Barely more than 100 days into his presidency, Donald Trump has already cemented his legacy as little more than an obedient host in the Republican Party’s interminable quest for revenge on Barack Obama for his crime of being elected President of the United States. Whereas Obama forged a strong, respectable, impactful legacy during his eight years in office, Trump’s own legacy is nothing more than a transparent attempt to dismantle his predecessor’s.
This came to full fruition with Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, the world’s most aggressive international pact to address the imminent dangers of climate change. While Trump tried to tout the withdrawal as a victory for the United States against a “draconian” international deal that imposed unfair burdens on American workers and businesses, those very people emerged in droves to condemn his actions. Tesla’s Elon Musk and Disney’s Robert Iger both resigned from his advisory councils. Apple’s Tim Cook rebuked the move in a letter to his employees. Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Livers publicly expressed “disappointment” in the decision. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein broke his six-year Twitter silence to deride what he referred to as a “setback for the environment and for the U.S.’s leadership position in the world.”
Even the Pope – who represents the theological world so often at odds with scientific advancements – made a concerted effort to save Trump from his own ignorance.
This, of course, is not Trump’s first assault on Obama’s environmental legacy. Per The Washington Post, Trump has instructed “federal regulators to rewrite key rules curbing U.S. carbon emissions,” lifted a “moratorium on federal coal leasing,” and removed “the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions.” He has “nullified a regulation barring surface-mining companies from polluting waterways and set aside a new accounting system that would have compelled coal companies and other energy firms to pay more in federal royalties.” And he will “reconsider stricter fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks and has approved two major oil pipelines, Dakota Access and Keystone XL, that Obama had halted.” These are all overwhelmingly important staples of Obama’s legacy. Those, and hearing a President speak in full sentences have become vestiges of the past.
Had Obama not championed environmental protectionism so strongly, it is doubtful that Trump would have pursued such reckless, sweeping policy changes. After all, even the nation’s most notorious polluters distanced themselves from the President’s decision. Leaders from two of the world’s biggest oil producers, Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips, publicly declared their support for the Paris Agreement. It is important to note, too, that because the pact was technically nonbinding, Trump could have easily undermined its terms to help his cronies in the fossil fuel industries without humiliating the United States and betraying one of Obama’s key accomplishments. In other words, this was less about the logistics of the pact than undermining his predecessor. The truth is, Obama could have called for a mandatory golf holiday with particular reverence for old white men wearing tacky red hats, and Trump would still rescind it because it was born out of the Obama administration.
Despite tepid assurances by the most ardent climate change skeptics like Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) that Trump’s actions are “a clear sign to the country that Trump is serious about unleashing this country’s energy dominance,” the President’s decision to give up America’s seat at the table is nothing more than a relinquishment of global and economic leadership, while giving a coal industry on life support another leg to stand on. Miguel Arias Cañete, the European Union’s commissioner for climate, tweeted that Trump’s “announcement has galvanized us rather than weakened us, and this vacuum will be filled by new broad committed leadership.”
In other words, China First™.
Trump has chosen to bury his head in the sand in promoting the widely discredited myth that he can save America’s remaining 50,000 coal jobs, a figure that has been plummeting over the last decade. No one wants to see our fellow Americans lose their jobs, but what particular reverence do we owe coal miners that we’re willing to sacrifice our global leadership? The field of renewable energy creates jobs at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the economy. Per the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps program, “solar and wind jobs have grown at rates of about 20% annually in recent years, and sustainability now collectively represents four to four and a half million jobs in the U.S., up from 3.4 million in 2011.”
Ajay Mathur, director general of the Energy Resources Institute, explained perfectly why Trump’s embrace of the fossil fuel industry is doomed from the outset. “By the time the coal-fired plants come up to full capacity because of increasing demand,” he said, “the price of renewables will be lower than the price of coal.” Yet rarely does Trump let logic get in the way of his talking points.
Those Americans who aren’t prepared to remain willfully ignorant to the clear and imminent dangers that climate change poses must implore our cities, states, businesses, and other nations to set ambitious goals with hard deadlines. Deny this administration the power of having any impact on our shared environment. And most importantly, find comfort in the fact that, aside from a small group of greedy men who choose to disseminate false information to an ill-informed minority of voters for personal gain, Americans as a whole understand the risks that climate change poses to our planet.
Donald Trump is nothing more than a fourth-rate reality star with dangerous autocratic tendencies and a thirst for adoration, both of which will never be realized. With his political victories limited to simply undoing those of his predecessor ― all of which Obama had a mandate for ― Trump will have no legacy of his own to speak of once this national embarrassment of a presidency ends. And history will judge him accordingly.