By Jack Brownfield
A couple weeks ago, President Trump announced that his administration would not remove the current ban on importing elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. Trump’s statement came after widespread and bipartisan outcry over the proposed change from the Interior Department. The incident was a perfect example of common sense and decency transcending America’s partisan divide, and it shows that almost everyone can still agree on questions of pointless cruelty. Can those looking to pressure the administration on other policies learn something from the episode?
The anger at the administration’s proposed change originated with those on the left. Conservation groups were unsurprisingly opposed to allowing trophy importation from those two countries. While some have argued that trophy hunting actually aids conservation efforts by giving African governments funding to protect their biodiversity, groups like the Humane Society International are unconvinced. Zimbabwe’s government, for example, is extremely corrupt, and it is doubtful if much revenue actually ends up helping elephant populations. Instead, countries that have banned trophy hunting altogether, like Botswana, have many more elephants than those which permit it. Conservationists argue that any measures that expand trophy hunting, like allowing trophy importation, will only decrease the number of elephants.
The swift public reaction to the original proposed change suggests that most Americans agree with the conservationists. Liberals and environmentalists like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) predictably opposed the measure, but so did conservatives like media personality Laura Ingraham and Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif). President Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, also advocated to keep the importation ban. This diverse group of opponents quickly changed Trump’s mind, and he soon tweeted that trophy hunting was “a horror show” and that the proposed change would be delayed. Bipartisan outrage was able to create change to reflect the will of a broad swathe of the American people. If only conservation groups or liberals had supported the ban, it seems unlikely that Trump would have been moved. But since the calls came from across the political spectrum and even from within his own family, they were harder to ignore. Americans of every political persuasion recognized that trophy hunting is senseless and cruel, and that we should do what we can to minimize it, not increase its prevalence.
The lesson for the future is that political pressure is more effective when it is bipartisan and when it incorporates diverse voices. In a democracy, the causes which enjoy the most widespread support are the likeliest to be acted upon. Support by just a small group, no matter how righteous or fervent, is unlike to change the opinion of someone on the outside. But sustained pressure from across the political spectrum forces politicians to yield to the basic demands of conscious and common sense. Unfortunately, many issues are not as clear cut as elephant trophies. To compromise, and to create effective change, we must find ways to bring different people into our causes even when we have disagreements.
Jack Brownfield is a sophomore in the College studying English and Government and writes about domestic social and cultural issues.