Editor’s note: This post is part of a summer-long series, The Sociology of Trump. Every Friday RI Future will feature an essay written by a Brown University sociology student on an aspect of Trumpism. Read the introduction: Culture, power, and social change in the time of Trump.
“Sociology is about making connections between biography and history, but also between people and their social and biophysical environments. President Trump’s decision to withdraw the USA from the Paris Agreement on climate change may have not been a surprise, but we need understand this decision as part of his more general approach to the environment and inequality. Jessie O’Dell not only elaborates that Trump project, but also explains how Trump Fatigue Syndrome and the evisceration of environmental knowledge production and regulation enable it.” – Michael Kennedy, professor of Sociology and International and Public Affairs, Brown University
When C. Wright Mills first conceptualized the sociological imagination, he may not have considered how critical his theory would be to the modern environmental movement, leading individuals to link their daily lives and experiences to the larger, not yet tangible impacts of climate change or other environmental impacts.
Traditionally, it has been much harder to garner support and concern for environmental problems than social problems, as the impact of social issues on humans is much more immediate and tangible than with environmental problems and especially climate change. Donald Trump has exacerbated this issue in his administration’s assault on the environment and climate. Through the control and silencing of scientific and agency opinion and the use of political and media fatigue, Trump’s administration has effectively eliminated the environment, environmental issues, and the communities most vulnerable to environmental impacts from our daily political discourse.
It has been difficult in the first two months of this new administration, to keep abreast of the news, updates, executive orders, and accusations that seem to occur daily. It is also not uncommon to hear peers, family members, or strangers declaring that it is too much, too onerous to continue to read, investigate, and understand what is occurring each day with this administration. Many individuals declare that there is nothing really to be done and, therefore, it is not worth the mental energy to worry. This phenomenon has been termed “Trump Fatigue” by several writers and news sources and is described by Vox as, “Trump fatigue syndrome:” the exhaustion one feels from trying to stay on top of the nonstop scandals and absurdities emanating from the Trump administration, TFS, for short.” This exhaustion, due to the sheer number of assaults on communities, and civil and social rights that occur daily, often leads to a disengagement with political issues and a process of normalization as one begins to set a new standard for what is normal and acceptable in political and social arenas. An additional effect of this onslaught is a need to “triage,” to focus organized resistance efforts on the most immediate threats. In the recent months, just a few of these threats have included the travel ban, the introduction of an ACA replacement, Trump’s interactions with global leaders, and the most recent investigations into the Trump cabinet’s relationship to Russia. These are just a few of the scandals, threats, executive orders, and accusations that have been a focus of the past few months. As a result, concerned organizations or members of the public, and the general media have needed to focus their efforts on the most immediate threats to communities and societies.
One of the results of this fatigue has been the gradual and intentional movement of environmental issues to the “systemic edge” of our political and social awareness. This slow erasure of environmental problems has been facilitated in many ways by the Trump administration. Trump’s first assaults on the Environmental Protection Agency were subversive and aimed at silently gaining control over the knowledge that passes through and out of the agency. Gag orders were issued for EPA employees, the White House’s climate change page was removed, and grant budgets were frozen, placing overt executive control over the research and operations that the agency can conduct as well as the information that the public is able to see. This is one clear example of Trump asserting state control over the flow and production of knowledge, a concept that is reminiscent of Foucault’s concept of state discipline and institutional violence. More recently, Trump’s budget proposal illustrates intentions to cut the EPA budget by about one- third, undermining the already underfunded agency that was delegated authority to provide essential services such as clean water and air. Although the budget proposal that was originally issued in March was not passed in Congress, the budget will be revisited in the fall and Trump has issued a proposed budget that illustrates the same goal of essentially dismantling the EPA. 
A close look at the specific budget cuts illustrates the sociological impacts of this attack on the EPA. Perhaps the most well-known or obvious cuts to the EPA budget are the complete abolishment of the Clean Power Plan, the 40% cut from the EPA’s federal enforcement budget and the 45% cut from grants given to states for enforcement.  Together, these changes will make it easier for large corporations to pollute without consequences and will make communities that live near polluting plants even more vulnerable to the adverse health effects of CO2 emissions. This result will exacerbate the paradigm proposed by William Domhoff, that power in the United States is concentrated with those individuals who have money. Under this new paradigm, the wealthy corporations that are high emitters will no longer be regulated or responsible to the American public, creating an even wider gap in the political and social power held by the wealthy elite compared with the rest of Americans.
