The dirty little secret behind Donald Trump’s disastrous decision to walk away from the Paris climate accord is, in fact, no secret at all.
If we didn’t know before — and if we didn’t, shame on us — we have to know now, after watching Trump’s rambling speech defending the move, that he has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. And we also know that this non-alternative fact doesn’t seem to bother him in the least.
It’s not just the science. Most of us can’t make a coherent argument on the facts underlying the science. In his speech on climate change, Trump barely mentioned climate change at all. He didn’t call it a hoax, as he used to, or blame it on the Chinese, as he used to. In fact, he said several times that he was open, even if no one else was, to renegotiating the Paris accord, suggesting that Trump must believe in the need for some global agreement.
And yet, the anonymous Trump officials who briefed the press after the speech couldn’t — or wouldn’t — say what exactly Trump’s position was these days on climate change. Sean Spicer has said he’d never thought to ask him. What I’d guess is that Trump has no position to articulate.
If you watched or read his speech, you know his reasoning for walking away is that the agreement was a bad deal for America, which is always his go-to explanation. America is being swindled. Taxpayers are being robbed. He said our enemies, and our supposed friends, had ganged up on the United States to impose this accord so that they would take advantage of the helpless giant that he supposes us to be. Barack Obama was presumably hopelessly naive in signing on or, more likely, complicit in sabotaging America, which somehow, against all odds, manages to still be the largest economy in the world.
Trump put it this way: “The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement — they went wild; they were so happy — for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage. A cynic would say the obvious reason for economic competitors and their wish to see us remain in the agreement is so that we continue to suffer this self-inflicted major economic wound.”
That is something Trump might actually believe, just as he might actually believe that he won the 2016 election in a landslide. It fits his world view. It’s fair to say that his Paris speech was another version of his American carnage speech, except the topic this time was a global assault on the American economy by dangerous foreigners who, above all, have it in for West Virginia coal miners and anyone else who voted for Trump.
The timing of the speech is no mystery. In his latest run of self-inflicted crises, Trump needed something to offer his still-loyal base. And, in America, as in nowhere else in the world, climate change is widely debated. And, in America, as in nowhere else in the world, one major party absolutely rejects the notion.
And so, The Decision. And so, the speech. And so, the opportunity to once again offend those European leaders who had begged him not to leave the accord and who, to his surprise, just wouldn’t accept the fact that they were the bad guys here.
And nearly as disturbing as the speech itself was the eleborate setup for the speech. Trump told us he would make the announcement at 3 p.m. in the Rose Garden. The cable-TV countdown clocks would be set. The will-he-won’t-he, the will-Ivanka-or-won’t-she debates were set in motion. Global climate crisis meets Rose Garden-style reality TV. The potential for rising seas and rising global ridicule meets Trump at the White House podium.
The news would leak, of course, just as all news from the White House leaks, even, and especially, the most damning news. But this news was presented as if something grand were to happen. There was a band. There was Mike Pence giving the warmup speech praising Trump for his wisdom and strength in the way that all would-be tyrants require.
You can blame Republicans for Trump’s decision. They are the one who have made the science into a long-running ideological battle, as if melting glaciers had an ideology. The business community largely opposed leaving Paris. The Goldman Sachs CEO made his first-ever tweet in opposition to leaving Paris. Even much of Big Oil opposes leaving Paris. The science community is opposed, of course. The economic community. The world community. Trump’s Secretary of State. His chief economic adviser. They were all convinced it was bad for America, bad for the world and, in what you’d think would be a winning argument, bad for America’s place in the world.
It didn’t matter to Trump that Paris is a weak agreement, or that to get near-universal acceptance, it had to be. It didn’t matter that the goals are individually made and all voluntary. It didn’t matter that before walking away from Paris, Trump was already in the process of rolling back U.S goals for emission standards or that he was gutting the EPA.
None of it mattered because, to Trump, none of it mattered. He had campaigned on this promise, and it was one that no pesky judge or House caucus could undermine. Trump framed it as an America First decision, and yet you could argue that as one of only three countries now rejecting the accord, it puts us in a three-way tie for last. In other words, America can now honestly say it’s leading from behind.
Photo by Woody Hibbard, via Flickr: Creative Commons