President Donald Trump was at it again Tuesday, battling the NFL over players standing for the national anthem and continuing his Twitter war with an influential Republican senator. That diverts attention from his administration's steady dismantling of protections for women, equal rights for the LGBT community and efforts to combat climate change. The president who as a candidate criticized President Barack Obama for changing policy by executive authority has adopted the same approach. The difference is Trump is turning back the clock to an era that was more discriminatory and less enlightened.
Within the last week, the damage has been significant. The administration issued new rules that immediately made it harder for women to get birth control by making it easier for employers to refuse to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives. One of the key provisions of the Affordable Care Act required most employers to provide workers with birth control coverage without co-payments. Unable to repeal the health care law, Trump simultaneously chips away at its benefits and tries to starve it to death.
There already were plenty of accommodations to allow for religious objections regarding birth control coverage. The Obama administration exempted churches, then created an opt-out for religious nonprofits. Then the Supreme Court's wrongheaded 2014 opinion in the Hobby Lobby case allowed closely held for-profit companies to deny contraceptive coverage. Now the Trump rule expands even that loophole by allowing essentially any business or organization to opt out without notifying the government by merely citing a religious or moral objection. Even a work-around created by the Obama administration to allow workers to get coverage directly from insurers at no cost is now optional. This is nothing but a full assault on the ability of women to access birth control.
If that left any doubt that the Trump administration will allow religious freedom to supersede other rights, Attorney General Jeff Sessions erased it. He issued a sweeping memo that declares "to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government activities, including employment, contracting and programming.'' That essentially invites both individuals and organizations to cite religious beliefs to defend discriminatory behavior, and it comes after the administration has sided with a baker in a U.S. Supreme Court case over the baker's refusal to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.
This week, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt moved to repeal an Obama administration rule aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants and declared, "The war against coal is over.'' The established science about carbon dioxide emissions contributing to global warming never has been accepted by Pruitt, who joined a lawsuit against the regulation when he was Oklahoma attorney general. The rule has been tied up in the courts, and now the Trump administration is determined to kill it with no plan to of its own to address global warming. This won't save the coal industry, and ignoring climate change won't make it go away.
Trump may steal the spotlight with his sideshows. Congress may be gridlocked. But while too few Americans are watching, hard-won victories for women, gay people and the environment are being steadily erased by the administration. The president who promised to return the nation to an earlier era is following through — except that era wasn't nearly as wonderful for everyone as he imagines.