Saturday, June 3, 2017

Trump’s Simplistic Parochialism

It’s one thing to say, “America First.”  It’s another to be simplistic in its application and have no understanding of what that phrase really means.

"America First" raises two issues regarding Trump’s action of taking the U.S. out of the Paris climate accords.  The first is, even assuming for argument’s sake that our participating in the accords was in some narrow way against our economic interests, does the significance of the issue for the world, and ultimately therefore for the U.S., mean that the U.S. should do what is best for the larger community?  Is our national interest something larger than our economic interest?

There are several ways of looking at this.  If the U.S. wishes to continue to be a leader, if not the leader, on the world stage, then without question we need to do our part to insure a safe planet not just for our children and their children, but for the children of all people.

The leadership issue aside, from a moral perspective, how can a country which expounds on its exceptionalism at every opportunity as well as the centrality of its faith in God act in a way which even arguably is destructive of the planet’s environment to such an extent that it impacts the heritage we leave our children?  

It’s one thing to say that you don’t believe that climate change is man-made (although Trump’s emissaries when questioned have said they don’t know whether he believes in it or not), it’s another to say that the argument that it is has no credence.  When we’re talking about the upheaval of the climate-based order of the world and possibly the viability of Earth as a human habitat as we know it in the future, do you want to take any risk, however small?

And finally, yes, our national interest is larger than our economic, certainly our corporate, interest.  When we have lost sight of that in the past, troubles have ensued.  It is probably safe to say, although many would disagree, that the Bush administration got us into the Iraq war not because of our national interest, or even national security interest, but because of corporate interests.  Even the Vietnam War was more an expression of our corporate interests … the big corporations wanted to halt the spread of communism … than our national security interests.

The second issue is, is our commitment under the Paris accords even in a narrow way against our economic interests?  The answer from a broad cross-section of business leaders, economists, and academics is a resounding, “no!”

First, the future of the coal industry and of coal miners is being primarily impacted not by the prospect of carbon caps and other measures but by the superior cost effectiveness of natural gas and increasingly that of alternative sources of energy.  Our Paris commitments do no further harm to the coal industry.

Second, by not just taking the U.S. out of the Paris accords but also removing efforts to stimulate development of alternative energy sources, Trump is not only depriving U.S. workers a source of new and lasting jobs, but we are ceding to China and other countries the leadership in the development of this technology which will be an economic engine for decades to come.

Third, by taking the U.S. out of the Paris accords, it will hurt our export industry.  People will retaliate against the U.S. by choosing to purchase competitive products from other countries, a Renault v a Chevy, Adidas v Nike.

So Trump's action is actually contrary to the policy, "America First."  Trump makes it sound like he’s standing up for the U.S. and protecting our economy, and that is certainly what his base and, according to a recent New York Times article, small business owners think.  But the reality is that taking the U.S. out of the Paris accords will hurt our economy, which will ultimately hurt everyone, including small business owners.  And It will have a negative impact on our broader national interests.  

Thankfully, the process of leaving the Paris accords will take several years.  Before that process is over we will have a presidential election.  Unless the citizens of this country have lost all common sense, we will have a new president who will rescind Trump’s decision and keep us in the accords.