Donald Trump Tilting at Windmills: A Long Fight, Explained

Donald Trump arrives in Indianapolis December 1. Battling the wind in the photo, Trump also has a longstanding fight against wind turbines. Mike Segar/Reuters

He is an unserious man—one who exists in a universe constructed in his mind, the choices he makes dictated by a reality invisible to the world around him. Everything that he believes is outdated, tied to a past that the culture-at-large gladly buried long ago.

I'm talking, of course, about Miguel de Cervantes's classic protagonist, Don Quixote.

There's a famous passage in the novel Don Quixote, published in two parts in the early 17th century, in which the hero jousts with—or tilts at—windmills. You see, Don Quixote believes he is a knight, the last of a dying breed preserving the chivalrous code. In reality, he has lost his mind and the knights died off long ago. Regardless, while out on an adventure, Don Quixote spots these "monstrous giants" and tells his oft-befuddled compatriot Sancho Panza that it is his duty to battle them—and, of course, to take their riches.

His pal Sancho replies: "What you see over there aren't giants—they're windmills; and what seems to be arms are the sails that rotate the millstone when they're turned by the wind." But Don Quixote is unmoved by reality, and, in turn, fights the windmills.

The phrase "tilting at windmills" has since entered the lexicon as an expression used to describe one who battles imagined enemies, a person vigorously chasing down something despite reality's best efforts to dissuade him or her from the task.

Like many things, this brings us to President Donald Trump, who has—not quite literally, but almost literally—tiltled at windmills.

Trump, who Thursday announced the U.S. would back out of the landmark Paris accord that unified the world in fighting climate change, has long had a bone to pick with wind turbines. You've probably seen them somewhere: They're the hulking, stark-white, tri-bladed windmills that convert wind into electrical power.

While the wind turbines provide clean power, Trump has routinely battled them largely because he thought they looked unsightly next to his posh golf courses. He even took his fight against windmills all the way to the Britain's highest court. Trump lost.

But the fight didn't stop—not even after he won the election on November 8. Days later, Trump urged British allies to oppose the sorts of wind farms that would spoil his immaculate views.

As with most of his enemies, the president has tweeted—and tweeted often—about the wind turbines he so loathes. He has cited bird deaths, which do happen (at a far lower rate compared to things like cellphone towers), but some environmentalists say the benefits wind turbines provide with green energy would end up saving many more birds from global warming than they kill. He has said they cause health problems and, to be fair, some people who live or work in close proximity to turbines have described annoyance and issues like headaches, sleep disturbance and anxiety (many wind farms are offshore, however). He has claimed they have a warming effect on the climate (they do not). He has called them ugly. He even pleaded with Rachel Maddow and tweeted a link to the Huffington Post.

The now-president and the monstrous giants have been jousting for years in a fight much of the world has forgotten. Presented below is Trump tilting at windmills: