Category: Donald Trump

River a threat? Feds say ‘close it down.’

So far it had been a quiet afternoon on the river. I was pretty much alone as I poled my canoe up to the Seneca Breaks rapids. The heft of the cedar shaft felt good in my hands as I thrust it against the rocky bottom to drive the boat ahead.

Nothing much was happening. The temperature hovered in the low 90s, and the fish were sheltering in the stargrass or under rock ledges. Except for an eagle that mobbed an osprey and stole its fish, even the birds were taking time off.

It’s a very dark, old tunnel, and
you’re never sure what lies at
the other end.

It was getting dark when I turned back into the creek. I entered the tunnel that carried the creek under the C&O Canal. Made back in the early 19th century, its walls are lined with rocks, except where they’ve fallen out. It’s a magical place, a little eerie even. I heard water dripping up ahead, and then felt the drops as they trickled icily down my back.

I headed for the semi-circle of light ahead of me. A barred owl called nearby. Was that a sign?

I always listen carefully to owls.

On shore, I checked my emails. There was a message from the local Canoe Cruisers Association (CCA). It hit me like a punch to the stomach.

The subject line read “Closing the Potomac at Violettes and Rileys.” This was the section of the river just upstream from where I had spent the afternoon.

Was the closure due to a pipeline spill? Toxic chemicals? Gobs of decaying algae or carcasses of rotting fish. Any of these would be bad enough.

It turned out the reason for the closure was much worse: Donald Trump.

I stood there by the creek reading the Coast Guard interim rule. It said that federal and local law enforcement would have the authority to kick boats off the river fronting the Trump National Golf Club when Trump or other high government officials were at the club.

Public comment on this Security Zone plan would be taken until August 9. Here is the excellent set of  comments from the Canoe Cruisers Association that includes a map of the closure area proposed by the Coast Guard and the CCA alternative.

The Coast Guard will probably scale back their original Security Zone, according a guide for Team River Runner outfitter I spoke with later (and in fact the Coast Guard commandant has since testified verbally that it intends to do just that). The guide said that riversports businesses and non-profits hope that they will win over the feds by taking a “respectful approach.”

But respectful was not how I was feeling that evening at the creek.

Trump gets personal. Like millions of others, I loathe Trump for who he is and what he is doing to our country. But up to this point he was someone out there, the tragic-comic buffoon of the nightly news. Now my loathing had notched up to a new and much more personal level.

Through a sunlit corridor,
kayakers follow the route of
George Washington’s canal.
(Photo Barbara Brown)

As I brought my canoeing gear to my car I mulled over the implications of the Coast Guard plan.

The section of river targeted for closure is heavily used and much loved. It’s a place where outdoor schools teach young kayakers  to roll before heading down the rapids. Canoeists and kayakers cross the river here reach the start of a tree-canopied channel on the opposite shore where George Washington had built a canal to create a water route to the Ohio Valley.

Setting off to chase bass upriver,
fishermen pass in front of the
Trump golf course.

Here also is where fishermen and duck hunters put in their camouflage jon boats and head for spots they had carefully scouted beforehand. Even the detestable jet skiers would be left sputtering and fuming at the launch ramp while Trump played golf.

Imperial golfer. The Coast Guard rule said closures would be announced by VHF radio. Really?  The rule makers clearly don’t know much about canoes and kayaks. VHF radios on the upper Potomac are about as common as Coast Guard cutters.

Or maybe they had a bigger boat in mind, something more like a landing craft.

The environmental impact statement said that the rule would not negatively affect the “human environment.” It didn’t say anything about the paradox of a human environment where the humans are removed.

Why should one man who wants to play golf deprive many others of the right to spend their hard-earned free time on the river? It all sounded arrogant and reeking of imperial privilege. It was not America and it certainly wasn’t fair.

River of ironies. But while it may not be fair, it is ironic. First there’s the issue of the trees.

The closure plan is aimed at protecting Trump from threats coming from the river. The rule also refers to protesters, such as the “kayacktivists” at the PGA Competition earlier this year.

And it’s true—boaters on the river have an unimpeded line of sight to the golf club. And why is this? Because in 2010 Trump ordered the removal of all the trees along the 1.5-mile shoreline to create a river view for his club patrons (although his “environmental” consultant claimed the removal was to prevent erosion).

