The day after Trump was elected I wrote a blog in which I described my top three fears about his election; he’d increase the chance that we’d fail to respond to climate change; he’d abolish Obamacare; and he’d do great “cultural damage” to the United States. https://richardswsmith.wordpress.com/2016/11/09/brexit-plus-plus-plus-what-might-be-the-three-pluses/ How is he doing?
Yesterday he announced that he’d pull the US out of the Paris agreement on responding to climate change. I can see that he had to do this after all that he’d promised during the election. Ironically, the main consequence may not be on the climate but on the global influence of the US; far from making “America great again” his decision will diminish America’s greatness.
The effect of his announcement has been to galvanise the rest of the world into taking climate change more seriously; and one of the reasons they are doing so is because they recognise that their economic future lies with promoting green energy not clinging to the old economy of fossil fuels. The biggest names in American business–IBM, Apple, Google, and Facebook– have condemned Trump’s move not only because it “puts America on the wrong side of history” but also because it restricts business opportunities and hands advantage to China and Europe.
Then in a world where more than half of us live in cities, it’s cities rather than nation states that hold the key to responding to climate change. Some 60 US cities have said that they will stay with the Paris agreement. Michael Bloomberg, a former mayor of New York, has just published a book entitled Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, And Citizens Can Save The Planet: note, it’s cities, businesses, and citizens not nations. The book says: “More than any national law or policy, devolving power to cities is the single best step that nations can take to improve their ability to fight climate change and, with it, the health of their citizens and economies.” The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy is a coalition of more than 7000 cities in 112 countries, including the US.
Trump is making progress with dismantling Obamacare, although he may not get a vote through the Senate. This is a tragedy primarily for the US, but again it puts the US at odds with the rest of the world, diminishing its influence. As the rest of the world is working towards universal health coverage, the US is headed in the opposite direction. Sadly many of those who will suffer most probably voted for Trump.
When I mentioned culture I was thinking not only about something subtle but also about the institutions designed to limit the power of the president and the executive. I’ve written about whether Trump might follow Julius Caesar in ending the republic and establishing a dictatorship. https://richardswsmith.wordpress.com/2016/12/28/cicero-on-donald-trump/ In fact the courts have held back Trump, and the media, although constantly under attack, have done well. Indeed, ironically Trump may give a great boost to newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, which were like all other newspapers in rich countries facing decline. The legislature, which is controlled by the Republicans, has not done so well, but that’s pure politics. Once the Republicans come to see Trump as a liability rather than an asset there’ll ditch him–and that day may be close.
I’m uncertain about the broader effect on culture. I’ve been in the US only briefly since his election. The US was described before the election as being more divided at any time since the Civil War, and perhaps that division has widened. Some US friends are embarrassed by Trump as I am embarrassed by Brexit. Hate crimes have perhaps increased–as they have here since Brexit. One small signal about the culture is a Canadian friend who now does all she can to avoid visiting the US.
The US is diminished in the eyes of the world, as is Britain.