Imperfect Isolation

Donald Trump made his much anticipated statement yesterday that he would be withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement. Much has already been said about the impending doom of not addressing climate change. To this end, I will try not to add further outrage to an already burning bonfire. What I wish to discuss here are the implications for the U.S. as, perhaps the only existing world super-power.

It can be difficult to parse what Trump thinks the role of the U.S. is in the world. Indeed, it can be difficult to parse what Trump thinks about anything. His statements and stances often change, sometimes mid sentence; and his actions often appear to be influenced by the person that he last spoke to. However, I think it is worth suggesting that Trump views the U.S. as exceptional. This isn’t to say that he thinks we are the shining city on the hill, as Reagan spoke of. No, I think Trump views the U.S. as above and separate from the rest of the world.

Trump is, by his own admission, a political neophyte, and again, by his own admission, he only knows what he reads on the internet. From this we can surmise that Trump is breathtakingly ignorant of the role of the U.S. in any and all international agreements. He does not seem to understand that a large share of the U.S.’s success in becoming a, perhaps the, super-power is due to our engagement with our allies, and our leadership, imperfect and inconsistent though it may be. Indeed, Trump seems to completely misunderstand, perhaps even be hostile to, the idea that the U.S. has made many commitments since the end of the Second World War, and that through the follow up of those commitments, we have established ourselves as leaders in the areas of stability, security, morality, and strength; to name but a few.

Trump seems to think, or at least wants his followers to think, that all these commitments have weakened the United States. To be sure, we do spend money on foreign aid. We do offer our troops for protection, and intervention. But a large portion of the rationale behind that, which has borne a great deal of success, is that these are strategic interests. When it comes to spreading democracy, or influencing a nation’s decisions to join the west, it is not through bombs that we make great strides. It is through showing that we, the United States, are a country that cares, and are men of our word. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement, on the heels of his embarrassing Big Day Out in Europe, send the signal that this is no longer true.

By withdrawing from Paris, an agreement that, unlike, say NATO, is totally nonbinding in a legal sense; and by making a show of it (Big announcement at 3 p.m. EST/ 2 Central), Trump has not only signaled to the other world leaders and their respective nations that the United States is not serious about our commitments, but that we may not be trusted to make any commitments ever again. This was a deal that was years in the making, and has the backing of nearly every major and minor nation on Earth. By withdrawing, we join the ranks of Nicaragua and Syria. Syria kind of has their own thing going on right now, so I don’t really fault them for not joining. Nicaragua, to their credit, declined to sign on because to them, the agreement didn’t go far enough. Yes, in the area of climate science, we can only hope to be as progressive as Nicaragua.

But this is less about the acceptance of climate science, a subject that only the Republican Party of the United States has a problem with. This is about the abdication of American leadership, and the reneging of a promise. Trump may wish to take an America First stance, for whatever that means. Nothing about backing out will bring back coal, a dying industry. It will not save the jobs that even Carrier is still going to get rid of (which they announced before the ink was dry on that deal). It will not even place America First. There may be something to be said for putting your own interests first in a great compromise. Indeed, it is even to some extent admirable that one should want to protect their own people. However, the backing out of this deal will accomplish none of those things. Trump’s actions will not only not serve the people of this country in any measurable way, but they will work towards the detriment of this country. This deal will make sure that America is last.

As with the pulling out of TPP, this action not only signals to other nations that America can no longer be trusted on its word, but it also abdicates leadership to other countries. China, for instance, will now be the super-power in Pacific dealings. This will have great ramifications for our economy and our ability to trade with other nations. In this latest action, Trump has abdicated leadership in energy production to Europe. He has weakened the alliance between the United States and Europe, which is and always has been, since the end of the Second World War, a geopolitical goal of the Kremlin. Further, given the hard-on that Trump seems to have about ending or undoing anything even remotely related to the Obama era, Russian influences aside, one can surmise that this action is not only short-sighted, but borne out of pettiness.

Yesterday Trump not only hurt America, and the western world, but he did so out of total ignorance, and spite. This is not leadership. It never was. It never will be.

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