So he did it. Donald Trump has pulled out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, thus refusing to abide by the clauses most of the world has signed up to. He has thus put the US in the same camp as Syria, which can’t very well stop a lot of carbon emissions at the moment, and Nicaragua, which has refused to sign for the opposite reason to Trump – it doesn’t think it goes far enough to protect countries affected by global warming, such as its own.
Trump does not believe that climate change is real, though some shocking distortion of biological reality must have turned his skin that colour. He also sees China getting away with not abiding by existing emissions agreements, and claims he wants to bring back all the old industrial jobs he believes have been lost to China. So it makes to sense to him that the US should be free to foul up the planet for everyone else in order to Make America Great Again.
What the President of the United States still does not seem to realise is that the world does not begin and end at the US borders. According to the rest of the world, America IS a great country. It is the only global superpower, and whatever problems it is experiencing it has resources to resolve them which most countries would beg to have. It also professes democracy, human rights, rule of law and many other values which people elsewhere often beg the US to introduce into their countries, as they are considered better than what they live under at present.
It is precisely because America is a great country that it has lost some of the old industrial jobs. It doesn’t make sense to pay American workers to do them, as they expect higher wages and better living standards. It is the US which wanted globalisation so it could expand into cheap labour markets and its own population could then reap greater rewards from capitalist growth. In theory, other countries will do the work and the US will ultimately enjoy the benefit, having earned it by being the engine of economic growth for so long.
All this makes the US the natural global leader. But Donald Trump, the man elected to “drain the swamp” of all the negative actions which have undermined America’s greatness for so long, doesn’t seem to get any of this. Not only is he surrounding himself with people buried even deeper in the swamp than the ones he sacked, he has constructed an entirely cynical government.
America is under constant threat from Muslims, Trump says, so he institutes travel bans on people from countries he considers Muslim, whoever the individuals affected might be. America is under constant economic threat from China, Trump says, so it has to ruin the environment to make its own industry competitive again, no matter how many die of the resultant devastation and poor working and living conditions.
Donald Trump thinks America is a very small country, which must always react instead of lead. When he took office, the rest of the world wondered why he thought that. But now it is beginning to take him at his word. Other countries are beginning to think that they do not need the once-mighty US if it is so weak and unimportant: even the EU, overextended politically and economically and supposedly reeling from Brexit, is politely telling Trump to go away.
Congratulations, Donald, you have indeed made America great again. You have made it a great big joke, and taken away its capacity to be anything else. You haven’t even been in the job six months. The question is whether the American people will sack you, or whether they will still have the time and resources to do it when this decision takes full effect.
One small step for a moron
In one sense Trump is right. Protecting the environment has become a generally accepted mantra despite the fact there is still some doubt about the science behind it. A moral content has been attached to this idea which has made countries feel they have to go along with it to avoid being called names by whoever the arbiters of political correctness are, something no one has ever seemed to know.
These are tried and tested “loony left” tactics. From Robespierre onwards self-declared “virtue”, which contradicts accepted understandings, has believed it can impose itself on people through terror, in accordance with the old Jesuit slogan, “the ends justify the means”. Whatever the realities of climate change, Trump has a point when he insists that the notion is part of an elitist “loony left” conspiracy imposed upon people from above, which the “ordinary people” he claims to represent should be protected from.
He has a point, that is, when it comes to discussing how the climate change movement conducts itself. He has no case when we consider the “ordinary people” who are suffering from the effects of global warming: the people who die of heatstroke in places which never used to see sustained levels of such heat, the ones who lose their homes through floods and storms which global warming has made more common, and the millions of sufferers of pollution-related diseases. These are Americans, as well as people in faraway countries Trump doesn’t think he has a responsibility for.
Former California Governor Arnold Schwazenegger is not known for being a woolly liberal who jumps on the bandwagon of trendy causes. As a fellow Republican who made his reputation as a tough guy actor, you would imagine he would be the first stand up to climate change bullies, as this was part of his appeal to the electorate as well as moviegoers.
Yet Schwarzenegger has consistently backed environmental measures. He frequently claims that California has both the strictest environmental standards in the US and the highest economic growth, simultaneously. These measurements depend on what metrics you use, but no one seems to be rebutting these claims, and Arnold isn’t really going to come in with all his muscles and sort them out for disagreeing with him.
The day after Trump’s decision Schwarzenegger made a video denouncing it. In this he points out that people prefer living in the certainties of the past rather than the uncertainties of the future. He might have added that nostalgia for the old days of heavy industry is part of the same loony left elitist conspiracy: we are frequently reminded of the glories of full employment and working class culture and community, but not the poverty, disease and deprivation that went with them, the very factors which created a separate “working class” and “working class culture” in industrialised countries.
Yet Trump is preying on this nostalgia to present himself as the champion of the people. In his world view, this mythical past was when America was great. This was also the era when Americans were so fearful of communism that there were various Red Scares, not least the McCarthy witchhunts, and the population was kept under control by giving children nuclear survival drills, after the US had exploded the first nuclear bombs itself.
