Veganism, at its essence, is the recognition that all animals have the right to bodily integrity. Humans do not own the bodies, families or lives of other animals – we can be guardians to animals in need of rescue, but animals are never our property or commodities.
Donald Trump has demonstrated, over and over again, that he sees animals only as obstacles to be cleared or resources to be used to serve corporate interests and generate maximum profits.
But his actions don’t reveal a detached view of other species as objects or commodities so much as a seething contempt – for the natural world, for animals and for anyone trying to protect them.
Putting animal haters in charge
At every turn, Trump has placed people who actively oppose animal welfare, wildlife and environmental protection in leadership roles at the agencies responsible for carrying out those protections. Not surprisingly, this fox-guarding-the-hen-house strategy has resulted in dire consequences for animals and their habitat.
In 2016 he selected Brian Klippenstein, executive director of a particularly vile organization called Protect the Harvest, to serve as senior advisor to the USDA – the agency charged with safeguarding animals used in commerce.
Protect the Harvest exists to “save the agricultural industry from the growing threat of the radical animal rights movement” by lobbying against animal welfare legislation, supporting ag-gag bills and promoting animal commoditization in all forms – including circuses, rodeos, dog and horse racing, horse carriages, puppy mills and horse slaughter.
One of the group’s campaigns aims to soothe consumers’ growing concern regarding confined animal feeding operations by assuring the public that factory farming is just a “fictional concept created by activists.”
Next, Trump chose to appease animal agriculture and fossil fuel industry elites by putting climate change denier Scott Pruitt in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency – a move that led to the rollback of several critical climate and pollution regulations, along with the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
Pruitt, once honored with an award for his contribution to the success of the beef cattle industry, has described himself as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” and “a big fan of beef.”
Though he resigned in 2018 under the weight of numerous legal and ethics investigations, EPA leadership continues to prioritize industry demands over keeping the country’s air and water clean. In March the agency used the COVID-19 chaos as a cover to release polluting industries from monitoring and reporting requirements.
Perhaps the most stunning hire Trump made was William Perry Pendley, a former oil and gas attorney he installed to wreak havoc on the Bureau of Land Management. That’s the agency charged with conserving public lands – such as national parks – in 11 Western states and Alaska.
Pendley, who spent the bulk of his career lobbying for oil companies’ rights to drill in pristine wilderness, does not believe public lands should exist at all.
He has joked on video about illegally killing and burying endangered animals, and tweeted that climate change is like a unicorn because “neither exists.” He also has a grotesque obsession with eradicating wild horses and burros – insisting that they (rather than cattle grazing or resource extraction) represent an “existential threat” to public lands.
A judge recently ruled that Pendley’s service violates the Constitution because he was never confirmed by the Senate, but so far he has refused to leave his post.
Denying farmed animals space to move
While the average consumer may believe an organic label on meat and dairy products indicates humane treatment, in many cases it means nothing of the kind. Popular mid-sized chicken producer Organic Valley allows its birds only five square feet of space each – less than one-eighth of the room European chickens have.
But a 2016 USDA rule would have required organic producers to provide chickens with enough open space to move around and stretch their wings, and give cows and pigs 24/7 access to an outdoor area.
The new regulation would have helped smaller farms that could more easily comply, but because it could have disadvantaged large industrial farms that pack up to 180k birds into one building, the Trump administration delayed the rule’s implementation several times and finally withdrew it altogether.
Forcing slaughter plants to kill faster
Time is money, and moving more animals through the slaughter line per minute means more profits for the meat industry. It also means less oversight, more mistakes, and greatly increased animal suffering.
The Trump administration removed line speed limits for many chicken and pig processers, and has begun to do the same for cow slaughterhouses. The new rule also allows untrained workers, rather than federal inspectors, to ensure the plants are complying with humane handling and food safety protocols.
Compassion Over Killing (now Animal Outlook) took undercover video at a Hormel supplier that was piloting the new policy and killing an additional 120 pigs per hour. The horrifying footage showed animals who were not effectively stunned wounded and writhing in agony, and others reaching the kill floor with obvious dripping and infected pustules.
Trump’s new line speeds mean 11.5 million more pigs will suffer and die in U.S. slaughterhouses each year.
Failing to enforce animal cruelty laws
Once Trump’s new USDA leadership was in place, the agency promptly removed all animal welfare records from its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website – which prevented welfare organizations, activist groups and the public from viewing abuse citations and monitoring animals used by exhibitors (like circuses, marine mammal parks and roadside zoos), breeding operations and research facilities.
USDA Animal Care inspectors were told to fundamentally change the way they worked with animal industries. Their job was to help businesses avoid violations, not to protect animals and enforce the law.
The agency’s new mission was laid bare in a shocking Washington Post article that led with 300 raccoons cooking alive in 117-degree heat at a fur farm, inspectors who tried to rescue them, and a subsequent order from the Trump administration to put the animals back.
Sadly, several inspectors and veterinarians who were unable to do their jobs simply quit – and left the animals with even less hope.
The USDA has been carrying out fewer inspections and issuing fewer citations for animal welfare violations. From 2016 to 2018 the number of citations declined from 4,944 to 1,700, and the number of enforcement cases plummeted by 92%.
The Trump administration said there were so few cases because the agency was doing such a good job educating the industry about proper animal care. But former Animal Care veterinarian William Stokes said the inspection process was broken, and “untold numbers” of animals were suffering as a result.
Another dubious policy the Trump administration instituted allows animal businesses and labs to police themselves by voluntarily reporting their own violations. Most self-reported violations, should they ever even occur, will never be recorded or made available to the public – even if they result in an animal’s death.
Pandering to thrill killers
Donald Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr. are well-known trophy hunting enthusiasts who enjoy slaughtering exotic animals and posing triumphantly next to carcasses.
While Trump has said he has no interest in hunting himself, he nonetheless created the misleadingly named International Wildlife Conservation Council as a favor to family, friends, and other wealthy Americans willing and able to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to gleefully kill critically endangered rhinos, lions and elephants.
The secretive council, composed of Safari Club International members like John Jackson III who admits to slaying more than a dozen bull elephants, was funded with taxpayer dollars and classified as a ‘wildlife protection’ advisory body.
Because it’s a violation of federal law for a government council to blatantly serve special interests, the IWCC was disbanded after a few years. But one of its main goals was achieved – it’s now easier for hunters to bring endangered animal remains into the United States. Trophy import decisions are made by the administration on a case-by-case basis and behind closed doors.
Pushing threatened species to extinction
We know that the earth is in the midst of a biodiversity crisis. Species were dying out at an unprecedented rate before the 2016 election due to pollution, habitat destruction and climate change.
But it’s not an overstatement to say Trump has declared all-out war on threatened animals. His administration has worked diligently to dismantle the Endangered Species Act – the landmark conservation law passed in 1973 that saved iconic species like the gray wolf and bald eagle from extinction.
Trump has added the smallest number of species per year to the Federal Register (the list of plants and animals under federal protection) of any president in history. And his agencies have ignored the plight of nearly 250 distressed species waiting to be added to the Register for four agonizing years.
One of those species is the giraffe – a universally loved animal that now faces an uncertain future due to the government’s deliberate inertia. Incredibly, the U.S. still imports an average of one giraffe trophy per day, and allows the body parts to be made into pillows, shoes and bible covers for Americans to buy.
Last year the Department of the Interior issued new rules that now require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to base decisions on industry, economic or political interests rather than conservation, and instruct them not to consider the future impact of climate change in determining an animal’s status. This made it more difficult to add vulnerable species (notably polar bears, seals, whooping cranes and beluga whales) to the Register, and also made it easier to remove them.
Another disastrous change shifted responsibility for protecting at-risk animals to state and local governments, despite the fact that many of them lack the expertise, resources, legal structure or even the desire to do so.
When the FWS prematurely de-listed grizzly bears, Wyoming and Idaho wildlife officials seized the opportunity to sell special licenses to hunters – many of whom jumped at the chance to legally harvest a grizzly for the first time since 1991. Luckily for the bears a federal judge blocked the hunt mere hours before it would have begun, on the grounds that it could cause “irreparable harm” to the species.
Others species have not been so lucky. The Trump administration has been working hard for more than two years to lift endangered species protections for gray wolves in the U.S. by the end of 2020. Their delisting, which a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services calls “very imminent,” would allow trophy hunting and trapping of gray wolves in all lower 48 states.
