Ignore Trump’s Words on Climate and the Paris Treaty — Look at What He’s Doing

Article/Op-Ed in New York Magazine
Sept. 19, 2017

Heather Hurlburt explained how to interpret the Trump administration's newest statement on climate change for New York Magazine.

That’s why the right way to look at the latest statements from the Trump administration is through the lens of politics. “Reviewing the terms of engagement” is a wonderfully diplomatic phrase to drop on the eve of President Trump’s first foray into the wilds of the United Nations. It suggests to foreign governments that there might be a deal to be had, or at least some value in engaging with the administration on climate. It gives the same impression to Americans who want to believe whatever iteration of “Trump pivots to center” we’re on this week. It gives the media a plot twist. And it gives the president a chance to reassure his conservative base that he’s never changing. He gets all these benefits simply from a trick of rhetoric.
This tactic is, strangely, fundamental to how Trump governs. He ends protections for young out-of-status immigrants, making them vulnerable to arrest and deportation — and then announces something that looks like a six-month waiver and says it’s Congress’s job to fix the problem. He announces that transgender individuals may no longer serve openly in the U.S. military … with a time delay and a pretense of wiggle room for the secretary of Defense. In addition to climate, Trump seems to be gearing up for the same puppet show on U.S. participation in the six-party agreement that suspended Iran’s nuclear weapons program and provided for intense inspections of the country’s nuclear facilities.
Funnily enough, although diplomacy depends on a gloss of misdirection and half-truths, the international-affairs community is especially unready to deal with a leader who doesn’t say what he means.
So here’s a simple way to understand where Trump really stands on climate: Look at the discrete, domestic policies that would make the U.S. economy cleaner and greener — there, the administration’s position is deeply at odds with Paris.
Related Topics
The Politics of American Policymaking