Apparently America had the same fears then it has now. Back then, another Trump could have seduced people by saying he wanted to Make America Great Again. But then the US had much greater global respect. You could rely on the US to promote things most people consider positive improvements – and the many crimes it committed even then, such as in Africa and South and Central America, were seen as ends which justified the means of protecting the planet from greater evils.
Trump will soon realise that no one buys that line any more. He has already been slapped down by Canada, of all countries, for his policies. No one wants to go back to the days of pollution and exploitation if they can help it, and those were also the days when the world looked to America to lead it. There is every possibility that when this historical bathwater is thrown out the baby will be too.
Depart from me, I never knew you
Merkel is talking about looking towards India and China for partnership. This is not in addition to, but in preference to, partnership with the US. We know this because she is talking about “taking our destiny into our own hands”, which can only mean lessening ties with existing, dominant partners.
Politically, the EU has little in common with India and China. Despite its rapid capitalist development China is still officially communist, and does not accept the notion that capitalism means entirely free markets, equal labour conditions and multiparty democracy. In fact its actions fly in the face of European principles, just as the Soviet Union’s did, yet the EU would rather deal with it, despite this political incompatibility, than continue a special relationship with Trump’s US.
India may be a democracy but it has always been a democracy of the few. It is as cronyist as Japan or the “democracies” imposed on former Eastern bloc states. Despite its recent upsurge the country is still associated with mass emigration to the English-speaking world and contract IT workers who make Western money and go home again. Nor can it be relied on politically due to its long history of partnership with Russia, which is still a no-no for the EU as Ukraine found. Again, it is not a place the EU would want to deal with if the US really was what it professes to be.
The EU is hoping it can take the lead in these new partnerships so that its own values prevail politically. It has no intention of changing its own ways to conform with those of China or India. Whether it can achieve this remains to be seen. But the mere fact of talking about this demonstrates that the EU no longer believes it is bound to the US by shared values.
Europe still believes in democracy, human rights, rule of law and respect for others. It now thinks the US doesn’t, at least since Trump took office.
Take away the shared values and you begin to ask what else the US has to offer. The answer used to be political, economic and military clout. But now its own president is saying that it can’t afford NATO, it is under constant threat from other countries and it needs to break the rest of the world’s rules to get its economy going again. Trump doesn’t need to say or act like that, according to the EU and every other country. Far from making America Great Again, he is making it smaller by the day, entirely through his own actions, then wondering why the rest of the world is agreeing with him.
Somebody’s man in Washington
As usual, Vladimir Putin is jumping for joy at US stupidity. He has been doing so throughout his presidencies, no matter who is in the White House. Foreign affairs are easy, when all you have to do is wait for your opponent to compromise himself and then do the same thing yourself, using the same reasoning, and wait for the condemnation.
Russia has made great capital out of exploiting the US insistence on one rule for one, one for the other, and the US will not stop giving him the opportunity to do so. It could, simply by living up to its own values, but that is hardly likely to happen during Trump’s presidency. With Trump in the White House, Putin can run foreign affairs on autopilot.
The Russian president has responded to this latest stunt by backing the climate change agreement. At one stroke of a pen he has aligned Russia with Europe and against the US. The EU doesn’t want to get too close to Russia either, but welcomes its support in this matter. “Shared values” is now being compared with the Russian tradition of realpolitik, and for the first time in living memory Russia is gaining from this comparison.
If Trump really is a Russian agent, as his enemies in the US claim, this, rather than the election hacking, is the clearest evidence of it. Everything Trump does undermines America and advantages Russia. The idea that he wants to run away from the White House to build a hotel chain in Moscow might not prove so far fetched, as he is doing all he can to ensure that Russia is the only friend he will have left by the time he leaves office – whenever that is.
How green is your valley?
Trump is still backing the coal industry. This may have largely gone in the West, but is still important in developing countries.
This importance is what has led to nuclear power making a comeback, after it was internationally condemned as being an even greater threat to the environment. In some countries only nuclear power will permit carbon emission targets to be met in the short term, while renewable energy schemes are being constructed, at great cost, by the overseas governments willing to grant them the money to do so.
If Trump wants US coal to thrive he not only has to redevelop that industry at home but nullify the competition. He would do that by insisting other countries keep to the Paris agreement, and thus reduce their coal usage. He will only be able to implement such a policy however by funding the development of their renewable energy industries for a while, or persuading partners to do so. In this matter he has no partners, and nor does Trump like overseas aid.
Everything Trump hopes to achieve by not signing the Paris agreement will not be achieved precisely because he has not signed it. America will lose in every possible way, environmentally, economically and politically, because its president thinks it is a small, threatened country. As previously pointed out, US foreign policy now consists of trying to be proved right when it knows it is wrong. Trump is unlikely to stop until he has achieved his vision: making the US the small, weak, threatened country he thinks it is, to prove himself right, regardless of the cost to everyone else.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.