American Carnage

Donald Trump did it. It was his decision alone. He withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. Half of his administration was telling him to stay in. All the big US corporations were telling him to stay in too – even all the major oil corporations. It would best to have a seat at the table – and there would be international repercussions, as 195 nations had signed on. Pulling out would make the United States a rogue nation. We’d stand alone with the only other nations which hadn’t signed on – Syria, because they have more pressing concerns at the moment, and Nicaragua, but Nicaragua says those Paris Accords don’t go far enough. We’d stand with Syria. That’s it, and we’d stand against science too – and against the majority of the American public. But it was his decision alone. He made his decision.

And that was that – but he didn’t announce we were leaving NATO and leaving the UN – and the European Union is still intact. Britain dropped out but the Donald Trump of the Netherlands went down in flames and Vladimir Putin and Steve Bannon couldn’t get Marine Le Pen elected in France. There’s still no giant absolutely impenetrable wall that seals us off from Mexico either, and not all Hispanics have been tossed out of the country, yet. Trump’s second try at a travel ban was shot down in the courts again too – Muslims can still enter the United States – and gays aren’t back in their closets. There was only this.

This was bad enough. It was a signal for all the rest. America is walking away from the world – ceding leadership to others, because world leadership is a bother, and given NATO damned expensive. And we do have a lot of coal miners out of work. Donald Trump was thinking of them.

Donald Trump wasn’t thinking of the implications. There was that famous neoconservative Project for the New American Century that gave us the Iraq War and all the rest. Our values won out. It was the end of history – “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” The Soviet Union had collapsed and we were now the sole superpower, representing capitalism and democracy. We’d fix everything.

That was the general idea, but there’s not going to be a new American century. Oh well. We already had one anyway, from 1945 until this year. Be satisfied with that, and with nostalgia. The Brits look back to the nineteenth century, when the sun never set on the British Empire. The French look back to the eighteenth century, when their Enlightenment lit up the world. We can look back to the Greatest Generation saving the world and creating a new and better one.

That’s nostalgia. London is quaint. Paris is now pretty much a theme park. John Wayne will storm the Sands of Iwo Jima forever, while Tom Hanks saves Private Ryan. That will have to do. We are left off to the side now – our choice – with a slightly daft king.

It’s that America First thing. We take care of our own. The rest of the world can go screw itself. Donald Trump ran on that notion, and won, so America must be with him on this. He sees no downside to pulling out of the Paris Accord. Everyone will love him. That’s his thinking, and no one should be surprised by this. In his “American Carnage” inauguration speech Donald Trump declared that he would be President of the United States, not President of the World. He’s keeping his word. The carnage would end here and it would end now.

That’s what this was about:

President Trump announced Thursday afternoon that he is withdrawing the United States from the landmark Paris climate agreement, an extraordinary move that dismayed America’s allies and set back the global effort to address the warming planet.

Trump’s decision set off alarms worldwide, drawing swift and sharp condemnation from foreign leaders as well as top environmentalists and corporate titans, who decried the U.S. exit from the Paris accord as an irresponsible abdication of American leadership in the face of irrefutable scientific evidence.

Trump, who has labeled climate change a “hoax,” made good on a campaign promise to “cancel” the Paris agreement and Obama-era regulations that he said were decimating industries and killing jobs. The president cast his decision as a “reassertion of America’s sovereignty,” arguing that the climate pact as negotiated under President Barack Obama was grossly unfair to the U.S. workers he had vowed to protect with his populist “America First” platform.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Trump proclaimed in a forceful, lengthy and at times rambling speech from the Rose Garden of the White House.

He was angry. The world was out to get us. Everyone was laughing at us – every single damned nation, even our allies – and that would end here and it would end now:

Citing a litany of statistics disputed by environmentalists, Trump argued Thursday that the pact would hurt domestic manufacturing and other industries and would put the United States at a “permanent disadvantage” with China, India and other rising powers. Staying in the accord, he said, would cost the United States as many as 2.7 million jobs by 2025 and as much as $3 trillion in lost gross domestic product.

“We’re going to have the cleanest air,” Trump said. “We’re going to have the cleanest water. We will be environmentally friendly. But we’re not going to put our businesses out of work. We’re not going to lose our jobs.”

In a gesture to those who had encouraged him to remain in the accord, Trump said he was open to negotiating a new climate deal that, in his assessment, would be more fair to U.S. interests.

