If the tidal wave of anger which broke against President Trump’s announcement that the United States is withdrawing from the Paris climate accords could be harnessed, the nation would have a surfeit of energy for some time to come.
Despite pressure from members of the global community and prominent figures in his own administration, including daughter Ivanka and secretary of state Rex Tillerson, Trump shrugged off concern with the vision of apocalypse many proponents seem convinced will inevitably result unless the world unreservedly subjugates itself to the measures of the deal.
Rather, the president’s rejection of the deal was grounded in the “America First” rhetoric which has been a hallmark of his presidency. On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to be a champion of the forgotten industrial workers whose livelihood he claimed had been decimated by the exodus of manufacturing jobs from America as a result of unfair global trade practices. The climate accords were a challenge which had been issued by the same international forces responsible for creating this environment; pulling out of the agreement was a decisive win for American independence in the economic arena.
As Trump, in his inimitable rhetoric style, articulated:
“The Paris climate accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States, to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers, who I love, and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories and vastly diminished economic production.”
The president’s economic populism, however, is not compatible with autonomy in the individual sense in which it has traditionally been understood. Even the nature of Trump’s process of pulling the U.S. out of the deal undercuts individualism as it continued the abuse of unilateral executive power begun under Obama by not submitting the treaty to the Senate for ratification.
The now-familiar vein of trade protectionism which runs through the bedrock of Trump’s nationalist populism supports individual welfare only through conformity. The American worker’s welfare is understood in terms of its contribution to the broader collective. “Good” is understood as a measure of the strength of the overall business climate; individual metrics related to the more nuanced realities of local economies are not a priority, except to the degree that poor performance threatens the ability of those on the macrolevel to tout the success of their platform.
Worker welfare under this rationale is a commodity, valuable because it is proof positive of the competency of the managers. This is not genuine concern with the freedom of individual business owners to pursue trade in accordance to their sense of what best benefits them. Nor does it even begin to consider the philosophical element which is integral to labor; productive power, if it is to truly be successful, must allow the creator to instill something of his vision in that towards which he works.
The re-emergence of individual spiritualism in modern business is necessary if there is to be a real resurgence of American business. It is not enough to provide a framework which allows workers and producers to do more on a grander scale; there must be some spark which drives them to do so.
This is why the reactions of some of the most prominent figures in American industry to the withdrawal from the climate deal is intriguing. Robert Iger, the CEO of Disney, and Elon Musk, the eccentric tech visionary behind companies like Tesla and SpaceX, announced their intention to leave their place on Trump’s business advisory council. Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of GE, took to Twitter to express his disgust with the president, stating, “Industry must now lead and not depend on government.” This sentiment is mirrored by the action taken by Musk and Igor.
While there is a somewhat winsome petulance in the reaction of these leaders of industries, their reaction is also encouraging. Industry should never depend on government. Immelt’s language is particularly alarming, as it suggests previously he exported management of his company to a government that espoused regulation with which he happened to agree. Not only does this betray an indolence of the sort that, in a world governed by the meritocracy of markets, should lead to his business collapsing, but it is another form of economic protectionism.
In a society where government is limited and members of the polity are supposed to have equal protection under the law, protectionism of any sort ought to be reviled. It says much that those who have enjoyed the most success in America have such a lax attitude towards government intrusion in their private business affairs, which perhaps undermines Trump’s assumption that the decline of industry comes from external actors. In business, conflicting visions of the future and differences of opinion are a reason to rebel against convention; the history of progress would not exist otherwise. The real legacy of Trump’s actions in regard to the Paris accord may be as a catalyst for autonomy in business, a resurgence of production driven by personal vision. This, more than any protectionist action Trump can take, will do far more to rebuild the American economy.
Also published on Medium.