The name of the game is gaming the name.
Politico last week reported on an innovative new policy from the Trump administration: An Energy Department official had directed staff “not to use the phrases ‘climate change,’ ‘emissions reduction’ or ‘Paris agreement’ in written memos, briefings or other written communication.”
A department spokesperson denied that there had been a new directive, which, given the administration’s record of truthfulness, is practically a confirmation. Politico reported that it may be less a matter of “formal instructions” than a “general sense that it’s better to avoid certain hot-button terms in favor of words like ‘jobs’ and ‘infrastructure.’”
Thus would the Department of Jobs and Infrastructure, formerly the Department of Energy, be forced to change the name of its Office of International Climate and Clean Energy to the Office of Hot-Button Terms. Or perhaps it should be the Office of Puppies and Lollipops, so that people would come to see global warming as a good thing.
The retiring of undesirable names is not limited to the Energy Department, as it turns out. The Kushner family, Trump’s in-laws, plans to change the name of their flagship development, 666 Fifth Ave., to the less-Luciferian 660 Fifth Ave. Apparently it’s not good for business to have your property (in the news lately because of the Kushners’ attempted deal with Chinese investors) named with the Mark of the Beast.
Banning “climate change” could be the beginning of an elegant solution for this floundering young administration: If you can’t eliminate a problem, eliminate any mention of the problem. And Trump has already amassed a substantial list of people and things he would undoubtedly like to make go away. He could decree no more mention of: Michael Flynn. Immunity deals. Obamacare. Chuck Schumer. The Freedom Caucus. Democrats. The Congressional Black Caucus. April Ryan. The failing New York Times. Mark Meadows. Jim Jordan. Raul Labrador. Jared Kushner’s testimony. Ivanka Trump’s conflicts of interest. Conflicts of interest generally. The Club for Growth. Heritage Action. NBC. ABC. CNN. Paul Ryan. Preet Bharara. Snoop Dogg. The Russia probe. The FBI. The CIA. Russia. The Senate Intelligence Committee. Polls. The deficit. Judges. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Congress.
Banning unhelpful words and phrases could, if used on a large enough scale, be just the solution Trump needs to rescue his administration from historic levels of unpopularity. Trump has already shown that saying something makes it so for many of his followers; 74 percent of Republicans believe his offices were wiretapped during the campaign, a CBS News poll found, even though there’s no evidence Trump’s claim is true. Maybe Trump could also make these people disbelieve inconvenient truths by banning their utterance.
If he can’t reform health care, he can ban the phrase “health care reform.” Because he doesn’t have a plan to end the opioid epidemic, he can end use of the phrase. Same with the latest revelations that he wants only minor changes to NAFTA, doesn’t have a secret, foolproof plan to defeat the Islamic State, and isn’t erasing the budget deficit. He can instead purge all mentions of NAFTA, the Islamic State and the deficit.
The Politico article didn’t say what is to be done with the phrases “climate change,” “emissions” and “Paris agreement.” Perhaps they could be reduced, reused and recycled by other parts of the government.
The immunity deal sought by former national security adviser Flynn, sufficiently upsetting to Trump that he tweeted Friday morning about it as part of a “witch hunt,” could be rebranded as the “Paris agreement” in hopes of rallying conservatives to oppose it. The administration could refer to the entire Russia probe as “climate change” and enlist more people to help him fight its pernicious effects on the planet. Trump, stymied by the courts in his attempt to ban travelers from several Muslim-majority countries, might find his ban less objectionable if he were to rename such travelers “carbon emissions.”
Once problematic phrases are excised, benign ones can take their place. Debt would become “free Chinese money.” The Constitution would become the “Conversation” to make it feel less restrictive, and the First Amendment, which Trump again last week threatened to revise, would become the “First Asterisk.” The phrase “Medal of Honor” would be inserted for all mentions of “impeachment” in federal documents, “our Slavic partners” would substitute for “Russia,” “swimming lessons” would take the place of “waterboarding” and references to Devin Nunes would be replaced by the phrase “His Eminence.”
Now that would be a real climate change.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.