TRAHANT REPORTS—It’s time for the Republican Party and its soon-to-be nominee Donald J. Trump making their best case for winning the White House and Congress.
This will not be an election where the color gray will be debated. The differences on issues between Republicans and Democrats are stark. Today convention delegates will vote on the party platform, the document that outlines the party’s stand on major issues. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, who is chairing the platform committee, told National Public Radio, “this was going to be a conservative platform, reflecting the views, and the values, and the vision of the Republican party, and I think we stayed true to that.”
So the draft of the document says the bible should be a guide when legislating and laws “must be consistent with God-given, natural rights.” The New York Times says the draft also encourages the teaching of the Bible in public schools because a good understanding of its contents is “indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry.”
According to the Times, Trump’s operators have not played much of a role in the writing of the platform at all. That said: “Another tweak to the platform’s language on immigration will also please Mr. Trump: Though the initial draft called for building a “physical barrier” along the United States border with Mexico, that passage was amended yesterday to call specifically for a wall.”
Republican platforms often include statements of policy on federal-Indian policy. And much of the party’s focus right now is on energy policy. Trump said in Montana and North Dakota this summer that he would remove barriers to oil and coal production to create more jobs.
Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, will speak at the convention. “In communities like Colstrip and other small communities, coal and other natural resources are the only answer,” Zinke said last month. “For the great coal nation of the Crow, there’s treaties. The treaties specifically state the United States shall not interfere with their destiny if they choose to mine their coal. As a sovereign nation they have every right to export their coal as they choose. But when the government gets in the way, as we have done, we have violated a treaty.”
In this election cycle, Republicans are carrying the banner for more coal. As the draft platform puts it: Coal is “an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource.”
The problem, however, is that a Republican victory will not bring coal markets back to life. Natural gas is cheaper. Shipping coal to China is problematic (and Chinese consumption is declining anyway) plus every day more renewable sources come on line. The future is doing something else instead of coal as the “only answer.” And, if a kicker is needed, it’s this: Northwest tribes have also asserted their treaty rights to fish for salmon. In waters that are not polluted by coal dust. (Previous: The power of what if? Paying tribes to leave coal in the ground.)
Another draft plank in the Republican platform impacts treaty rights and that’s the call for Congress to “immediately pass universal legislation providing the timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to the states.”
As Oregon Public Broadcasting puts it: That’s a message with a familiar tone. “Throughout the refuge occupation, Ammon Bundy and other militant leaders said that the federal government had no right to control public lands.”
Tribal rights to hunt and fish on public lands are often included, yes, even, specifically in treaty language. So any transfer of those lands ought to go to the tribes whose land it was first. As a resolution by the National Congress of American Indians says: Federal lands should be “considered for disposal or transfer to the nearest federally recognized Indian tribe for direct sale at the appraised value prior to subjecting such land to the competitive bidding process.”
Then that’s not the only troubling idea that will be debated Monday. As The New York Times said: “… nearly every provision that expressed disapproval of homosexuality, same-sex marriage or transgender rights passed. The platform calls for overturning the Supreme Court marriage decision with a constitutional amendment and makes references to appointing judges ‘who respect traditional family values.’” Plus just about every cause that the most conservative elements of the party think critical.
How important are party platforms? Are they treaties with voters?
“As a rule, platforms don’t seem to matter much,” wrote Dan Balz in The Washington Post. “Few voters will search, find and read through the many pages of party doctrine — for either the Republicans or the Democrats, whose newly drafted platform reflects a significant left turn. Trump, as with some other previous nominees, will probably ignore it and carry on his campaign as he wishes. The document will be presented early next week, ratified and put on a shelf.”
Still this document reflects the many divisions that are found in today’s Republican Party. Instead of looking for solutions, say, on climate change, perhaps including practical, conservative approaches, the document reduces governing to slogans. There is no climate change, only coal. This reflects the best GOP case.
Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports.