Critic's Notebook: President Trump Puts America First by Placing the Planet in Jeopardy

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President Donald Trump

Announcing his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, Trump reasserts "America's sovereignty" as the world grieves.

Anyone tuning in to hear President Donald Trump make his announcement about the Paris climate accord knew what he was going to say before he even started. All you had to do was look at Steve Bannon’s grinning face to know which way the wind was blowing. And thanks to Trump’s decision to have the United States withdraw from the agreement, the wind is eventually going to feel a whole lot warmer.

It’s become a depressingly regular occurrence to see a bunch of middle-aged white men in the Rose Garden celebrating yet another way to destroy years of scientific or social progress. Prior to his announcement — which in true Trumpian fashion had been teased on social media like he was deciding the winner of a reality-show competition, not the future of the planet — there had been reports that influential figures in his administration were urging him not to withdraw. Their ranks included Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (who, though he had no diplomatic experience prior to assuming his position, presumably knows something about business and the environment) and Ivanka, who apparently doesn’t have as much influence with her father as we thought.

Essentially abdicating his role as leader of the free world, Trump delivered an address that, as usual, sounded more like a campaign speech than a policy statement. (Will someone please tell him he already has the job?) He was introduced by Vice President Mike Pence — the Hank Kingsley to his Larry Sanders — who declared, “Thanks to President Donald Trump, America is back!” That’s certainly true, if he meant back to the 1950s.

Trump began his speech by delivering a laundry list of his supposed accomplishments, including appointing a new Supreme Court judge (as if that was heavy lifting with a GOP-dominated Congress) and the rise in the stock market that, before the election, he said was in the midst of a giant bubble. He then announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the accord, effective immediately. He didn’t rule out the possibility of rejoining at a future date, but you could tell his heart wasn’t in it.

“So we’re getting out, but we’ll start to negotiate and we’ll see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine,” he said. It made you fervently hope that Trump never gets involved in peace negotiations.  

It was plainly evident that he was essentially fulfilling a campaign promise to his supporters, especially those in such cities as Youngstown, Detroit and Pittsburgh, each of which he name-checked. It was like he was already tallying up the 2020 Electoral College numbers. “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris!” Trump announced. You couldn’t help but think it was his personal revenge against French President Emmanuel Macron for that crushing handshake.

The future of the planet doesn’t compare in importance to growing the U.S. economy, Trump seemed to be saying over and over. Decrying the “draconian financial and economic burdens” placed on us by the non-binding agreement, he declared, “The bottom line is that the Paris accord is very unfair at the highest level to the United States.” Especially its bottom line.

Emphasizing his nationalistic “America First” policy, Trump called the agreement “a massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries.” (And we know how conservatives feel about redistributing wealth.) Saying that the accord would have given other countries an economic edge, he swaggered, “That’s not gonna happen while I’m president.”

At several times, Trump quoted various statistical studies, although it was clearly a strain. One of them had apparently concluded that if we had not withdrawn from the agreement, households would have $7,000 less income. (So hey, feel free to buy that new pick-up truck!) He also cited the “tiny, tiny amount” of temperature reduction that would have resulted from the agreement. He illustrated the tininess with his fingers, so you can look forward to that clip showing up on tonight’s talk shows.

There was also good news to celebrate, namely the “big opening” in two weeks of a new coal mine. “They asked me if I would go … I’m gonna try,” Trump told the crowd. And he probably will, since we all know he can’t resist a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Trump took pains to reassure any naysayers watching. “We’re gonna have the cleanest air! We’re gonna have the cleanest water!” he declared. So we really have nothing to worry about.

Referring to all those other countries that were supposedly celebrating our defeat by having signed the accord, Trump asked, “At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us?” (He meant it rhetorically, but it’s safe to say the answer is now.) He said that the withdrawal “represents a reassertion of American’s sovereignty,” and he knows what he’s talking about, since he’s running the country like a sovereign.

Trump missed a genuine opportunity by failing to point out what great company we’re now in. Sure, 194 nations are remaining in the agreement. But hey, Syria and Nicaragua have our backs!

Trump is far too impatient to wait for accolades, so after his speech was over he immediately brought out Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt, who is to the EPA what O.J. Simpson is to the National Organization for Women. Pruitt sucked up to his boss by lauding his “fortitude, steadfastness and courage” and declaring him “a champion for the hard-working citizens across this land.”

“The American people can take comfort, because you have their backs,” Pruitt told a preening Trump.

At the end of the day, it isn’t hard to figure out Trump’s real agenda. Ever the narcissist, he simply can’t bear the thought of anyone still living on the planet after he’s gone.