In addition to budget cuts related to emissions and the clean power plan, Trump also plans to gut programs intended to fund Superfund clean-up, assist Native American tribes with clean water and air-quality projects and provide infrastructure development assistance to Native Alaskan villages that will be especially vulnerable to climate change.  These cuts to superfund clean up will exacerbate environmental justice issues that primarily disadvantage minority communities near superfund and other contaminated sites. This $330 million cut to the Superfund program and $482 million dollar cut to the program that is responsible for funding climate resiliency projects for native communities are a clear demonstration of Trump’s valuation of certain communities over others and his administration’s desire to privilege the uber-wealthy over marginalized communities.
Trump’s gag-orders, attempts to remove climate-change from the EPA website, removal of current EPA science advisors, and other actions that erase environmental problems and climate change from our political and social space are overt. I argue that, in addition to the specific actions aimed at controlling information and institutions, Trump has also effectively used strategies of political and media fatigue in order to mask and distract the public and politicians from the destruction of the EPA, an action that may prove to be incredibly dangerous to minority communities. This political and media fatigue is evident in figures that demonstrate major networks’ coverage of climate change in the last year. In one stunning quote, Media Matters for America painted a dismal picture for the attention that the media, public, and politicians are paying to climate change, “In 2016, evening newscasts and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as Fox Broadcast Co.’s Fox News Sunday, collectively decreased their total coverage of climate change by 66% as compared to 2015.” In 2016, the year that broke the record for hottest year on record, there are a million reasons why climate change should be at the forefront of our political and social discussions, and yet we see it consistently sidelined and pushed to the margins in political and social discussions. Despite the fact that the world is facing existential threats from climate change, evening newscast shows in the United States devoted a total of 50 minutes to climate change throughout all of 2016.  Although it has always been challenging to get the public and politicians to care about climate change, I suggest that what is occurring in the current administration is different than the traditional struggle to get the public to care about climate change. I believe that the flood of the media with political scandal has been a deliberate exercise to distract politicians and the general public as this current administration silently does away with every environmental protection in this country, leaving everyone, especially vulnerable, minority communities bare to the impacts of climate change and other environmental problems. In addition to media coverage of important issues such as the travel ban and Trump’s decision to launch strikes on Syria, the media has largely focused on analyzing Trump’s appearance, personality, and Sean Spicer’s breakdowns. The decorum and behavior of the Trump administration is truly shocking, and it is quite easy to become overwhelmed and horrified by these headlines. However, that is exactly the function such actions are serving, as a distraction from the true dangers of the Trump administration. The media has also fallen into this trap, providing extensive coverage of the personalities and scandals of the current administration rather than providing the public with clear information about the potential impacts of Trump’s proposed plans.
Therefore, with Trump’s assault on climate change, the EPA, and international climate agreements in mind, Saskia Sassen’s theory of expulsion can aid in our understanding of the effects of this assault. Sassen’s theory, as it is relevant to the way in which the climate is being valued and represented in both the media and politics, is well put in this quote: “Today, by contrast, our institutions and assumptions are increasingly geared to serve corporate economic growth. This is the new systemic logic…. Anything or anybody, whether a law or a civic effort, that gets in the way of profit risks being pushed aside— expelled.” This “system logic” as Sassen puts it, is being applied aggressively toward climate by the Trump administration. For the corporate elite, climate regulations or environmental regulations meant to protect vulnerable communities both stand in the way of profits. Therefore, as is evident in Trump’s deliberate attempts to silence and remove the EPA through gag orders and budget cuts, this administration is engaging in a practice meant to expel environmental regulation and communities that depend on them from our political and social discourse in order to increase profits for wealthy, polluting corporations. Trump’s most recent decision to pull the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord represents the most extreme iteration of expelling environmental issues and international agreements from the formal U.S. political discourse. Unlike previous assaults on the environment, this decision has received massive international media coverage. However, it merely illustrates a continuation of the Trump administration’s relentless efforts to erase and expel environmental issues from American political discourse.
In 1959 C. Wright Mills posed the following sociological question: “What varieties of men and women now prevail in this society and in this period?” Although this question may seem outdated, the concept endures. It is critical for us as citizens to constantly be asking ourselves, who is making profit at the expense of others, what communities are the most vulnerable and what methods are being employed to exploit them? In the current administration I believe that the elimination and gutting of environmental protection programs is a method that is being used to exploit minority communities that are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and other environmental impacts in order to create greater profit margins for elite corporations. In order to prevent the complete expulsion and erasure of environmental issues and the communities most affected, the use and practice of the sociological imagination to foresee and prevent abuses of the environment and the communities that are the most dependent on it is crucial.
 Saskia Sassen, Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy, Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014.
 Meyer, Robinson. “What Does Trump’s Budget Mean for the Environment?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 24 May 2017. Web. 02 June 2017.
 G. William Domhoff, “The Class Domination Theory of Power” http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/class_domination.html
 Saskia Sassen, Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy, Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014
 C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, pp. 3-24, 195-226. Oxford U Press, 1959.