“We’re getting out,” he added, “but we will start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. If we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.”

We can’t:

“We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies,” read the statement from French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

They were firm about that:

Trump spoke by phone with Merkel and Macron, as well as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Prime Minister Theresa May — who led a chorus of world leaders urging Trump to keep the United States in the Paris agreement.

“He is making a mistake for the future of his country and his people and a mistake for the future of the planet,” Macron said.

Erik Solheim, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, said in an interview that “the biggest losers will be the American people.”

“It’s obviously regrettable,” he said. “The world needs American leadership. However, the impact is less than most people would believe, because China, India and Europe will provide leadership.”

We are sidelined now, by our choice, driven by one man’s paranoia:

“The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris agreement,” Trump said. “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.”

The president – who recently returned from his maiden foreign trip – added, “We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore – and they won’t be.”

Trump’s predecessor, however, suggested that responding to wholly imaginary laughter is probably a bad thing:

Obama strongly defended the Paris agreement as a measure to “protect the world we leave to our children.” In a statement released Thursday, he said the pact was the product of “steady, principled American leadership on the world stage,” pointing out that it had broad support from the private sector.

“I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack,” Obama said. “But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.”

Not everyone hears voices in their head. Leaders don’t. In fact, many don’t:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, are among those who urged him to stay in the deal, arguing it would be beneficial to the United States to remain part of negotiations and meetings surrounding the agreement as a matter of leverage and influence. Neither attended Thursday’s ceremony.

White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt pushed for a withdrawal. When Trump announced that he would pull out, there was a burst of applause and some whoops from the assembled crowd in the Rose Garden – and Bannon held his hands up in the air, clapping enthusiastically.

There was a split in the White House, but there was the official apologist:

Introducing Trump, Vice President Pence said the climate decision was an example of the president putting what he sees as the interests of the United States above all else.

“Our president is choosing to put American jobs and American consumers first,” Pence said. “Our president is choosing to put American energy and American industry first. And by his action today, President Trump is choosing to put the forgotten men and women first.”

In the opening stanza of John Milton’s long epic poem “Paradise Lost” he said his aim was to “justify the ways of God to men” – and now that’s Mike Pence’s job, and a thankless one:

Jeff Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, tweeted: “Disappointed with today’s decision on the Paris Agreement. Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government.”

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein issued his first tweet Thursday, saying: “Today’s decision is a setback for the environment and for the U.S.’s leadership position in the world.”

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk and Disney chief executive Robert Iger both announced Thursday that they were leaving Trump’s business advisory council over his decision to withdraw from the Paris deal.

In Europe, a top German politician slammed Trump’s decision, mocking him for his brusque brush-aside of a Balkan leader last week at a NATO meeting in Brussels. “You can withdraw from a climate agreement but not from climate change, Mr. Trump,” Social Democratic leader Martin Schulz wrote on Twitter. “Reality isn’t just another statesman you shove away.”

In fact, everyone decided it was finally time to push Trump aside:

Thirty states and scores of companies said Thursday that they would press ahead with their climate policies and pursue lower greenhouse gas emissions, breaking sharply with President Trump’s decision to exit the historic Paris climate accord.

In a pointed rebuttal to Trump’s announcement in the rose garden of the White House, New York’s governor Andrew M. Cuomo unveiled a plan to invest $1.65 billion in renewable energy and energy efficiency on Thursday, the largest ever procurement of renewable energy by an American state.

What is Trump going to do, sue him? Everyone knows he can’t do that, but this has been going on for a bit now:

Across the nation and the economy, renewable energy technologies have taken root and have gathered momentum of their own while creating thousands of new jobs, state and corporate officials said. And the pressure on executives of companies to address the issue has grown greater as major financial firms for the first time press the issue.

The Trump administration’s decision to exit the landmark climate agreement will damage America’s international standing on climate issues and make it nearly impossible for the world to reach internationally agreed goals of limiting global warming, officials said.

No one wants to be a rogue financial firm either, but this is about jobs:

While Trump has cited his concern about coal jobs in withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, Cuomo said his latest energy initiative combined with earlier measures would create 40,000 jobs by 2020 – nearly twice the current number of mining and logging jobs in the state of West Virginia, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Cuomo, who has made renewable energy a priority since Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast in 2012, expects the state’s solar capacity to more than double to about 1,600 megawatts by the end of 2018, and he said he would provide new incentives for the installation of 125 megawatts of solar on the rooftops of schools and other government buildings. The governor added that the state has established a partnership with a consortium of banks to finance energy and solar projects.

“As the federal government abdicates its responsibility to address climate change – at the expense of our environment and economy – New York is leading the nation in advancing a clean energy future,” Cuomo said in a statement. He said that with the package of measures, “New York continues to tackle the challenges of climate change and create the high-quality, good-paying careers of tomorrow.”

The coal industry is dying – the jobs are disappearing because coal is an outmoded and inefficient and difficult energy source. No one wants or needs buggy whips – the classic example of an industry that time passed by. There are plenty of clean energy jobs, and many more to come. What was Trump thinking?

And out here, the guy we called Governor Moonbeam back in the seventies is now Governor Sunshine:

In California, state legislators are looking at ways to boost renewable energy activity even as Trump moves to undercut that sector. On Wednesday the state senate voted to make utilities use 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 and 60 percent by 2030. The current standard in both California and New York is for utilities to get 50 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030.

Though the California senate measure must still win approval of the state assembly and Gov. Jerry Brown (D), it sent a signal. “It draws a huge contrast between Trump wanting to go backwards and states trying to take the lead in tackling the climate crisis,” said Anna Aurilio, legislative director of Environment America.

“The California economy last year increased 40 percent faster than the rest of the country,” Brown said in a conference call Thursday. “In fact, following policies even tougher than what Paris is calling for, the California economy is boosted. Trump is wrong when he says Paris is bad for jobs. It’s good for jobs. The jobs of the future.”

Cuomo, Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said they were forming a coalition of states determined to stick to the Paris targets. The three states account for a fifth of the U.S. economy.

And then there are the Big Money guys:

Trump’s announcement coincides with signs that climate concerns are growing stronger in the financial community. A resolution instructing corporate managements to do the climate equivalent of a stress test — describing in detail the effects of government policies designed to limit global warming to 2 degrees centigrade – has been adopted at Occidental Petroleum, the utility PPL, and ExxonMobil over the protests of management. Major financial advisory firms Vanguard, BlackRock and State Street bucked tradition and backed the resolutions.

On Thursday, 25 major companies took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times with a letter addressed to Trump. The companies – including Google, Apple, Intel, Microsoft, Mars, Schneider Electric, Morgan Stanley, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts – urged Trump to stay in the Paris accord.

“As businesses concerned with the well-being of our customers, our investors, our communities and our suppliers, we are strengthening our climate resilience,” the letter said, “and we are investing in innovative technologies that can help achieve a clean energy transition.”

This is Trump against the world – all of it – and then there’s the matter of Pittsburgh. Philip Bump covers that:

Once upon a time, the city of Pittsburgh was a robustly blue-collar anchor to the American steel industry. Once upon a time, the air was thick with smog and soot from industry lining the city’s rivers. Once upon a time, decades ago, the collapse of the steel industry and American manufacturing put the city itself at risk.

That’s the Pittsburgh that Trump was referring to in his speech about the Paris climate agreement Thursday.

“We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won’t be. They won’t be,” Trump said. “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

The irony to that statement is that the climate agreement signed by President Barack Obama in 2015 would in one critical sense do as much good for the residents of Pittsburgh as it would for those in Paris, by establishing a concrete international benchmark for the reduction of greenhouse gases – and with it, a reduction of the worst effects of the warming climate across the planet. Cutting global warming is a global good, so in that sense, the Paris agreement does Pittsburghers as much good as it does Parisians.

And there’s this:

Trump’s envisioning a Pittsburgh in which unemployed steelworkers and coal miners wander the streets under smoggy skies, begging for deliverance from the vagaries of the international economy. While there are certainly people in the city who meet that description – and while there were certainly far more people meeting that description in the 1970s and 1980s – it’s not really what Pittsburgh looks like today.

That’s why Hillary Clinton got eighty percent of the vote in Pittsburgh:

Pittsburgh is not a Rust Belt city any more. It is home to Carnegie Mellon University, Pitt and Duquesne. It’s already embraced – and rejected – self-driving cars. There were more than 13,000 people in Pittsburgh who worked in renewable energy and energy efficiency in 2016, pillars of the economic transformations sought under the Paris agreement. By contrast, only about 5,300 people work in iron and steel manufacturing. There are, according to the Energy Information Administration, only two coal mines in Allegheny County. The shale industry in the region has actually helped change the American economy by adding to the glut of natural gas that’s helped electricity producers transition away from dirtier coal-burning.

