Last week, President Donald Trump decided to pull the United States out from the Paris Climate Agreement. The Paris Agreement is actually more popular than Trump himself, and has a 71% approval rating from Americans, both Democrats and Republicans.
The bigger problem isn’t about the merits of the climate change debate. It’s about signaling a possible abdication of America’s leading role in the world, handing over turf to China and other emerging nations.
The “Great” Mistake
As any good poker player would, Chinese president Xi Jinping read his opponent well. Two days before Trump’s inauguration, Jinping signaled a China that is more cocky, with pretensions of becoming the next global leader. This move was made under the presumption that America’s clout would diminish under Trump.
If Trump he thinks he’s making “America Great” by reducing America’s global leadership role, he is wrong in his calculus.
What has made and continues to make “America Great” is it’s ability to lead the world and set the global agenda. It matters less if the politics at home disagree with the agreements made abroad. What matters more is that America is the one setting and framing the agenda for others to follow.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what Trump seems to be attacking.
By his actions, America joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations not in the Paris Agreement. But what’s even more damning? Nicaragua abstained because it thinks the agreement is not ambitious enough.
This failure to show leadership is also playing out at home. The Republican party seems to be unified more around dismantling Obama era actions than implementing an agenda of global American stewardship. Furthermore, powerful states like California and New York, corporations like Exxon Mobil, and even local Republican governments have announced that they are sticking to the agreement.
A lack of a unified vision beyond mere opposition opens more room for miscalculation and confusion at home and abroad.
It’s fine if Trump wants to renegotiate the agreement. However, a genuine and well-reasoned argument has not been presented by the administration. The decision mildly resembles the knee-jerk actions of the bungled immigration ban and the miscalculated dismantling of Obamacare.
A smart approach to the agreement would give Trump what he wants without weakening America’s role. The jobless Trump voters who worked in traditional sectors like coal, are gaining more jobs in renewable energy sectors. Some workers are even being trained by the Chinese to build wind farms.
It makes little sense to pull out of a renewable energy agreement as more economies shift towards renewable energies.
This marks a rare time when America is seen as backwards. Even when America takes actions that the rest of the world largely disagreed with, there were always compelling reasons for doing so.
By withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, Trump thinks that he’s showing the middle finger to the rest of the world. However, the rest of the world is quietly smiling as America cedes influential room for others to occupy.