Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What has President Trump done that is good for America?

Answer by Ethan Young, a historian.  He does not like Trump personally but is impressed by how much he has accomplished or enabled already

I suppose I should preface this answer by saying that I was a “Never Trumper” Republican and didn’t vote for him. Now that that’s out of the way…

First, Trump has increased American oil and energy exports. This was already trending before he was elected, but now it’s really gaining steam. Only a decade ago, Americans were concerned about relying too much on the Saudis or other Middle Eastern nations for their energy supply. But today, the US is the third-largest oil producer in the world, it is less dependent on oil imports than at any point in the last 40 years, and it is stealing customers from Russia and Saudi Arabia even with prices as low as $50 per barrel. Even a few years ago, US shale producers would have found it hard to make a profit at that price, but they are succeeding at it now.

President Trump is using this as a powerful card in the game of geopolitics. For example, we have begun shipping liquid natural gas to Eastern Europe with the goal of undercutting Russia’s monopoly and influence there, and the Eastern Europeans are only too happy to diversify their energy portfolio. I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable about relying on someone like Putin for my energy needs.

Second, President Trump is rolling back excessive regulations that hurt American businesses and hamper our economic growth. The Clean Power Plan is a good example of this, because it was government by the administrative state on a scale that has never been attempted before. The EPA took a dubious reading of a portion of the Clean Air Act (Section 111, which arguably prevented the EPA from taking this action rather than empowered it to do so) and used it to mandate that the states adopt far-reaching plans to reduce carbon emissions, under threat of the loss of federal highway funds. And the legal foundation of the Clean Power Plan was so rickety that the Supreme Court took the extraordinary step of blocking its implementation pending all the lawsuits against it. This and other Obama-regulations were examples of gross overreach by the federal government and did more harm in the long run than good.

Third, President Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord, which was a toothless, un-enforceable exercise in virtue-signaling that would have made little impact on carbon emissions even if it had fully implemented.

Indeed, there is one genuinely strong argument for remaining a signatory to the Paris Accord on climate change, but it’s one that the accord’s advocates cannot make: The agreement simply doesn’t do anything. It was doomed before negotiators ever assembled for photographs in December 2015. They were not there to commit each country to meaningful greenhouse-gas reductions; rather, everyone submitted their voluntary pledges in advance, and all were accepted without scrutiny. Pledges did not have to mention emissions levels, nor were there penalties for falling short.

When the Paris Accord was first signed, then-Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that 186 nations in the world came together to submit a plan, all of them reducing their emissions. That was not true. In fact, most of the major developing countries, whose emissions will drive climate change this century, pledged only to continue with business as usual. China, for example, committed to begin reducing emissions by 2030, roughly when its economic development would have caused this to happen regardless. India made no emissions commitment, pledging only to make progress on efficiency at half the rate it had progressed in recent years. Pakistan outdid the rest, submitting a single page that offered to reduce its emissions after reaching peak levels to the extent possible. This is a definition of the word peak, not a commitment.

Since then, the farce proceeded as farces do. Secretary Kerry claimed the Accord would unleash clean-energy investment, but instead, global investment plummeted by 20 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The first quarter of 2017 saw another 17 percent decline versus 2016. The volunteer pledges have commanded precisely the respect they deserve. An April report by Transport Environment found only three European countries pursuing policies in line with their Paris commitments and one of those, Germany, has now seen two straight years of emissions increases. The Philippines has outright renounced its commitment. A study published by the American Geophysical Union warns that India’s planned coal-plant construction is incompatible with its own targets. All this behavior is socially acceptable amongst the climate crowd. Only Trump’s presumption that the agreement means something, and that countries should be forthright about their commitments, is beyond the pale.

Somewhat incredibly, Todd Stern, the Obama administration’s lead climate negotiator, took to the Washington Post to explain that the U.S. could even revise downward its own commitment to eliminate any potential burden. “I know,” he seemingly bragged, “because I helped negotiate that flexibility.” Compare this to his defense of the agreement when signed, in which he repeatedly used the word “ratchet” to describe a process where countries would only strengthen their commitments. But rather than see the cocktail hour interrupted, even that last vestige of substance was flung overboard.

So should the U.S. have stayed or gone? To quote another of President Obama’s secretaries of state: “What difference, at this point, does it make?” For the climate, not much of one. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s assessment of the agreement found that even full compliance would only have reduced global temperatures in 2100 by only 0.2 degrees Celsius. Instead, the debate devolved into the kind one otherwise hears about the UN Human Rights Council, a forum no one mistakes for a serious effort to advance human rights. If other countries are going to sit around discussing the climate, shouldn’t we at least attend? This is what some might call the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) defense.