Glorious non-battle. The next irony is about truth and integrity, two fundamental qualities of the river but not of the president.

The Trump club cut down shoreline
trees and erected an American flag
with a fake news plaque.

After Trump cut the trees, he erected an enormous American flag. At the base of the flag he placed a plaque commemorating a Civil War battle that turned the river red with blood. No surprise: There was no battle.

Then there’s the massive river cleanup effort now being jeopardized by—guess who?

In the 1960s the Potomac was befouled by raw sewage and toxins. President Lyndon Johnson called it a “national disgrace.” One hundred years earlier Abraham Lincoln would retreat to the highlands on summer evenings to escape its stench. The 1972 Clean Water Act marked the start of a dramatic turnaround.

A federal-state partnership is now working to meet ambitious pollution reduction goals by 2025  in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, including the Potomac. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is heading up the cleanup with $73 million earmarked for this current year.

Trump has proposed to eliminate this funding as part of his push to gut the EPA.

Kayaks vs. golf carts. The final irony is the person the security zone is aiming to protect.

Most people who get out on the river are physically fit and love being outdoors.

It’s hard to mistake our
golf cart president for a
Potomac paddler.

In contrast—as we remember from last year’s outbreak of naked Trump statues—the president is in terrible physical condition, even borderline obese. He rides his golf cart onto putting greens—a serious golfing no-no—to save a few steps. He even opted to take a golf cart for the quarter mile to a G-7 photo op while the six other world leaders walked.

Nor has Trump ever shown the slightest interest or curiosity in the natural world. His world is defined by manicured golf courses, office towers, and gambling casinos.

Now thoroughly depressed, I lifted my canoe on the roof rack and tied down the straps. Another owl had joined the first, and they called back and forth, growling and hooting like TV pundits. As I left I rolled down the window to hear if they had found some kind of resolution.

Meet the Potomac River’s ‘environmental hero’

Book gives new meaning to
the term “environmentalist.”

Just when things couldn’t get crazier, I stumbled upon a book titled Donald Trump: Environmental Hero.

That’s right. Trump, the man who is dismantling the EPA and trying to turn national monuments over to the oil companies. Trump, the embodiment of Woodie Allen’s immortal phrase, “Nature and I are two.”

Try for a moment to even imagine Donald Trump wearing a plaid shirt. Stepping into a canoe. Walking on actual dirt.

Yet this is a book worth skimming for two reasons. First, one of its protagonists is our own Potomac River. And second, in this world of alternative realities, you could make the case that, while Trump is not an environmentalist in the conventional sense, his environmental vision has a depth and timelessness that most of us can scarcely imagine.

Shoreline epiphany. The book’s Potomac River segment unfolds in 2009 on an 800-acre tract of land called Lowe’s Island, the site of a fixer-upper golf course Trump had just bought. It would need a lot of work before it could claim its title as Trump National Golf Club, Washington, D.C.

Trump and another man drove along the shoreline discussing what had to be done.  That second man was Edward Russo, the book’s author.

A self-described “passionate environmentalist,” Russo has helped Trump and his organization navigate the intricacies of local zoning and environmental regulations for the past 15 years. He has also held local planning and environmental posts in New Jersey and he presently heads the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition (FKEC.org) in Key West, where he now lives. He was also a finalist in an Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest.

“Golf, especially the way Donald does
golf,is a significant environmental
asset,” write author Russo.

“He [Trump] was very concerned about storm surges [sic] that could wash away all the improvements he’d planned for the club,” Russo writes of his conversation with the real estate mogul. Trump’s idea was to build a bulkhead along the entire shoreline. But Russo countered with a solution that would be cheaper and more natural.

Russo proposed to cut down the trees along the river and replace them with grass. He argued that the trees were ineffective for controlling erosion because their roots were undercut by the action of the river’s current. The trees also cast shade, which prevented the growth of ground cover that normally would stabilize the soil along the shoreline. Planting grass would hold the soil and prevent erosion, he said, and as an added bonus would provide habitat for birds.

“Donald loved it,” Russo writes.

