Until the very end, they tried behind closed doors to get him to change his mind about leaving the Paris Climate Accord. For the umpteenth time, they presented all the arguments -- the humanitarian ones, the geopolitical ones and, of course, the economic ones. They listed the advantages for the economy and for American companies. They explained how limited the hardships would be.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the last one to speak, according to the secret minutes taken last Friday afternoon in the conference hotel in the Sicilian town of Taormina - meeting notes that DER SPIEGEL has been given access to. Leaders of the world's seven most powerful economies were gathered around the table and the issues under discussion were the global economy and sustainable development.
The newly elected French president, Emmanuel Macron, went first. It makes sense that the Frenchman would defend the international treaty that bears the name of France's capital: The Paris Agreement. "Climate change is real and it affects the poorest countries," Macron said.
Then, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reminded the U.S. president how successful the fight against the ozone hole had been and how it had been possible to convince industry leaders to reduce emissions of the harmful gas.
The New Leader of the Free World Speaks
Finally, it was Angela Merkel's turn. Renewable energies, said the chancellor, present significant economic opportunities. "If the world's largest economic power were to pull out, the field would be left to the Chinese," she warned. Xi Jinping is clever, she added, and would take advantage of the vacuum it created. Even the Saudis were preparing for the post-oil era, she continued, and saving energy is also a worthwhile goal for the economy for many other reasons, not just because of climate change.
But Donald Trump remained unconvinced. In fact, he had already made up his mind. No matter how factual the arguments presented by the increasingly frustrated group of world leaders, none of them had an effect. "For me," the U.S. president said, "it's easier to stay in than step out." Based on ideology and not facts, Trump says that environmental constraints were costing the American economy jobs, he said. And that was the only thing that mattered. Jobs, jobs, jobs.
At that point, it was clear to the rest of those seated around the table that they had lost him - or never really had his ear. Resigned, Macron admitted defeat. "Now China leads," he said.
The Fool in the Rose Garden
Still, it is likely that none of the G-7 heads of state and government expected the primitive brutality Trump would stoop to when announcing his withdrawal from the international community. Surrounded by patronizing sycophants in the Rose Garden at the White House, he didn't just proclaim his withdrawal from the climate agreement, he sowed the seeds of international conflict. His speech was a break from centuries of Enlightenment and rationality. The president presented his political statement as a nationalist manifesto of the most imbecilic variety. It couldn't have been any worse.
Moreover, Trump's speech was packed with lies and bogus numbers from controversial or disproven studies. It was hypocritical and dishonest. In Trump's mind, the climate agreement is an instrument allowing other countries to enrich themselves at the expense of the United States. "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris," he said.
Trump left no doubt that the minority base that elected him was the only value he is capable of understanding. Ever the paranoid narcissist, Trump state that "it's no wonder that the other countries applauded when Washington signed the Paris Agreement," he said. "We don't want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore. And they won't be. They won't be."
A "Yuge" Step Back for the Earth's Climate and Diplomacy
Trump's withdrawal is a major setback for the climate, our children and grandchildren. The U.S. is the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases -- behind China -- and is now no longer part of a responsible global effort to put a stop to scientifically factual climate change. It's become America against the rest of the world, along with Syria and Nicaragua (the latter didn't sign on because the Pact wasn't stringent enough), the only other countries that haven't signed the Paris deal.
But the negative effects on the geopolitical climate are likely to be just as huge. Trump's speech provided only the most recent proof that discord between the U.S. and Europe is deeper now than at any time since the end of World War II.
Today, the Western community of values is standing in opposition to Donald Trump. The G-7 has become the G-6. The West is now divided. As long as Trump and his Republican Party "ignorance caucus" remains in power, China is now set to become the new world leader and continental Europe will be the new global leadership of the free world.
For three-quarters of a century, the U.S. led, protected and cooperated economically with Europe. Despite all the mistakes and shortcomings exhibited by U.S. foreign policy, from Vietnam to Iraq, America's claim to both political and business leadership of the free world was never seriously questioned. Until now.
Donald Trump is in the process of destroying the remaining goodwill that exists. And yes, the world leaders were never laughing at America. But they are laughing now at the political and economic ignorance that is Donald Trump.
Der Spiegel Online, June 2, 2017