Trump’s rationale for leaving the Paris Agreement was nonsense, a series of lies shot through with paeans to a dying coal industry and undergirded by a paranoid zero-sum approach to international relations. But as with so many of Trump’s speeches, the content was less important than the tone. Trump was seething. This was a campaign-style speech and the message couldn’t have been clearer: The Paris climate deal was pushed by hypocritical cosmopolitan elites.
Punishing them, it appears, was the impetus behind the decision to leave the agreement. “This is religion for the political left, and our supporters are constantly being asked to change their behavior,” a White House official told Mike Allen, before needling the deal’s supporters who “ride in fossil-fuel-guzzling planes and SUVs, then act holier-than-thou.”
In many ways, climate change is a soft political target. Trump can appease his base without paying the kind of immediate political consequences that would come from, say, taking away their health insurance. But this just shows the nihilism at the heart of the GOP, the only mainstream party in the Western world that questions the science of climate change. Stupid lines like “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh not Paris” reveal the grievance politics at work here: The sight of liberal tears is a reward in and of itself. Judging from the response on the right, pissing off the left was the whole point.
However, the Trump administration seems to have underestimated the level of blowback it has received, from corporate America to U.S.’s allies in Europe. This will likely push the administration even more toward “policies” that exist for no other reason than to punish the left and “elites.” This is what happens when you have a party that has nothing keeping it together but pissing off its opponents.