‘There’s nothing like it.’ The local authorities at first were skeptical, but they ultimately gave in, continues Russo. This was a major achievement, he said, because Virginia has high environmental standards.

Trump crews ultimately cut some 465 mature elms, ashes, and black locusts along the 1.5 miles of shoreline. The trees were replaced by Russo’s grass as well as an enormous American flag with a plaque at its base commemorating a bloody Civil War battle that never took place. It was, Russo wrote, “another example of Donald using golf to improve the environment. Everyone was impressed.”

Most impressed of all was Trump himself. “Originally we had massive trees — you couldn’t see anything,” he was quoted as saying in the Washington Post. “And through lots of hard work, and lots of environmental impact statements and lots of everything, we were able to clear the area and now we have unobstructed views of the Potomac River. There’s nothing like it. You can go 20 miles up and down the river and there’s nothing like it.”

If you don’t want to take his word for it, you can see for yourself. From the Virginia side the view will cost you $100,000 to join the club and a monthly fee of about $700.

A view from the Maryland side is cheaper. You drive down Rileys Lock Road and stand on the remains of the C&O Canal aqueduct over Seneca Creek. From there you can see the American flag at the downstream end, the imposing clubhouse on the rise, and the grand sweep of denuded shoreline. You can just make out the tiny golf carts as they move about in fits of stopping and starting, like beetles.

Of course local environmentalists seethed at what they viewed as yet another assault on a river that has struggled against so many. They saw his claims—and those of Russo as well—as absurd and contradictory.

The beauty of golf courses. I myself seethe every time I see that shoreline. But the Potomac River and its trickster have taught me to look beyond the obvious, especially when they involve fellow tricksters such as Trump, and trickster apologists such as Russo.

As it turns out, there is indeed more to the story. Russo gives us a hint:

“Golf, especially the way Donald does golf,” he writes, “is a significant environmental asset. A golf course is irrigated open space. The next time you fly over an area during a severe drought. . . look out the window and look for green patches. They are all golf courses. Where do you think the wildlife will go to survive?”

Losing a few trees is nothing. The golf course is everything.

I thought I despised golf and golf courses. But now I’m not so sure. Through my window I see that my property looks a little like a golf course, albeit a very small and scruffy one. It has grass (sort of) and clumps of trees and shrubs. It even has pool of water in the form of a birdbath. For me and for most people, landscaping means making your property look as much like a golf course as possible.

Where did we all get this notion of an ideal landscape? Maybe from the same place as Trump and Russo. Maybe we’re all in this together.

A painting by 10th century
Chinese master Dong Yuan.

Landscape of memory. One of the recurrent themes in field of environmental psychology is that this ideal landscape is somehow embedded in our psyches. All around the world, when people are shown pictures of landscapes, they prefer open savannah with its clumps of trees and a lake or river.  So do landscape artists, from the 10th century Chinese masters to their 19th century European counterparts.

According to scholars, our affinity for this genre of landscape comes from a shared experience that dates back to mankind’s very beginnings: life on the African savannah.

God’s golf course: a view of the
African savannah.

Over many thousands of years of human evolution, our savannah-dwelling ancestors would sit on hills, their spears at the ready, looking out across the grasslands. They would follow the movements of prey animals while keeping an eye out for enemies. Very likely they could see water too, perhaps just a watering hole, but also lakes and rivers.

Fast forward to the present and we have the golf course, the theme park equivalent of our African Eden. If we are drawn to this ancestral environment, Trump is mesmerized by it.

Imagine Trump emerging from his hilltop clubhouse on Lowe’s Island and standing next to his artificial water fountain. With a furrowed brow and pursed lips he surveys the expanse of grass and clumps of trees stretched out before him. His eyes pause momentarily on the golfers and golf carts, stand-ins for the original African fauna.

He then lengthens his gaze to take in a slender ribbon of water. He recalls that drive with Ed Russo eight years ago, and how those trees along the shoreline would have obscured the river. He pulls the corners of his mouth into a grin. By chopping down the trees, he got nature out of the way of his environment.

It takes a man of powerful urges and primitive sensibilities to recreate the African savannah along the Potomac River and on 17 other sites around the world. This man is Donald Trump, environmental hero.