“This disgusting proposal would be a death sentence for gray wolves across the country,” said Collette Adkins, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Trump administration is dead set on appeasing special interests [notably the livestock industry] that want to kill wolves. We’re working hard to stop them.”
Trump and his collaborators have continued to hack away at the ESA while the country is reeling from the pandemic. A proposal published last month would place new limits on habitat that can be defined as critical.
Allowing industry to devastate bird populations
There are approximately three billion fewer birds in North America today than there were just 50 years ago, and most of the species that remain are now endangered as the effects of climate change ravage their habitats.
Nonetheless, the Trump administration has attempted to substantially weaken the Migratory Bird Treaty Act – an essential protection law that has been in effect for more than 100 years.
The change would have protected bird-killing industries from criminal prosecution – as long as the deaths they caused could be categorized as ‘unintentional.’
Even companies responsible for catastrophic environmental events like oil spills would not face any consequences for wiping out hundreds of thousands of birds. This means the industry would have no incentive to cover toxic waste pits, mark power lines, and find or develop other solutions that keep birds safe.
Blasting marine life with toxic noise
In 2018 the Trump administration issued federal permits to fossil fuel companies planning to blast compressed air guns across 200,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean in an effort to locate oil and gas reserves.
The seismic surveys produce constant and excruciatingly loud (16,000 times louder than a typical air horn) noise, and can deafen, injure or kill whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life.
The blasting could spell disaster for critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, who use sound to find food, navigate and communicate with each other.
Environmental groups and coastal communities fought the administration’s decision in court for two years, and the permits will expire at the end of November.
Destroying Alaska’s wild places
Every tree is a home, and every wild place we cut away means less safe space for animals and more damage from climate change.
Still the Trump administration opted to open 1.6 million acres of the Coastal Plain in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – where endangered polar bears and caribou roam – to oil and gas companies in August, and now he intends to allow industrial logging in one of the only remaining old-growth forests in the world.
Though 98% of Alaskans oppose logging in the Tongass Forest, which scientists have deemed the “lungs of the country,” the Department of Agriculture announced that it will move ahead – explaining that its decision was made for political reasons.
A word about the federal animal cruelty ban
There is a lot of confusion around this broadly-titled legislation. The PACT (Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture) Act, which Trump signed into law last year, makes animal abuse committed in the process of producing ‘crush’ videos (which were banned in 2010) a federal crime, and helps ensure that those crimes can be prosecuted. While any victory for animals is worth celebrating, the scope and significance of this particular law have been wildly overstated. In reality, it fails to impact, much less protect, most animals. In fact, it specifically excludes criminalizing abuses committed against animals used in breeding, medical research, and animal agriculture industries, or in activities such as fishing, trapping, or hunting; the arenas where 99% of cruelty to animals in the U.S. actually occurs.
Furthermore, as author Andrew Kirschner has noted, “Trump doesn’t deserve credit for the law. It was a bipartisan effort approved with unanimous consent, contained a republican co-sponsor, and has no lobby opposing it. If Trump didn’t sign it, Congress would’ve easily overrode his veto so his signature was purely decorative. It didn’t take any courage because the law doesn’t impact his core constituencies that harm animals like the animal agriculture and fossil fuel industries. It was a perfunctory step…”
Trump’s record speaks for itself
This article does not come close to listing every harmful tactic Trump and his administration have used to undermine or nullify animal and environmental protections. And many of their most egregious assaults have been met with multi-plaintiff lawsuits that stretched into years. Thankfully, several of those lawsuits were successful.
But the pattern is clear, and the damage has already been done – in part because so many animal rights, animal welfare, wildlife advocacy, food safety and environmental organizations have been forced to spend the last four years fighting to save or regain the most basic common-sense protections that should never have been threatened in the first place. The limited resources – like time, money and mental energy – that could and should have been used to develop innovative climate solutions, transition livestock farmers to sustainable plant-based agriculture, remove plastics from the ocean, and save the red wolf from extinction, just to name a few – were instead consumed by efforts to hang onto minimal regulations and ward off complete catastrophe.
True animal advocates must must judge Donald Trump by his actions toward animals. And his actions prove, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that Trump’s leadership is an unprecedented disaster for animals, indeed for all life on this planet.”
Trump’s Impact on Animals