This is not the Pittsburgh of 1975.

So why does Trump present it that way? Because for Trump and many other Americans, “steelworker” and “coal miner” are stand-ins for the broader idea of “the great American worker of a bygone era.”

That’s a mixture of nostalgia and paranoia:

It’s not about coal miners, as such: It’s about continuing to hammer home that America has changed dramatically over the past few decades, and that Trump promises to return the country to the era before all that change. An era when real men went to work in steel mills along the Monongahela River, not this new era when people head to service-sector jobs at local hospitals. (The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center employed 62,000 people in 2014; only 20,000 more people worked in manufacturing.)

Trump’s promise to make America great again has always been an unattainable pledge to wind back the hands of time.

That man does hear voices in his head, from the past. Pittsburgh may be to Pennsylvania what Austin is to Texas – a speck of blue in a sea of red – but they’d rather he didn’t represent him. They told him so back in November. They’re doing just fine – and some of us from Pittsburgh have spent a lot of time in Paris. Both places are just fine. Gertrude Stein, born in Pittsburgh, said America was her country, but Paris was her home town, and there’s this:

“An American in Paris” is coming home to Pittsburgh, where it all began.

The Oscar-winning movie starred hometown song-and-dance hero Gene Kelly. The musical theater sensation – winner of four Tony Awards with 12 nominations – can trace its roots to the Pittsburgh CLO. Executive producer Van Kaplan, who with fellow producers Stuart Oken of Elephant Eye Theatricals and Roy Furman, conceived the musical, pulled together a creative team, took the financial risk and have reaped the rewards.

“An American in Paris” ran on Broadway from April 12, 2015, to Oct. 9, 2016, a total of 623 performances.

Pittsburgh and Paris go together. What was Trump thinking?

Josh Marshall suggests this:

There’s always been a core of advisors that wanted this outcome. But if not for the events of the last few weeks I think we’d have remained in the Paris Accord. Trump got into a growing fight with Europe. France rejected Bannon’s favorite Le Pen. He met with and got disrespected and criticized by the leaders of NATO and the EU. He got mad. Both Merkel and Macron spoke about him as a bully and a child. Macron has happily spoken publicly about over-manning Trump when they met in person.

This isn’t about climate and it isn’t about Trump’s base. It’s about sticking it to the leaders of Europe. That’s what gave the Bannonites the edge.

But that’s not all:

Trump is scared. He’s entering a widening gyre of political crisis over Russia. He’s scared and he’s angry and he needs friends. So he’s more and more likely to hug his base – both the most aggressive advisors and the most committed supporters. He’s trying to bring back Corey Lewandowski, his wildest and most troubling-driving advisor who has the unshakable loyalty and lickspittledom Trump now requires. Indeed, we can take it as a given that as the Russia scandal crisis deepens Trump will become more aggressive and more extreme in his policies both to maintain his emotional equilibrium and reinforce his backing from a shrinking base of supporters. This is as certain as night follows day.

It’s worth noting, if it is not obvious, that the growing rupture in Trump’s relations with Europe is also driven by the Russia issue and Trump’s desire to hamstring or break apart the EU and NATO. Whether Trump’s affinity for Russia is legitimate or corrupt, the reality itself is indisputable. That drives his hostility to the EU and NATO.

In any case, this is about him wanting to lash out at enemies, strike a blow in a context in which people can’t easily fight back and try to assert control over a situation that increasingly feels (and is) out of control. Rewrite the last four weeks, leave Trump less angry and threatened, I’m confident the US would still be in the Paris Accord. That’s how he operates.

The entire outcome was driven by the President’s current, besieged, emotional state.

We do have a slightly daft king – a dangerously daft king, actually – and he has brought on the real “American Carnage” now. He got angry and threw America away. Now all we can do is try to contain the carnage.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to American Carnage

  1. DWhite says:

    I think it can be easily deduced that presidential historians, who rank presidents from worst to best, can place Trump at the bottom of the list, with confidence that the ranking will not change as long as we remain a democratic republic.

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