You will know them by their signs

A well-placed cork is just the thing to
stop hot air and reduce global warming.

Potowmack the Trickster would have enjoyed last Saturday’s March for Science on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall. He would have particularly liked the signs, with their crude jokes and sly displays of erudition.

He also would have liked the marchers. Although self-professed seekers of truth, they were no zealots, tight-lipped and scowling. Despite the cold and the rain, they laughed and joked even as they chanted.

The Trickster would surely have appreciated the ironies as well. Here were thousands of people with PhDs and published papers happily doing what people have done since ancient times, when truth and facts were indistinguishable from superstition and myth.

The science marchers were not merely celebrating science. If that were the case, they would have carried posters with the image of Bill Nye the Science Guy. Instead, many of their posters bore photos and cartoons of Donald Trump, the very personification of arrogance and willful ignorance.

It’s a time-tested strategy: Cast the other group as irredeemable villains—deplorables, even—and by this means strengthen your own cohesion and capacity for collective action. So it has been with the highland tribe against the lowland tribe, the Romans against the Gauls, the Cowboys vs. the Redskins. And now the champions of science here on the Mall mobilizing to battle the science deniers.

The Trickster would have loved all of this. In fact, I’ll bet he was there, perhaps in the poster of Trump with a cork in his mouth.

He even found time to infiltrate the “DNC War Room” in the form of a (probably) young and well-meaning Democratic staffer. While the marchers were brandishing their signs, the staffer was sending out a fund-raising appeal with the tag line, “Add your name if you believe in science.” She might have had a vague feeling that maybe using the word “believe” would give the scientific enterprise the factual equivalency of homeopathic medicine and tooth fairies. But in the end she hit the send button.

Sensible shoes. I felt my first rush of collective solidarity when I boarded the metro in the Maryland suburbs to head downtown. Instead of the usual tourists from the nation’s heartland, with their sports jerseys and supersize drinks, the seats were occupied by people like me, dressed in earth-colored clothing and shoes that could withstand the cold and the rain and mud down on the Mall. They spoke quietly among themselves.

Arriving at Metro Center the trickle of marchers emerging from the escalator joined the stream heading down the sidewalk toward the Mall. As we crossed Pennsylvania Avenue we were joined by many more like ourselves, and our stream became a river that emptied into a sea of marchers gathered by the Washington Monument. In one hand they held umbrellas, in the other they held signs.

A bounty of signs. These weren’t the kind of signs passed out by union organizers in the morning and collected again in the afternoon. Each sign was a personal expression. Some were original, often using scientific archanery to make their points. Others merely repeated current slogans. “There is no planet B” was one of the favorites. Original or not, the sentiments were authentic. For a sampling of my favorites go to “Scientists with Sharpies.”

Some of the signs were the product of an evening hunched over a poster board with a box of sharpies. Others were just a scrawl on a piece of paper. Elaborate or humble, the rain fell equally on all and made them glisten.

I’m sure there is some (fact-based) study out there that analyzes why people post their feelings on signboards, or car bumpers, or on buttons they wear on their shirt or blouse, rather than as an anonymous tweet. I’d guess that the sign carrier wants to personally and physically identify with the idea, not merely promote it.

The marchers were proud of their signs. When I pointed a camera their way they would snap to a pose. “Can you also take a picture of the back side?” the man asked as he pivoted himself and his sign.

Galileo: no fan of alternative facts.

‘Eppur si. . . what? I admit it—I didn’t carry a sign. But I did have an idea for one whose cleverness and erudition made me flush with pride. It almost certainly would have been unique. Or so I thought.

My sign would have read, “Eppur si muove [It moves nevertheless],” which was the phrase Galileo was supposed to have uttered after being forced to retract his claim that the earth moves around the sun, and not the other way around as was maintained by 18th century astronomy deniers.

But I never made my sign. I wanted my hands free to take pictures. I’ve always been the picture taker.

It was just as well. As I was leaving I spotted the words “Eppur si. . .” on a piece of cardboard stuck under a man’s arm. He shrugged as he showed me his sign. “I didn’t think anyone here would know what it meant,” he said.