Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States from the Paris climate change agreement demonstrates a president in continuous campaign mode. His approach is characterized by politics over policy, reckless disregard for facts and science, and a dangerous carelessness about the impact of his choices.
Despite having been elected chief executive of the government of the United States, Trump shows little interest in governing, a stunning lack of understanding of the constitutional system, and no core beliefs to guide his actions. The only constants in his world are his overinflated view of his own abilities and a hypersensitivity about how others see him.
Trump’s rejection of the Paris agreement vividly demonstrates all these factors. The event itself seemed more like a campaign rally than a serious policy prouncement. In full display for all the world to see were his virulent nationalism, demagogic rejection of the overwhelming scientific consensus about the threats posed by climate change and pandering to a political base desparate for reassurance that their lost world could be restored. Without any supporting evidence, Trump manufactured a smorgasbord of benefits that would accrue to American workers from abandoning the Paris agreement and brushed aside any alledged risks as illusory.
Why did he make such a disastrous decision? For one, Trump had promised during his campaign to walk away from the climate agreement. Toting up “promises kept” is an essential piece of his ongoing campaign for reelection in 2020. Climate change denial has become a central plank of Republican orthodoxy and Trump, hardly a mainstream member of the Party, has been eager to find areas of common ground. A third factor is the opportunity to dismantle another piece of Barack Obama’s legacy, which is clearly important for Trump’s fragile ego.
Much was made in the days leading up to the announcement of a supposed battle between competing White House factions to persuade Trump which way to decide. Those reports were most likely a combination of internal spin and external wishful thinking. It’s hard to believe the outcome was ever in doubt, especially when you consider the language and tone of his remarks described by one commentator as “belligerent.”
Climate change poses serious risks to the planet. Deferring action is not an option. If there were an environmental disaster clock similar to the one assessing the risks from nuclear weapons, Trump just moved it closer to midnight.
Yet, Trump seems oblivious or indifferent to those risks. For him, the decision was a political choice somehow detached from any real world consequence. It’s easier to belittle scientific evidence than to work to protect the environment. For Al Gore, climate change is an “inconvenient truth”; for Trump, it’s a matter to be ignored. Perhaps he will think differently if sea water covers the golf course at Mar-a-Lago
It is in that respect that I use the word “careless” to describe Trump’s approach to governing and decision-making. He understands and cares only about his own interests. He is amazingly uninformed and uninterested in anyone else. As a result, his decision process does not take into account how others will be impacted by his actions.
That myopia is not limited to decisions about the environment. Think about the travesty of the health care bill that he has been promoting. During the campaign, Trump bought into the Republican talking point about “repealing and replacing” the Affordable Care Act. He is still committed to that goal even though he has shown no understanding of what is in the bill passed by House Republicans.
Even as the Congressional Budget Office determines that 23 million Americans will lose their health insurance and many others will pay much more for coverage, Trump blathers about having the best healthcare system in the world, claims he is adding money for health care – despite his proposed budget slashing funding – and continues to assert that everyone will be better off under Trumpcare. It’s only words to him. Enacting a bill–any bill–for which he can claim victory is all he cares about.
Trump’s late-in-his-political career conversion to “pro life” is another illustration of his carelessness. His switch was merely a political expedient. To keep his base happy, he has appointed a justice to the Supreme Coury who might vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. His selections as Secretary of Health and Human Services and Attorney General are both working to make access to abortion and contraception more difficult.
Is Trump acting on one of his core beliefs or is he going along with his political crowd with no regard for the consequences for a woman’s ability to control her body and her health? That’s an easy question to answer since Trump has no core beliefs.
As many have noted, Trump is fundamentally a transactional figure. He cares about making the deal, not about what impact it will have on others, not even on his core supporters. His need to tally up symbolic victories is leaving in its wake a trail of enormous damage to the United States and to all but its wealthiest citizens, but Trump doesn’t either notice or care.
Donald Trump has no feelings or empathy for others, is extremely egocentric, has no close personal relationships, seems to lack a moral base and does not learn from his experiences. Medical professionals are understandably reluctant to offer a diagnosis based solely on his public behavior, but the rest of know that when it quacks likes a duck, it probably is a duck.