Self-Government Not Climate at Issue in Paris Agreement

By | 2017-06-07T20:30:17+00:00 June 2nd, 2017|
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It’s time for a serious discussion about what just happened with the Paris Climate agreement. President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. participation was not only a fulfillment of his campaign promise and utterly predictable, it was his clear legal prerogative to do it. The Paris agreement was not a treaty; it was not law. It was a personal agreement between Barack Obama and a number of other world leaders. Their agreement not only lacked hard enforcement provisions, they were not binding on the home nations of any of the signators that did not then decide to make it the law of their lands.

For our purposes here, it is less interesting to debate whether or not climate change is natural or man-made, or whether the worst-case scenarios offered about its supposed effects are realistic. Those are questions of judgment and they are not the issue at hand. Instead, we want to focus on the legitimacy of these kinds of international agreements and how they are made under the United States Constitution. In other words, who gets to make the judgments discussed above? And who decides what the United States should do in response to potential climate change?

If the Paris accord had been ratified by the Senate, it would be federal law. If it was law, then President Trump would have no power to withdraw the United States from participating in it.

For the sake of argument, let us assume that climate change is caused directly by man’s activity and that it will lead to catastrophic environmental consequences. Within the next century, coastal cities will be inundated by the oceans, widespread crop failures will lead to worldwide famines, and any number of disastrous events will be the result of our failure to enact the provisions of the Paris Agreement.

If all this is true, then it was the duty of President Obama not only to make a personal agreement with other world leaders, but to make the case for the Paris Agreement to the Senate and the American people. It is only through ratification by the Senate that any agreement made by a President of the United States becomes a treaty under U.S. law.

Article 2, section 2 of the United States Constitution reads, “He (the President) shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.” If the Paris Climate Accord was an issue of primary importance, this should have been done.

If the Paris accord had been ratified by the Senate, it would be federal law. If it was law, then President Trump would have no power to withdraw the United States from participating in it. The primary duty of the President, as stated in section 3 of Article 2 is that, “he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” If it had been a ratified international treaty, President Trump would be obligated to carry out the Paris Agreement, barring an additional act of Congress to repeal it.

Why then was the Paris agreement not presented to the Senate for their ratification? Doubtless, many Democrats would defend then President Obama’s inaction due to the fact that there was a Republican majority in the Senate that might not have been receptive to the pact. That is hardly an acceptable excuse, and it is emblematic of a much deeper problem with President Obama’s take on governing. If the case for the Paris agreement is as clear as its advocates claim, certainly that case could have been made to the Senators and the the people that they represent.

For all their talk about “democracy” and the “people,” the simple truth is that progressives don’t have much use for democratic institutions. They do not really believe in self-government. What they believe in is government by an expert elite who deem it their fate in life to protect the people from themselves.

A poll conducted by the George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication in November of 2016, cited by the Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, The Atlantic and many other legacy media outlets, makes the claim that 71% of Americans support the Paris deal, with only 13% opposed. They go on to say that even a majority of Republicans, including Trump voters, support the Paris agreement. If this is to be believed, certainly the pressure of public opinion might have been mustered to pressure the requisite number of Senators to ratify the agreement and make a treaty, right?

For all their talk about “democracy” and the “people,” the simple truth is that progressives don’t have much use for democratic institutions. They do not really believe in self-government. What they believe in is government by an expert elite who deem it their fate in life to protect the people from themselves.

This was the regular course of action during the Obama presidency. Obama did not deign to make the case through our Constitutionally-mandated system of checks and balances, but sought instead to put into place policies that did not enjoy popular support by empowering unelected bureaucrats who shared his preferences to take on roles never envisioned by the lawmakers who created the laws that empowered them. We can see this nowhere more clearly than in “environmental” policy through the overreach of the Obama EPA.

What progressives in the Democratic Party (and, sadly, many wobbly members of the Republican Party) fail to realize, is that this is what brought them the Trump presidency.

Most of the United States still believes in the Constitution, and in the republican form of self-government. The American people remain capable of governing themselves. As Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address,

We are a nation that has a government—not the other way around. And this makes us special among the nations of the Earth. Our Government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed. We not only do not need unelected bureaucrats running our lives, we resent their attempts to do so.

This is the grassroots swell that fueled the Reagan Revolution and that elevated Donald Trump to the Republican nomination and Electoral College victory, despite the best efforts of the progressive/media establishment to preserve the old order.

If progressives want to make a counter-argument within our Constitutional framework, they are most welcome to do so. Unlike the progressive bureaucratic order, our republican system does not stymie opposing viewpoints. The system the Founders created allows us as a people to make important decisions through our representatives in Washington. If they can make the stronger argument Progressives can still win. During his brief time in office, President Trump has worked diligently to restore national sovereignty and the principles of a self-governing republic. That, not climate change, is what really frightens progressives.

About the Author:

Sam Agami
Sam Agami has taught American History, Civics, and Economics in the Virginia Beach Public Schools since 1999. He earned a M.A. in American History and Government from Ashland University in Ohio. A native of New Rochelle, NY, he currently resides in Norfolk, VA with his wife Deanna.