The Donald Trump campaign took yet another mysterious turn last week, when he used a rally in Pennsylvania to issue a full-throated appeal to bird lovers. Somewhat surprisingly, the Audubon Society has yet to issue a statement in support, and other avian stakeholders are similarly circumspect about Trump’s newly-minted concern for wildlife.
Satirical newspaper The Onion’s June profile of the Republican presidential candidate tending to his flock of domesticated pigeons on the roof of Trump Tower is more apropos than ever.
Bird deaths and rigged elections
Of course, The Onion piece was satire. But it’s worth picking apart Trump’s bird statement because it really isn’t just about the birds. Here is the quote, as cited by Think Progress:
“The wind kills all your birds. All your birds, killed. You know, the environmentalists never talk about that,” Trump said.
In case you’re wondering what that’s all about, Trump is referring to concerns that birds are being killed in substantial numbers when they run into wind turbines.
At first glance, the bird death argument against wind energy may seem way off topic for the Trump campaign. It’s a fair guess that bird conservation is far from a major issue of concern — or any concern at all — for the typical Trump voter.
On closer inspection, though, it’s clear that Trump is not encouraging his voters to care about birds. He is encouraging them to believe that environmentalists are networked into a conspiracy with the wind industry to cover up bird deaths from wind turbines.
That message will certainly surprise the Audubon Society and other wildlife groups. Although turbine-linked bird deaths are a rarity compared to the carnage perpetrated by domestic cats, cars and buildings, some conservation organizations have loudly and consistently raised alarm bells over turbine risks.
Be that as it may, the conspiracy angle is perfectly consistent with the Trump campaign message of election rigging. He began to articulate that theory in force last week:
“Donald Trump empathized with Bernie Sanders supporters on Monday, saying the Vermont senator lost the Democratic primary because the election was rigged, and said he feared the general election would be rigged as well,” Bianca Padro Ocasio wrote in Politico.
‘First of all, it’s rigged and I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, to be honest. I have to be honest because I think my side was rigged,’ Trump said at a campaign event in Columbus, Ohio.”
The conspiracy angle is also consistent with the Trump strategy of drawing off Bernie Sanders voters. Though certainly not the only politician to use the word “rigged,” Sanders frequently invoked the term throughout his primary campaign — and his supporters continued to hammer on that theme long after the final primary vote was cast. (For the record, there is no record of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton deploying the term during primary season.)
Pennsylvania and wind energy
Trump’s use of Pennsylvania as a platform for criticizing wind energy is also odd at first glance, and not so odd on closer inspection.
It seems strange at first because Pennsylvania is not a wind energy hotspot on the order of Western U.S. states like California, or Midwestern states like Iowa and Kansas. It’s also not the focus of new wind transmission line activity.
Pennsylvania also does not possess much in the way of federally-managed land or waters, so it is not the focus of aggressive federal wind leasing programs such as those being conducted along the Atlantic coast for offshore wind turbines.
In other words, it’s not clear that Trump voters in Pennsylvania would be particularly concerned about wind energy.
However, those of you familiar with Pennsylvania’s long history of coal mining know that the tension between fossil fuel and renewable energy hits very close to home in the state. Trump certainly seemed to recognize this. Here’s what Trump had to say about coal during his Pennsylvania appearance, as cited by The Hill:
“I have friends that own the mines. I mean, they can’t live,” he said.
“The restrictions environmentally are so unbelievable where inspectors come two and three times a day, and they can’t afford it any longer and they’re closing all the mines. … It’s not going to happen anymore, folks. We’re going to use our heads.”
It’s not clear which coal mines Trump was talking about. Industry analysts cite statistical evidence that the surge in mine closures in recent years is primarily due to competition from low-cost natural gas for power plants, not amped-up environmental inspections of the mines themselves.
So, is Donald Trump crazy?
In response to Trump’s series of missteps on the campaign trail last week, a fair number of political observers have begun to wonder aloud about the candidate’s mental stability, or lack thereof.
However, the next time you read about someone questioning whether or not Trump is crazy, remember the calculation and focus of purpose behind his seemingly nonsensical “bird death” argument against wind power.