As President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team starts to make key nomination in Cabinet positions, nothing has been publicly announced about the country’s transportation future. But a few new details that have emerged about Trump’s so-called “infrastructure plan” are deeply troubling to advocates who were hoping it might fund forward-thinking, clean-energy transportation solutions.
In The Hollywood Reporter, Michael Wolff gets the first post-election interview with Stephen K. Bannon, the Breitbart executive and noted alt-right ringleader who is now one of Trump’s most senior White House advisors. (He’s not a white nationalist, Bannon tells Wolff, he’s an economic nationalist. Uh, okay. He also says he roots for Darth Vader.)
In the interview, Bannon tells Wolff that Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan was his idea:
“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” he says. “It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution—conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”
The “jacked up” construction industry Bannon mentions would be the result of the administration’s plan to incentivize infrastructural development through tax breaks, something that would prioritize revenue-generating projects in wealthy areas and be devastating to less profitable ones in poorer communities. In fact, one of Obama’s Recovery Act advisors calls it “a trap.”
Then there’s notion that this will all be “as exciting in the 1930s” is likely a nod to the Works Progress Administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s comprehensive construction-focused economic recovery program that lifted the country of out of the Great Depression. Again, a very different type of infrastructure-building program, with a very different goal.
But the fact that Bannon specifically mentions “ship yards, iron works”—terms right out of that Andrew Jackson era he references—is certainly indicative of what types of fossil-fueled infrastructure he has in mind. The U.S. only has six major ship yards still in operation, which almost exclusively build military vessels and oil tankers.
We don’t need more ships, we need cleaner, more efficient solutions for transporting goods, which has now become the fastest-growing contributor to global emissions. We also need infrastructure to protect the country from the deadly effects of climate change, something Bannon doesn't believe in.
This, after all, is a man who built his career on disseminating climate conspiracies.
Could good transportation leadership make this prospect somewhat less terrifying? Road lobbyist Martin Whitmer was apparently heading up the administration’s transportation efforts, but earlier this week, all lobbyists were supposedly given the boot from the transition team.
Now, the transition is being handled by Shirley Ybarra, former analyst for the Reason Foundation, who may put herself in the running for Secretary of Transportation. The Reason Foundation is best known in transportation circles for a $700 billion plan to fix Los Angeles traffic by making more room for more cars—widening roads, digging tunnels, and halting all public transportation expansion.
At least one representative, Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego, was already speaking out against Trump’s plan, while some transportation leaders, including former Obama officials, were hopeful that the Department of Transportation might be a place where the country could see a bipartisan pick.
If indeed the trillion-dollar plan Trump has put forward was engineered by an “economic nationalist” who denies climate change and has espoused xenophobic views, be alarmed: That progressive, equitable approach to infrastructure now seems like false hope.