Updated | May 7, 1:30 pm Donald Trump launched into a bizarre riff on Thursday night, denying climate science in remarks to West Virginia coal miners by comparing the regulation of their industry to the ban on something closer to his personal experience: aerosol hairspray.
After being presented with a miner’s helmet by the West Virginia Coal Association, an industry group that endorsed him, Trump briefly put it on to do a broad impression of a miner digging with a shovel. He then removed it and asked the crowd if the helmet had messed up his hair, which triggered a lengthy tangent on the good old days, before aerosols were phased out.
“My hair look okay?” Trump asked the crowd. “Got a little spray — give me a little spray.”
“You know, you’re not allowed to use hairspray anymore because if affects the ozone. You know that, right?” he said to laughter. “I said, ‘You mean to tell me’ — ’cause you know hairspray’s not like it used to be, it used to be real good,” he added, to more laughs. “Give me a mirror. But no, in the old days, you put the hairspray on, it was good. Today, you put the hairspray on, it’s good for 12 minutes, right?”
“I said, ‘Wait a minute — so if I take hairspray and if I spray it in my apartment, which is all sealed, you’re telling me that affects the ozone layer?'” “‘Yes.'” I say, no way, folks. No way!”
“No way!” he added to cheers. “That’s like a lot of the rules and regulations you people have in the mines, right? It’s the same kind of stuff.”
The regulation of mining in West Virginia, and elsewhere, might not be popular with the industry trade association that endorsed Trump, but it has helped to safeguard the health and save the lives of many of the workers in the mines. Just last week, the United Mine Workers of America hailed a move by the Department of Labor to better implement the Black Lung Benefits Act by giving miners “greater access to their health information, bolster the accuracy of claims decisions, and require coal mine companies to pay all disability or survivor’s benefits due,” a West Virginia news channel reported.
The coal industry group’s backing of Trump at the event was widely misreported by his supporters online as something like its opposite — the endorsement of a union representing miners.
Trump did indeed win over the coal companies’ trade group by promising to ease regulations on the industry. But the hairspray science that he was scoffing at is now well established.
In 1974, when F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina suggested that chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, in aerosol sprays then common in deodorants and hair care products had the potential to deplete the Earth’s ozone layer, aerosol manufacturers derided the hypothesis and sponsored a speaking tour by a professor who doubted that it was correct. There was enough validity to the underlying science, though, to lead the United States, Canada and Scandanavian countries to voluntarily end the use of CFCs in aerosol sprays in the late 1970s.
Rowland and Molina’s laboratory research was borne out over a decade later, when British scientists discovered that the stratospheric ozone layer, which blocks harmful ultraviolet rays, had developed a hole over Antarctica.
The finding led to the Montreal Protocol in 1987, an international environmental treaty to stop the production of the aerosol compounds. Although it is lumped in with a host of agreements endorsed by Democrats on right-wing talk radio, the negotiations that led to that accord were carried out by a Republican administration, and the treaty was enthusiastically endorsed by Ronald Reagan.
Even still, Reagan’s vice president and successor, George H.W. Bush, set the tone for the anti-science strain of Republican rhetoric in his failed bid for reelection in 1992, mocking Bill Clinton’s environmentalist running mate, Al Gore, as “ozone man.”
Three years later, in 1995, Rowland and Molina were awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, along with another researcher, Paul Crutzen.
Although the hairspray industry has managed to find other means of transmitting its product onto the heads of needy customers, Trump’s nostalgia for the days when America’s hairspray was great seems firmly set.
As the New York Times reported in December, he launched into a very similar riff then during a rally in South Carolina.
While it seems unlikely that even a President Trump would be able to restore America’s aerosol manufacturing industry to its former glory, there is some hope that his affection for hairspray could inspire him to be at least a little more even-handed in negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That’s because, as the Houston Chronicle reported in February, Trump is said to use a product, the CHI Helmet Head Extra Firm Hair Spray, developed and sold by a Palestinian immigrant, Farouk Shami. According to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, Shami, 73, lived briefly under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank after the 1967 war, before moving to Texas, where he has established the hair-care company that bears his name, Farouk Systems.
Shami said he first gave Trump the spray some years ago, during a visit to the set of ABC’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” and the two became friends.
When Trump launched his campaign by making disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants last year, however, Shami withdrew his company’s sponsorship of the show and beauty pageants then owned by the billionaire real estate heir.
“I have 2,000 employees who are Mexican,” Shami told the Chronicle. “I had to take up for them.”