In the Obama era, the issue of climate change reflected the idea of an increasingly close relationship between the essence of the United States — the “pluralistic” country, built with immigration from every corner of the planet which Obama felt he reflected — and the world itself.
In the Trump era, America closes in on itself. It gives itself top priority — America First — and follows the course of a political agenda based on “domestic” convenience. The rest of the world must adapt to it. The climate is no longer among the priorities; dealing with it is not in the interest of the U.S., says Trump.
In Obama’s vision of America and the world, it is not only a melting pot of communities, religions and cultures; it’s a melting pot of 320 million Americans.
There is the enhancement of the geographical and social plurality that makes up the American puzzle, a federation where California — the sixth largest economy in the world — coexists with Texas, larger than France and richer than many nations, and with tiny Delaware, and with Idaho of potato fame, and with the states with closed and disused factories.
The contradictions of the world can be seen across the American continent. Obama tried to find common ground and cohesion between parts of America that, with the economic crisis and demographic change, like the ice slabs in the Arctic, were drifting away from each other, concentrating most of his efforts on this internal dimension of the American problems. In doing so, he laid international politics into the background.
For Obama, a virtuous America, including in terms of climate (and the knowledge economy) and on the struggle to reduce inequalities, could be the best way to continue to have the same influence it had in the 20th century thanks to conjunction of unparalleled economic strength and unparalleled military-industrial complex.
In Trump’s plan, there is no return to the policy of global power. He also shows an explicit attention to the domestic dimension of the problems, but with the opposite viewpoint to Obama’s, privileging some areas of the country over others, certain electoral areas over others, certain economic sectors at the expense of others. Trump is a divider, while Obama is a uniter. He is a divider at home; therefore he is a divider in the world.
This was Trump’s winning message. And as president, he is just putting it into practice, often in a contradictory and confused way, as promised and declaimed during the election campaign.
The attitude of those surprised is curious, to say the least. Did they imagine that the president would renege on the promises he made as candidate? Many commentators have pointed out that the Machiavellianism and the repertoire of lies employed by politicians around the world have pushed many voters away from politics and in favor of outsiders. Once these outsiders get into government, because they don’t owe anything to anybody, they keep a constant conversation with their bloc of supporters, to the extent that some are willing to take to the streets with arms. When he announced the withdrawal from the climate agreement, Trump said: “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
Bill Peduto, mayor of Pittsburgh, a symbol of American “rusty city,” resented Trump’s overture and has described the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement as “disastrous.” It highlights the unprecedented level to which the clash between the different institutional power centers has come to in America.
Not unlike what’s happening in Europe, America increasingly resembles a quarreling family about to separate. Trump favors these impulses, which are not emotional (they have nothing to do with the “gut” or the “heartland,” which are journalistic shortcuts). There are opposing interests at stake today among the regions, among the electoral groups, among the constituencies.
Recently in Montana, one of Trump’s clones, worse than the mold, Greg Gianforte, won a special election for the House of Representatives. The local progressives had the illusion that he was not going to make it, because shortly before the vote he assaulted a reporter. He won in spite of it, perhaps because of it.
On June 20, in Atlanta, Democrat Jon Ossoff will try to win a Republican seat in another special election. Ossoff, amazingly, has won the primary, and all of Democratic America has mobilized — over $30 million raised — for the second round.
Will we hear from Atlanta the good news that Trump and Gianforte’s wave has stopped and that the other America is already recovering strength to return to the surface? It is hard to believe, but there is hope. Otherwise, it would be yet another signal that the new American Civil War is speeding toward new and violent battles, with reverberations in the rest of the world.
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