The Wall Has Been Built
This week, Donald Trump, with all the hype and fanfare of the Bachelorette announcing her decision, withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord. This agreement had taken years and an incredible degree of international cooperation to develop: every country in the world signed on, with the exception of two – Nicaragua and Syria. We now join those two nations as the world’s outliers.
The substance of Trump’s withdrawal is far less important than the symbolism. The other 194 countries will likely continue on with their efforts to reduce carbon emissions, as China, India, Germany, France, Italy and others vowed to do shortly after Trump’s speech. And even within the US, many major cities – including Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Chicago, Houston, Seattle, Philadelphia and Atlanta – immediately proclaimed that they would proceed as if the US were still part of the Paris Accord.
But the symbolism to the rest of the world of Trump’s announcement was deeply offensive: the wealthiest country in the world, one of the world’s top carbon emitters, the country that encouraged poor countries to make sacrifices and change their polluting ways to get on board with the Paris Accord, has now left the agreement, whining that it is too hard and not fair.
One particular sentence of Trump’s speech announcing America’s departure was particularly telling in its self-contradiction:
“Thus as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.”
– President Donald Trump
As Trump states, the agreement is, in fact, “non-binding.” Every participating nation voluntarily determines its own efforts and goals to collectively curb climate change. There is no punishment for failing to do any of it. Each nation can choose to revisit and modify their own goals and efforts every five years. By definition, there is nothing “draconian” about the agreement. It is about as coddling and permissive an arrangement as one could hope to find – for all nations involved, including the United States.
Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement will do little to help the unemployed American coal miners on whose shoulders he placed the justification for his decision. Coal is being increasingly replaced by natural gas and more environmentally friendly energy options, not because of the “draconian” Paris agreement, but because it makes financial sense. The President’s choice of loyalty to coal instead of investing in job training that could bring those coal miners into the new green economy – a future economy that even China is now pursuing with ever-increasing vigor – is foolish at best.
While the positive impact of Trump’s decision for American workers is doubtful, the impact for America in the international community is profound – and not good.
During his campaign and since taking office, Mr. Trump has been steadily eroding our relations with other countries. His speeches and his proposed wall on the Mexican border rightfully aroused the ire of our southern neighbors. His Muslim ban offended people not only in Arab nations, but people worldwide who saw the executive order for its bigotry, ignorance and cruelty. His first interaction with the Australian Prime Minister – a long-time American ally – was, in Trump’s own words, “testy.” His aggressive campaign rhetoric toward China and subsequent flip-flop has made him a source of ridicule in that country, while his installation of an anti-missile system in South Korea is seen by China as a provocation. His campaign suggestion that NATO was obsolete, and his subsequent assertion that it is relevant after all but its members are deadbeats, offended many European countries. His classified-information-sprinkled boasts to the Russians in the Oval Office outraged Israel and raised questions among America’s other traditional allies about the wisdom of continuing to share valuable intelligence with the United States, as did his informing the Philippine dictator that we had two nuclear submarines off the coast of North Korea. His erratic and factually challenged 6am tweets – a source of bewildered amusement for many Americans – have been viewed by other world leaders through a more serious framework.
All of these have been worrisome signs to the rest of the world about the trustworthiness, reliability and competence of the current occupant of the Oval Office. Yet, having looked for decades to the United States as the world’s leader and as a source of global stability, other nations were cautiously willing to hold out a glimmer of hope, taking a wary “wait and see” approach.
Mr. Trump’s Paris Accord withdrawal put an end to that.
It was the final nail in the coffin for America’s reputation as a solid partner and, more critically, for America’s position as the world’s leader. The announcement reverberated worldwide in issues far beyond climate change: the President told the world in that one speech that America will be basing its decisions on something other than reality, and that international agreements with the US are as meaningful, permanent and trustworthy as a drunken one night stand. The magnitude of this message to the world cannot be overstated.
Thursday, June 1, 2017 will be a day that all Americans should remember. It was the day when the rest of the world finally decided to give up on the United States, to shrug and move on; the day that the US President’s unfathomable shunning of global cooperation and of facts and science was seen as the arrogant and inept relinquishing of America’s credibility, respectability, and worthiness of being called a leader; the day that the world’s center of gravity shifted and key US allies realized that global military and economic alliances would need to change; the day that a black hole was left in place of what had already for many years admittedly been a questionable beacon of moral authority.
Thursday, June 1, 2017.
The response of other countries to Mr. Trump’s decision was reasonable, pragmatic and appropriate, and was best summed up by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who, after getting a preview of Trump’s climate change decision during his trip to Italy, stated that Germany and other European nations “really must take our fate into our own hands” and not rely on “others.” In other words, the US can no longer be relied upon as a steady ally, and, by extension, is becoming less relevant to Europe and the world.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said “The Paris Agreement is a hard-won outcome condensing the broadest consensus of the international community and setting up the direction and goals for global cooperative efforts to cope with climate change.”
Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Environment issued a joint statement that “Brazil is seriously concerned with the negative impact of such decision on the multilateral dialogue and cooperation to respond to global changes.”
Cliff Kupchan, Chairman of the New York-based Eurasia Group, posited that “Trump is creating the biggest transatlantic rift since the Iraq War, perhaps even since WWII. This leaves the U.S. exposed. If the Iran nuclear accord flounders, for example, Europe may well not end up on Trump’s side of a dangerous crisis.”
Whether Trump’s decisions have been influenced by an agenda cultivated by Russia or merely by ignorance and hubris is, in the end, unimportant: the result is a weakening of western powers and a degree of global destabilization that the world has not had to seriously consider in decades.
Who will step in to fill this vacuum of leadership? And upon what values or traits will that new leadership be based?
Since World War II, America and the west have led globally; other countries’ acceptance of us in that role has been based largely upon a belief that the US generally comes closer to doing “the right thing” than other countries might, that together the western nations form a powerful alliance, and that Americans can sometimes be swayed with pleas to our humanity.
Those kinds of values are not what world dominance has been based on for most of history. For the most part, leadership before World War II was rooted in brutal military might and international aggressiveness. We have long taken for granted, for example, that countries don’t regularly invade each other anymore.
Many countries seem more than happy to step into the leadership void that Donald Trump has left in America’s wake. China, a nation with a massive and powerful military and a longstanding desired to invade Taiwan, appears to be watching with interest. Russia, of course, is gleeful that a destabilized west means the prospect of reuniting the former Soviet nations. Germany, France, and other European nations may be drawn into a closer alliance as a result of the crisis created by the Trump Presidency.
As long as the US remains in the hands of an unstable, unreliable, fickle, selfish, easily duped, game-playing, prima donna drama queen President like Trump, it is an almost certainty that other nations will be unwilling to entrust the United States once again to lead the world. But even after this ugly chapter in American history is (hopefully) put behind us, America will need to prove to the world that we are once again worthy of their trust and respect, that we do in fact represent stability and consistency, that we think of others as well as ourselves, and that we keep our commitments. There are no guarantees that the world will believe it.
The wall has been built.
– rob rünt