winning. This is not patriotic. It's just foolish, destructive and cynical.