We’ll Always Have Paris
Donald Trump Deals Away America’s Prestige, and His Own Position
In terms of both domestic politics and international affairs, our president is painting himself into a terribly tight corner.
So this week, he warns us, the president is going to announce his decision on whether the United States will remain a party to the Paris climate accord. I guess the delay is meant to dupe us into believing that he’s been studying the substance of the issue.
I think we all expect that he’ll pull the United States out of the agreement, signed by 195 nations (and unsigned by just Nicaragua and Syria, if you want an idea of the company Donald Trump would be putting us in). Indeed Axios reported Monday that Trump has already told several associates that he’s giving it the heave-ho. The thin reed of hope here is that a slew of major U.S. corporations—including the CEO of Exxon!—have told him to stay in Paris.
So maybe there’s the slimmest of chances that he might pleasantly surprise us. But come on. He knows he’d have a mutiny on his hands if he doesn’t reject the accord. The three key elements of the Republican Party these days are the hardest-right members of Congress (look, for example, at how the House Republicans rewrote the health bill to placate the Freedom Caucus); Rush Limbaugh and the other media propagandists, and the rabid pro-Trump base. Each of these overlapping groups would be enraged if Trump stuck with Paris.
As a matter of politics, he’s already lost more or less the entire country except for these people. If he starts losing them—by doing things like coming around to Barack Obama’s position on climate change—they’ll start thinking the words “President Pence” sound just fine. And they, unlike the rest of us, have the power to make it happen.
So let’s assume that by week’s end the United States is out of the Paris accords. There are two contexts in which we need to understand the gravity of the moment.
The first is the domestic political context. Republicans will be hailing this as a great victory for the American people, who don’t want to be bound by these onerous and heavy-handed international treaties. However, the truth as far as we can discern is that the American people do in fact want to be bound by these treaties.
First of all, most Americans believe that climate change is a real problem that the human race has caused or contributed to and must do something about. Gallup found a little more than a year ago that public concern about climate change was at an eight-year high. Fully 64 percent said they worried about climate change, and nine in 10 said the effects are either now being felt or will certainly be felt in the future, leaving the hoax dead-enders at 10 percent of the population (but about 52 percent of the Congress; oh well).
Which brings us to the Paris agreement. It hasn’t been polled much, but last November the Chicago Council on Global Affairs commissioned a survey that found that 71 percent of Americans—and even 57 percent of Republicans—back the accord.
In other words, the GOP position is deeply unpopular. So if Trump moves in the expected direction, it will lower his own popularity, and the congressional GOP’s. Pretty much every major item on the GOP agenda, from getting out of Paris to repealing Obamacare to giving the rich more tax cuts, is wildly unpopular. Yet they keep doing it, and keep wondering why they’re so unpopular. It’s not complicated. They are carrying out the will of their huge donors and about a third at best of the population. So the political fallout for them will be negative, and that of course is all to the good.
In the second context, however, the political fallout is likely to be extremely harmful to the United States. I refer of course to the international context. We saw Trump complete a disastrous overseas trip, which started with him outing the Mossad, built toward his alarming non-defense of NATO, and ended with this puffy and low-energy old man unable to join his fellow heads-of-state and walk a few hundred feet.
That was funny, in a pathetic sort of way. But Angela Merkel’s speech in southern Germany Sunday wasn’t funny. As Henry Farrell observed in The Washington Post, Merkel’s rhetoric about the EU needing to go its own way was a stark departure from the past, indicating that “Germany and Europe are likely to take on a much more substantial and independent role than they have in the past 70 years.”
To hear American conservatives—and Trump—tell it, the EU is a hidebound and sclerotic institution that can’t approve golf courses fast enough. But guess which economy is bigger, the EU or the United States? In 2016, China was first, the EU second, and America third.
To those of you who say that getting out of Paris will unleash the American tiger, I say stop reading InfoWars. There’s a reason the Exxon CEO wants us to stay in. It’s called a global marketplace in which the rules are standardized. For the United States of America, which has led every major international concert since World War II, to stand down from that role and go its own way is humiliating and, more to the point, self-marginalizing. The Paris agreement expands markets, creates new energy technologies, and spurs growth. We’re really going to say we want no part of that, are we?
And just imagine how it will feel three years from now, say, when there’s another major international accord of some kind, and the two people standing up front are Angela Merkel and Xi Jinping, with the president of the United States absent. Donnie Two Scoops will be down in Palm Beach, tweeting away, eating his favorite dessert. And the world will be eating our lunch.