For Trump crit­ics, to fol­low is to lead

Walker County Messenger - - News - By­ron York The Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner

Pres­i­dent Trump’s per­for­mance at the G-20 sum­mit in Ger­many pro­duced a wave of com­men­tary claim­ing the United States has ab­di­cated its role as world leader.

ABC News con­tem­plated “A World With­out U.S. Lead­er­ship.” CNN re­ported that Trump ex­changed “an ag­gres­sive, tra­di­tional Amer­i­can lead­er­ship role for iso­la­tion in a club of one.” The lib­eral ac­tivist Neera Tan­den tweeted, “Can we just ad­mit that the era of Amer­i­can global lead­er­ship is over un­der Trump?”

The talk­ing point quickly be­came con­ven­tional wis­dom in Europe. In the UK, the In­de­pen­dent wrote, “The G-20 proves it. Be­cause of Trump, the world no longer looks to Amer­ica for lead­er­ship.”

While there were dis­agree­ments in Ham­burg be­tween Trump and the other 19 na­tions on lots of things, in­clud­ing trade, the main fac­tor in all the end-of-Amer­i­can-lead­er­ship talk was the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to pull out of the Paris Cli­mate Ac­cord.

The idea is that, by not go­ing along with the other 19 na­tions -Ar­gentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Ger­many, In­dia, Indonesia, Italy, Ja­pan, Mex­ico, Rus­sia, Saudi Ara­bia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United King­dom, and the Euro­pean Union -- the United States is no longer lead­ing.

In other words: One can only lead by fol­low­ing the group.

It’s an odd for­mu­la­tion, rem­i­nis­cent of the old Barack Obama “lead­ing from be­hind” jokes, but it’s the prin­ci­ple un­der­ly­ing the end-of-Amer­i­can-lead­er­ship talk. And it’s not work­ing with some of the pres­i­dent’s key sup­port­ers on Capi­tol Hill.

“I’m glad that Pres­i­dent Trump cares more about elec­tric­ity rates in Paris, Arkansas than he does the Paris Cli­mate Ac­cord,” Arkansas Repub­li­can Sen. Tom Cot­ton said in a text ex­change Sun­day. “Hol­low agree­ments aside, the United States will con­tinue to lead the world in en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, while also ex­port­ing oil and gas abroad. In par­tic­u­lar, Amer­i­can global en­ergy dom­i­nance will help break Europe’s de­pen­dence on Rus­sian oil and gas, if only Ger­many would stop pos­tur­ing at one mo­ment, while cozy­ing up to Putin in the next.”

In­deed, it seems safe to say that as the U.S. fur­ther de­vel­ops its en­ergy out­put, it will also achieve its own vol­un­tary emis­sions goals for 2020 and be­yond. (Each coun­try in the non-bind­ing Paris deal got to set its own.) But if Trump sticks with his de­ci­sion, the U.S. will not take part in the vast, bil­lions-and-bil­lions-of­dol­lars global wealth-re­dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem that is part of the Paris Agree­ment.

It was of course well known ahead of time that the other G-20 lead­ers op­posed Trump’s move. The ques­tion in Ham­burg was what they would say about it in a for­mal state­ment. The Guardian re­ported that “ten­sions ran par­tic­u­larly high be­tween French and U.S. of­fi­cials,” who fought over whether the fi­nal G-20 state­ment would in­clude a men­tion of the U.S. help­ing other coun­tries “to ac­cess and use fos­sil fu­els more cleanly and ef­fi­ciently.” (It did.)

At the same time, Trump’s de­ci­sion made the other coun­tries want to show­case the depth of their com­mit­ment to the Paris deal. “We take note of the de­ci­sion of the United States of Amer­ica to with­draw from the Paris Agree­ment,” the G-20 lead­ers’ fi­nal dec­la­ra­tion said. Then: “The lead­ers of the other G-20 mem­bers state that the Paris Agree­ment is ir­re­versible.”

To Amer­i­can ears, the “ir­re­versible” part sounded a lit­tle strange. In the con­text of gov­ern­ment, what does “ir­re­versible” mean? Amer­i­cans, like all other hu­mans, re­verse things all the time. Even the Con­sti­tu­tion can be amended. But the Paris Agree­ment -- which for­mer Pres­i­dent Obama im­posed by ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity with­out seek­ing the ap­proval of the Se­nate in the nor­mal treaty process -- that is “ir­re­versible”?

And even for the G-20, what does “ir­re­versible” mean? It cer­tainly does not mean “in­flex­i­ble.” The 19 lead­ers noted that they are “mov­ing swiftly to­wards its full im­ple­men­ta­tion in ac­cor­dance with the prin­ci­ple of com­mon but dif­fer­en­ti­ated re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and re­spec­tive ca­pa­bil­i­ties, in the light of dif­fer­ent na­tional cir­cum­stances.” In other words, in a non-bind­ing agree­ment like Paris, in­di­vid­ual coun­tries can do what they gotta do.

That, ac­cord­ing to the com­men­ta­tors, is the def­i­ni­tion of lead­er­ship. Don­ald Trump chose to

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