Donald Trump is making a death bet on climate change. The president is 70 years old and he just doesn’t care about what the world will be like three decades from now. By 2050 he, personally, will be gone, so why should he care about anyone or anything in a future that he will not, personally, live to see?
The idea of a death bet is as vile as it is simple. Live large and indulge yourself, free of all responsibility, paying for it all with debt that won’t come due until after you, personally, are dead. This screws over your heirs, and your creditors, and everyone else who is not you. But, hey, what do you care? You’ll be dead.
Most non-sociopaths find such reasoning reprehensible because most non-sociopaths find “screw everybody else” to be an ugly, ignoble and immoral principle to live by. Even many otherwise self-centered and self-absorbed people tend to avoid the solipsistic monstrosity of a death bet because they retain some measure of concern for their own, personal children.
Donald Trump apparently doesn’t. Or, maybe — best-possible-interpretation — maybe he just imagines he’ll be able to amass enough plunder to bequeath to his preferred children that they’ll be able to equip themselves for the harsher world he leaves behind.
Or maybe he’s just really this dumb. Maybe a man with the apparent attention span of a goldfish just isn’t capable of imagining tomorrow, let alone a year from now, or 10 years from now, or the seventh generation.
But it’s not just Donald Trump making the death bet of climate-change denial. He has the support on this of millions of white evangelical Christians. They don’t care about climate change because they believe the world is about to end anyway. They’re not making a death bet so much as, in their minds, a “Rapture” bet: Can you imagine, Rayford? Jesus coming back to get us before we die!
This isn’t quite as brazenly immoral and selfish as Trump’s death bet. He doesn’t care about what the world will be like in 50 years because he doesn’t care about anything he does not personally experience. These Rapture-Christians don’t care about what the world will be like in 50 years because they don’t believe the world will still be here then. They’re sure it won’t. They’re sure the Rapture is imminent — that it will occur any day, any moment, maybe even before you finish reading this …
… sentence. (Oh well, maybe next time.)
But for this belief to be exculpatory — for us to regard this “Rapture bet” as less evil than Trump’s death bet — it would need to be wholly in good faith and utterly sincere. And I’m not convinced that it is. Their purported certainty about the imminence of the Rapture is too inconsistent — too variable, conditional, and flexible in its application.
Ask them about climate change and they’ll assure you there’s no need to worry about famine and flood in 2050, because they’re “certain” that Jesus is coming back before then. Ask them about their teenage child’s plans to major in art history or theater arts and they’ll give you a very different outlook.
Or just consider the way, say, Rapture-preacher John Hagee is grooming his son to take over his family ministry to ensure that it continues for another generation. Or, more cynically, look at the way these Rapture-preachers and Rapture-believers invest for their own retirements. They’re hedging their Rapture bet when it comes to their own future, but not when it comes to a future they imagine will only affect the lives of other people they don’t personally know.
That puts a pious sheen on Trump’s blasphemously selfish death bet, but ultimately it’s not really all that different.