One thing we call the President of the United States is the “leader of the free world,” and that’s because the United States has been considered for the last few decades or so to be the only global superpower, and because America is considered one of the major leaders of the world, possibly the leader of the world. For all intents and purposes, America runs things.
Or at least we did. That time is ending now.
America ran things not necessarily because we were the best at anything, but because we were steady and reliable. We were predictable and trustworthy. We were an economic powerhouse and we had powerful and intimidating national defenses. We were seen as both free and progressive. Maybe a bit slow about some things, but mostly heading in the right direction. We made agreements and stuck by them. We banded together readily with our allies to ensure that other nations stuck by their agreements, too.
And today, with Trump’s announcement pulling us out of the Paris climate change agreement, we have cast doubt on large portions of the previous paragraph.
It’s not just the Paris agreement. It’s that, plus Trump cozying up to dictators like Putin, Turkey’s Erdogan, Philippines’ Duterte, various Middle East leaders. It’s Trump crapping on NATO and refusing to affirm our commitments there. It’s the fact that Trump is crazy, stupid and untrustworthy. When our leader is an ignorant jackass who has no idea what he’s doing, then the rest of the world can’t count on us. And if they can’t count on us, then we can’t be in charge.
If America can’t be in charge, then someone else is going to have to be. Like France and Germany. Like China. Like, eventually, India.
One of the benefits of being a global leader, the global leader, is that, mostly, things go our way. The global economy leans on our dollar. Trade agreements are written to benefit us. When a nation (like, say, Iran) gets out of line, we say no, and they (generally, eventually) do as they’re told. We’re the big dog in the yard and because of that, we get to arrange things the way we like. The rest of the world allows that to happen because in general, what’s good for America is good for everyone else.
And now that time is ending. We’re not going to be the big dog for much longer, because we’re crazy, stupid and untrustworthy.
That’s what pulling out of the Paris agreement does to us.
There are additional issues with pulling out of the Paris agreement, too: that whole climate change issue. The Paris agreement was… well, basically, it was a marketing tool. In and of itself is didn’t accomplish a whole lot. There was a lot of guidance and many firm suggestions about what all nations should do as signatories in the agreement. It was full of talk about making sure we worked to prevent the Earth from warming to an arbitrary point before an arbitrary time, and there were unenforced provisions dictating that richer nations should financially assist poorer nations, and so forth.
None of it was particularly onerous and preventing the Earth from warming two more degrees would have definitely helped. It wouldn’t have solved the problem, but it would have helped.
The main thing the Paris agreement did was give us a kind of consensus, a foothold in the fight against global warming. It created a sense of peer pressure amongst nations that helped to enforce the mindset that we should be fighting climate change. That probably doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a lot.
Much like how smoking cigarettes is becoming more and more socially unacceptable due to gentle marketing pressure slowly changing society’s view of smoking, the Paris agreement serves to make the idea of doing nothing about climate change globally unacceptable.
Put more simply, if all your friends agree that smoking is gross and stinky and not cool, and then your coolest friend shows up and lights up, that damages your group’s consensus on the coolness of smoking.
The only thing to do then, if you want to keep your friends from smoking, is to influence the group to shun your coolest friend.
If all nations agree that fighting climate change is the coolest and most responsible thing to do, and then the most powerful nation says, “Eh, fuck it,” and stops fighting, that damages the global consensus on fighting climate change.
The only thing to do then, if you want to keep the Earth from warming, is for Germany, France, China, and others to shun America.
Trade agreements won’t be written to benefit us. The world will quietly arrange itself to lean on China’s dollar instead. Cranky, misbehaving nations will do what Germany, etc, wants them to do. Other nations might continue to be scared of our national defenses, though, in much the same way we’re currently worried about North Korea’s national defenses. We’ll be isolated, alone, and unable to influence anything to go our way anymore.
Okay, obviously all that crap doesn’t happen overnight. But it does happen, and it happens because leaving the Paris agreement was Trumpland’s first big step into isolationism, and isolationism leaves you, as a nation, screwed.
Also, climate change. But hey, America will be half underwater, so we’ll have bigger problems. Maybe China will be nice and convince the UN to send us aid packages when that happens.
Things to Read
- WTFJHT: Day 133: It’s heating up.
- Vox: Trump’s withdrawal from Paris is a major blow to the American-led global order
- Vox: 9 questions about climate change you were too embarrassed to ask
- Politifact: Fact-checking Donald Trump’s statement withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement
- Washington Post Fact Checker: Fact-checking President Trump’s claims on the Paris climate change deal
- Politico: Why Trump Actually Pulled Out Of Paris
- Mother Jones: The US Brings Up the Rear When it Comes to Reducing Carbon Emissions