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  • Curt Gervich

Donald Trump, Van Halen and the Rock-and-Roll of Environmental Policy


No matter your opinion of Donald Trump’s politics, it’s clear that America’s new lead singer knows how catch the ear of the American public. The soon-to-be President plays Twitter like Eddie Van Halen plays his Frankenstein Fender. Both revolutionized their instruments. Both will be emulated by political and rock-and-roll wannabe’s for years to come.

In fact, it is likely that the one thing music-loving Americans can agree on is that Donald Trump is a flamboyant frontman in an age when classic rock desperately needs heroes. Whether or not Trump is that hero remains to be seen.

Like all rock revolutions, Trump’s music is shaking the nation and world. He continues to drop new singles via Twitter in the days before his inauguration, and the establishment is unsure how to respond. As Robert Costa observes in a recent post (Washington Post Politics page, January 3, 2017), “Trump’s communications approach has left corporate executives, celebrities, politicians, foreign diplomats and national security brass apprehensive about what he might pop off about — and when.” Costa’s full analysis is found here. Other critics, such as Gemma Joyce at Brandwatch (December 13, 2016), offer similar analyses.

Furthermore, a quick Google hunt for classic Trump lyrics-- whether you see them as insightful, silly, dangerous, insulting or puzzling (among other interpretations)-- at sites like this one from Marie Claire (January 9, 2017) and this one by Shannon Walsh at Heavy (November 8, 2016), demonstrate Trump’s ability to rock the live mic as well as the online.

There was a time when poetry and song thrived in American politics. In fact, fans of classic rock need only to turn to the fundamental environmental policies of the United States to see that the most overlooked rock star in the country is Uncle Sam.

The following verses are snagged (courtesy of Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute) from the opening paragraphs of some of the U.S.’s most significant environmental policies. Can you guess the policies from which these quotes originate?

1. The purposes of this chapter are: To declare a national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man; to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation….

2. The Congress finds and declares that various species of fish, wildlife, and plants in the United States have been rendered extinct as a consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation; other species of fish, wildlife, and plants have been so depleted in numbers that they are in danger of or threatened with extinction; these species of fish, wildlife, and plants are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people….

3. The Congress finds that the predominant part of the Nation’s population is located in its rapidly expanding metropolitan and other urban areas, which generally cross the boundary lines of local jurisdictions and often extend into two or more States; that the growth in the amount and complexity of air pollution brought about by urbanization, industrial development, and the increasing use of motor vehicles, has resulted in mounting dangers to the public health and welfare, including injury to agricultural crops and livestock, damage to and the deterioration of property, and hazards to air and ground transportation….

4. In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness. For this purpose there is hereby established a National Wilderness Preservation System to be composed of federally owned areas designated by Congress as “wilderness areas”, and these shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness….

5. Congress declares that the National Park System, which began with establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, has since grown to include superlative natural, historic, and recreation areas in every major region of the United States and its territories and possessions; these areas, though distinct in character, are united through their interrelated purposes and resources into one National Park System as cumulative expressions of a single national heritage; individually and collectively, these areas derive increased national dignity and recognition of their superb environmental quality through their inclusion jointly with each other in one System preserved and managed for the benefit and inspiration of all the people of the United States….

Answers: 1) National Environmental Policy Act, 1970. 42 U.S. Code §4321. Outlines an information-gathering and decision-making structure designed to reduce environmental impacts in all federal actions and creates the White House Council on Environmental Quality. 2) Endangered Species Act, 1972. 16 U.S. Code §1531. Protects threatened and endangered species, and their habitat, throughout the nation. 3) The Clean Air Act, 1967, 1970, 1977, 1990. 42 U.S. Code §7401. Sets national air quality standards for public health and is the basis for the Clean Power Plan, the U.S.’s first federally-backed carbon regulations. 4) Wilderness Act, 1964. 16 U.S. Code §1131. Establishes the federal government’s system of national wilderness areas-- which have the strictest protections of all public lands. 5) Organic Act, 1970. 54 U.S. Code §100101. Creates the National Park System and National Park Service, often called “America’s best idea”.

It’s been awhile since capital hill put out an album with hits like these. In fact, Uncle Sam changes leads more frequently than Van Halen. Check out this handy guide (put together by Jeff Giles at Ultimate Classic Rock) for a refresher on the mighty VH’s revolving door of singers. For a musical version try punk trio Nerf Herder’s classic “Van Halen.”

And on that note, when it comes to environmental policy, is Trump the Van Halen equivalent of David Lee Roth? That is, is Trump the lead singer that will catapult the band back to their original stardom? Could he be Sammy Hagar: a blip on the radar screen sandwiched between the best days of the past and those still to come? Or, is he Gary Cherone-- the musical experiment we choose to forget?


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