Further, as Stern argued, “withdrawing from the Paris agreement would be a stain on the legacies of both the president and Secretary of State. Other countries would see withdrawal as a slap in the face.” But on which president’s legacy is Paris a stain? The Constitution requires the Senate to ratify treaties by a two-thirds supermajority in part to ensure that the United States speaks with a single, consistent voice on the international stage. It was President Obama who offered the world an unwise commitment for which he got nothing in return. It was Obama who refused to submit that commitment for Senate approval because he knew he did not have it.

Then there is the war against ISIS. When it comes to Trump’s boasts, many Americans—including myself—roll their eyes. But when it comes his boasting about ISIS, it’s hard for even his sternest detractors to gainsay him. ISIS was still largely undefeated and in control of much of the territory of Iraq and Syria when Trump was sworn in before a non-record setting crowd. But only nine months into his administration, the Islamic State’s hold on these countries has dwindled, and after the liberation this week of Raqqa, Syria—the capital of the Islamists’ supposed caliphate—it’s fair to say that the group is being routed after years in which it held its own against coalition forces. In January, ISIS controlled 23,300 square miles. Today it is holding on to about 9,300 square miles.

This has happened because Trump loosened the rules of engagement to allow commanders in the field more authority in day-to-day decisions about fighting the enemy. Under Obama, the White House micromanaged the conflict in a manner that calls to mind the way President Lyndon Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara fought the Vietnam War with similarly dismal results. Whether you like Trump or hate him doesn’t change the fact that ISIS fighters are surrendering in droves because of a change in strategy that Trump personally spearheaded.

In fact, if you prune away the rumors of cabinet shake-ups, “adult in the room” melodramas, tweets, fake-news accounts, and inter-cabinet spats, Trump’s foreign policy consists of the following:

A once-ascendant ISIS now shattered and in full retreat; a new honesty about NATO and its funding; an unsustainable Iran deal now on hold and sent to the Senate where as a treaty it belonged; honesty in describing the threat of both radical Islamic terrorism and Iranian hegemony; greater security on the southern border; a restored relationship with Israel and the Gulf States, and an improving one with Jordan and Egypt as well; a workable and constitutional immigration scrutiny of would-be entrants from war-torn Middle East countries; a growing deterrent stance toward Russia and China rather than the rhetoric of “reset” and the “Asian pivot”; an active and growing allied response to the North Korean threat; the beginnings of an all-out effort on missile defense (rather than the prior open-mic presidential promises of a “flexible” post-reelection efforts to curb it in Eastern Europe); a determination to rebuild the military (slowly, given the still far too large annual deficits); some recent incremental progress in Afghanistan due to new rules of engagement; the real red line that Assad cannot use WMD against civilians; a far more adult stance toward U.N. hypocrisies; improved autonomy abroad through increasing energy independence and trading in natural gas; an out from a Paris climate accord whose goals the U.S. meets anyway through free-market solutions; and the emerging outlines of a comprehensive doctrine of “principled realism” that restores deterrence.

The Trump presidency has also achieved a massive reduction in illegal immigration, arresting nearly 100,000 criminal illegal aliens and deporting over 52,000, a 30 percent increase over the same period last year. Illegal border crossings are down over 41 percent. The unemployment rate has ticked down to its lowest level in more than forty years, the stock market is surging, and the Senate just passed a critical piece of legislation that paves the way for tax reform that could potentially turbo-charge the U.S. economy if it’s done correctly.

For conservatives like myself, there are additional things to like about the Trump presidency. The appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and many other fine conservative judges to lower circuits is a definitely something to feel good about. Nikki Haley is kicking tail at the United Nations, and the Department of Veterans of Affairs has received a much-needed overhaul so it can take better care of those who’ve served our country.

More, Trump has taken a much-needed wrecking ball to political correctness, which has become twisted and weaponized far beyond the purpose for which it was originally intended, to the point where free speech itself is being stifled. Here’s an example: A lot of people think there are only two genders, boy and girl. Now, many other people think they're wrong, or that they should change that opinion. Some might argue that holding such a viewpoint is insensitive to the trans community. You could even argue that it flies in the face of modern social psychology. Fair enough.

But many people still think that there are two genders. And political correctness is the social force that holds them in contempt for that, or punishes them outright for saying so aloud.

Overturning political correctness is probably one of the most valuable and most-overlooked positive aspects of Donald Trump’s presidency, and even I can’t help but admit a certain admiration for his complete irreverence and disregard for its absurdity. In a “you can’t say that!” culture, where certain words and thoughts are no longer allowed, Trump says them, over and over—and then, when challenged, refuses to back down. In a society that has come to accept human frailty and accepts low horizons, Trump called for making the US “great again” and suggested that people can succeed like he has. And in a world where masculinity is now described as toxic, Trump relishes the opportunity to present himself as the tough guy. He simply does not care about political correctness, and more importantly, he’s shown that it’s okay not to care, that you can say what you think and not be afraid to say it. That is a powerful message, and a much-needed one.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


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