Once the most technologically advanced and scientifically active country in the world, the United States is losing its edge.
Let us count the ways.
The position of science adviser to the president remains empty. Thousands of science jobs are not filled. Donald Trump is not only uninterested in science, he is hostile to scientific policy as a factor in decisions.
The Trump administration’s decision to raise tariffs on imported solar panels is the latest in a series of short-sighted actions with long-lasting ramifications.
Solar power is becoming economically viable. This has enabled utilities to buy solar power, has resulted in solar farms and is helping the country reach its goal of energy independence and non-polluting energy. Imported panels are cheaper than those made in America. But jobs are being created in more numbers through those cheaper panels than if all panels were U.S.-made. Ultimately, the impact of new tariffs on solar panels will be harmful.
By pulling the U.S. out of the Trans Pacific Trade agreement, Trump has ceded trade growth and dominance in the vital Pacific Rim to China, ensuring that China is becoming the new superpower.
Trump pulled the U.S. out of the climate change accord; the country now stands alone in the world in denying the science of what could be the most devastating impact on Earth in civilized times. Extreme droughts, fires, mudslides, blizzards, heat waves, floods and all manner of environmental catastrophes will increase. But the world no longer looks to the U.S. to lead.
Trump has put anti-enviromentalists and friends of big oil and gas in charge of environmental protection and energy policy. Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency vowed to gut it and is doing so. Energy Secretary Rick Perry vowed to abolish his department (and fired a photographer who filmed him hugging a coal baron). Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has presided over the largest reduction of land in national monuments in history. Millions of acres of wildlife refuge and pristine coastal areas have been opened to drilling. Pollution monitoring of air and water has been reduced.
By telling Congress that he wants the 800,000 Dreamers — undocumented young men and women immigrants who have been in this country since they were children — out of the country unless he gets his $20 billion wall, Trump is denying us the benefit of a generation of people with desirable scientific and technological skills we need. By definition, Dreamers are achievers who have not committed any crime and are either studying or have jobs that contribute to society.
Instead of inviting the world’s best and brightest who study in American universities to stay and contribute to the growth of this country, they are being sent home, taking their knowledge and skills with them. The message has gone out: Lady Liberty is no longer welcoming immigrants. The American dream has become a nightmare. America is becoming a synonym for chaos and deportation, not stability and opportunity.
When Trump released his first proposed budget, he slashed billions of dollars from science and research programs, including billions from the popular National Institutes of Health. Congress balked, saying this was counterproductive. But thousands of scientists say their research is no longer being funded.
Such things as Trump’s reduced spending on the national parks have led to a four percent drop in the number of foreign tourists coming to visit the United States, taking away 40,000 American jobs and costing the economy billions of dollars. Once the second most popular tourist destination after France, the U.S. has been replaced by Spain.
Despite the dangerous opioid crisis, the White House stopped a program to evaluate “evidence-based” treatments for substance abuse. The Centers for Disease Control reportedly has been banned from using such terms as “science-based” and “evidence-based” in its budget requests.
The administration has revoked a rule that internet service providers could not deliberately block or slow content — net neutrality. Those who want speed will have to pay more. An open internet may become a thing of the past.
In the past year Trump has made clear his priorities and interests. Science and technology are not among them.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at [email protected].