Organization, Presence: Adaptive Management in the Trump Administration
The transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration has jolted the climate-science community, indeed, the science community in general. The open reporting supported by social media fuels and amplifies conflict and anxiety. Fears are propagated as facts.
We are at a moment where how we, the community of scientists, organize and respond will be critical to how the U.S. science enterprise appears in 4 years, 8 years, and 12 years. What I am going to do in this blog is to think about how to monitor and manage what, presently, feels like convulsions from one outrage to the next. This blog follows from my EOS editorial Take the Long View on Environmental Issues in the Age of Trump and my previous entry on ClimatePolicy.org, Fear and Loathing, Irony and Deception. This blog will be followed by further analysis as rhetoric and positioning are replaced by actions.
I am one of those people who feel that there is value of organization and management in our science enterprise. I have managed large scientific organizations towards unified goals. This blog focuses on a framing of how, if I was a manager, how would I approach, strategically, the new administration.
President Trump: I have seen several analyses of President’s Trump’s psychology, personality, motivations, tactics, and intents. I especially like the articles that say that President Trump’s logic and reason defy understanding. These are people looking to use their models of logic and reason, perhaps even norms of behavior they consider to be established decorum and protocol, and they find no way to frame President Trump’s behavior into compact, rational models.
What we know is that President Trump makes hyperbolic statements that outrage, disrupt, and divert. The statements are often dismissive, insulting, and hurtful. Some statements seem contradictory; many, however, are quite consistent what Mr. Trump has said that he would do. They could be viewed as chaos, “behavior so unpredictable as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions.”
We, also, know that we cannot control what Mr. Trump says, and it is unlikely we will evolve to an understanding that allows intuition of his motivations, logic, and reason. In fact, it is reasonable to assume that if we get to a point where we can predict what will come next, then he will change. Being unpredictable is an attribute; chaos is a style of management, of leadership, of negotiation.
What we can control is how we evaluate and respond.
In my course on climate change, I have a short module on argumentation and rhetoric. Understanding the tactics and motivation of, for instance, someone opposed to making greenhouse gas reductions is critical. The motivation is disruption of policy considered, perhaps, damaging to their industry. The tactic is to take on the credibility, legitimacy and robustness of scientists and science-based investigation. While scientists engage in the reaction and diversion defending scientific knowledge and their personal integrity, the disruption of policy development is achieved. Scientists become engaged in efforts to better communicate and complete their knowledge-based results, but the other side of the argument is not really interested in a knowledge-based reconciliation.
One of the most usable analyses of Trump’s use of language I have seen comes from linguist George Lakoff. In a radio interview, Lakoff deconstructs Trump’s tactics. Two common tactics are diversion, to turn your attention away from the important issue, and deflection, attacking and discrediting the messenger.
Chaos Management: Chaos as a management tool is well known. Some of us at NASA in the 1990s viewed Administrator Dan Goldin as a practitioner of chaos management. The NASA history states Goldin was taking on a “bloated bureaucracy” through “aggressive management reform.” Familiar words.
Deflection, diversion, and disruption are tactics of chaos management. They are counterintuitive to the definition of “managed.” They offend our norms of diplomacy, protocol, and decorum. We are affronted and outraged. We respond at an emotional level, and that allows those waiting for the diversion, the operatives, to go into action.
When trying to manage chaos generated by a leader, it is important to monitor the difference between what is being said and what is being done. What is the difference between words and behavior? In the case of a large organization or, in this case, a government, it is essential to look at those who are actually carrying out the operations on the ground – the behavior.
What we can control is how we evaluate and respond. Organization and discipline will be critical attributes for an effective response to the Trump administration’s efforts to deconstruct not only President Obama’s climate actions, but also to weaken a generation of environmental law. Critical in effective response is to depersonalize that which is dismissive, insulting, and hurtful. The goal is to resist the emotional bait.
As an example of words and behavior it is worth considering the Trump administration’s approach to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What is most clear in the Trump environmental agenda is to damage and diminish the Environmental Protection Agency. At the top of the list are Obama’s Clean Power Plan and elimination of the language of management of carbon dioxide and climate change from the EPA’s public interface. Though commanding outrage, these changes are essentially distractions. They are relatively easy to do, and are in the big picture, largely inconsequential. More consequential will be attacks of underlying environmental law.
I have a growing collection of articles on the EPA archived here. These articles include hostile attacks on the EPA, sometimes followed by statements that walk back the hostile statemetns. An article that I note from the Washington Post is entitled, “Trump might revisit environmental rules going back decades, transition adviser says.” The article focuses on EPA transition team lead Myron Ebell, and ends with:
In an interview with E&E News Thursday, Ebell raised the idea of cutting the agency’s roughly 15,000-person workforce by two-thirds. Speaking to The Washington Post, he said that he thought cutting the EPA by either a third or a half would be “an aspirational goal,” though he added that he did not know whether the new administration would embrace it.
“I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen, that’s a goal,” Ebell said, noting that roughly half of the EPA’s budget is passed through to the states. “The states do most of the work, particularly when it comes to air and water programs.”
During the campaign, Trump raised the prospect of eliminating the EPA, saying at one point, “what they do is a disgrace.” At other points, he suggested scaling it back significantly. “We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.”
Ebell noted that Trump would probably propose deeper cuts to the agency than would actually be enacted, because lawmakers are often reluctant to slash the budgets of agencies they oversee. “It you want to achieve significant domestic budget cuts across the government, you’re going to take on appropriators by requesting big cuts.”
Mr. Ebell is, perhaps, representative of the behavior, as opposed to the words, of President Trump’s administration. He has years of steady message; he understands politics; he has stated, directly, what he would like to see happen. My list of articles suggests it is happening.
One example of the response of the climate community is Climate Deregulation Tracker:
About the Climate Deregulation Tracker
President Donald Trump has stated that he intends to undo most or all of the Obama administration’s efforts to address climate change. Many members of Congress have expressed similar intentions.
The Climate Deregulation Tracker monitors efforts undertaken by the Trump administration to scale back or wholly eliminate federal climate mitigation and adaptation measures. The tracker also monitors congressional efforts to repeal statutory provisions, regulations, and guidance pertaining to climate change, and to otherwise undermine climate action. Finally, the tracker will monitor any countervailing efforts to advance climate change mitigation and adaptation in the face of these deregulatory actions.
The tracker will also provide links to related news items, such as updates about federal agency appointments, the removal of climate data from federal websites, and federal actions with indirect implications for climate change.
The Climate Deregulation Tracker helps collect information. It is an example of community and public scrutiny, which will be required to expose what is actually happening. It is only a piece of the response, and its impact ultimately relies on the emergence of other organized responses to oppose the degradation of our environmental law. There are many activities emerging in our community.
We need to be organized, present, and politic to influence the growing efforts to diminish and dismiss the role of science-based knowledge in policy and practice. It is important to understand the tactics that are being used, which often appeal to an emotional response that distract attention from what is actually happening. The challenge is to focus some of these activities to our behavior on the ground and not to get lost in our words. Because when there is chaos, there is not just opportunity for those who are, perhaps, on the side of chaos.
An earlier, more colloquial version of this blog appears here.