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The Super Wicked Problem of Donald Trump

Posted by on Tuesday, December 22, 2020 in Articles, Volume 73, Volume 73, Number 6.

Richard J. Lazarus | 73 Vand. L. Rev. 1811 (2020) |

In 2009 I published a law review article that both explained why I believed that climate change was a “super wicked” problem for lawmakers and offered specific recommendations for ways that any laws addressing climate change should be crafted in light of its super wicked nature. The purpose of this subsequent Article is to revisit, modify, and update my earlier analysis based on the actual events of the past decade. Such hindsight analysis necessarily requires acknowledging, a bit embarrassingly, the things that I got wrong. Though, in my partial (not complete!) defense, I am in good company given the wholly unpredictable and truly whipsaw nature of the nation’s changing political landscape between 2009 and the present. The only thing that links the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump is the highly remote nature of their electoral prospects when each announced their respective candidacies for President. In every other way, it is hard to imagine two more different people across every possible personal and professional dimension, including their views on climate change.

The Article is divided into three parts. Part I reviews my 2009 thesis and focuses on what I got wrong. After all, I might as well confess those errors up front and not beat around the bush. Part II addresses the literal elephant in the room—the 2016 election of Donald Trump as President of the United States—and contends that Trump’s election and his conduct since taking the oath of office are expressions of the super wicked nature of climate change. Or to say it a bit more provocatively, yes, President Trump is super wicked. (I feel better already.) Part III takes stock of where we are now by exploring how we can best address climate change in light of lessons learned since 2009. Our prospects today for addressing climate change are far less promising than I had hoped in 2009. Time is not costless in the fight against climate change, and each year since 2009 has further set us back.

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Richard J. Lazarus