After No. 45 backed out of the Paris Climate Agreement, No. 44 offered a rare rebuke of his successor.
In the aftermath of President Trump’s decision on Thursday to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement—an astonishingly cruel, irrational, and petty decision even for a man who seems to break new ground in those categories every week—perhaps the most notable of the many, many leaders around the world to publicly condemn the move was the man who signed the Paris Agreement on behalf of the United States: President Obama.
Look at that last paragraph!
Even in the absence of American leadership; even as this Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.
Considering the intricate, highfalutin set of unwritten rules of decorum that have traditionally governed the conduct of presidents after they leave the White House, this is about as devastating a critique of a sitting president by a former president that you’ll ever see. And after yesterday, President Obama should think about doing a whole lot more of that.
As he prepared to leave office last year, there was a lot of breathless speculation about how Private Citizen Obama would conduct himself during the Trump presidency, given that Obama had repeatedly opined during the campaign that Trump is “unfit” to hold the office. In response, Obama would patiently reiterate the importance of giving the new president room to breathe, declaring that he would only speak out against the administration if “core values of ours” were in danger. And when one of the examples he offered—the imposition of a Muslim ban—actually came to pass, Obama did just that. Since then, he’s remained pretty quiet, jetting off to faraway places to kiteboard with Richard Branson and taking pictures on his iPad and generally allowing this country to clean up its own goddamn mess.
After yesterday’s future-destroying, world-endangering nonsense, though, I am extremely ready for that to be over. To hell with decorum. I want President Obama to drag his successor on everything. Every moronic decision out of this White House should be followed by an official statement from President Obama explaining, in painstaking detail, why it is an objectively terrible idea, and it should include screenshots of contradictory old Trump tweets, if any exist. (They always exist.). When Sean Spicer tells another outrageous lie to justify something that his boss does, I want a press release from President Obama affirming that it is, indeed, an outrageous lie. I want him retweeting to his 89.4 million followers—nearly three times as many as the current president, by the way, which is almost certainly a fact that keeps Trump up at night—every one of @realdonaldtrump’s angry denials about Russia with 140 characters’ worth of the Russian flags.
There are, of course, perfectly good reasons why he doesn’t do this already, and why starting to do so would be a bad idea. For starters, President Obama does not seem to be a petty, vindictive person. And as President George W. Bush explained in an interview in 2014, former presidents undermining the current president is a bad look for a country that prides itself on its peaceful transitions of political power—a sentiment with which President Obama seems to agree, as evidenced by these comments he made shortly after Election Day.
I want to be respectful of the office and give the president-elect an opportunity to put forward his platform and his arguments without somebody popping off.
It’s also true that if Obama were to fire off attacks at Trump on a daily basis, like another one of those overzealous Twitter accounts with #RESIST somewhere in the display name, the potency and gravity of his criticisms would be significantly diminished. After all, the reason his decision to speak out on the Paris climate agreement is newsworthy is precisely because he does it so rarely.
Those are fair and valid arguments, and I begrudgingly respect them. But at this point, what poses more of an existential threat to the American presidency: Barack Obama calling out Donald Trump for doing dangerous, delusional things, or…the dangerous, delusional things that Donald Trump is actually doing? Plus, look what happened yesterday: Even as Obama called on America’s states and cities to be leaders on climate change, the governors of Washington, California, and New York immediately announced the formation of the United States Climate Alliance, stepping into the space that Trump had just vacated. And after the president repeatedly name-checked Pittsburgh, which Hillary Clinton carried with about 80 percent of the vote, during his Rose Garden speech, the mayor promptly told Trump to keep the city’s name out of his mouth.
Yeah, these politicians were probably going to do these things regardless of whether Obama chose to weigh in on the subject. But especially among Democrats who have, um, known happier days than this, every time he chooses to speak out, he ignites such energy and excitement and resolve. When I remember that, in the not-so-distant past, this country was governed by a thoughtful, rational president who didn’t casually help hasten the end of the planet because he literally doesn’t understand the ramifications of his actions, it’s a tentative, hopeful reminder that maybe we’ll have that again someday, too, God willing.
To find out why this agreement is such a big deal visit Paris climate agreement.