By Rajendra Shende
Donald Trump’s stance on every issue ranging from climate change to globalisation is in juxtaposition to the policies of the former Republican President of USA, Ronald Reagan. Consequently, a great change has dawned upon American politics.
In June 1987, Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev in a speech delivered at Brandenburg Gate, Germany. Reagan was speaking next to the iconic Berlin Wall. When he said, “Tear down this wall”, he was not only referring to the brick and mortar wall erected in 1961 by the Soviet-backed communist East Germany, but also to the ideological firewall that existed between the inward-looking, socialistic economy of the East and the capitalist West. During this time, globalisation evolved and was aimed at establishing a New World Order.
In June 1990, one year after Reagan ended his presidential tenure, the Berlin wall was torn down. Open market economy and globalisation waves travelled eastward. Regulations were dismantled and innovation began proliferating. The world witnessed yet another revolution, the ‘Grey Revolution’. It stood for the rise of IT entrepreneurship and progress towards a digital regime and expanded cyberspace.
In stark contrast, during his 2015 candidacy speech, USA’s current Republican President Donald Trump proposed the idea of building a real wall along America’s southern border with Mexico. In his bid to ‘Make America Great Again (MAGA)’, Trump has isolated Americans, thus depriving them of the opportunities offered by a globalised and digital world. He considers fulfilment of these electoral promises an urgent task. His unilateral decisions, without multilateral consultative dialogues is poised to make a serious impact on the social, economic and environmental fabric of planet Earth.
Multilateralism: Reagan’s legacy
In the 80s, when the world favoured multilateralism, Reagan rode high on this wave to demolish the archaic walls of unilateralism. Reagan, alarmed by the threat to our planet, encouraged his administration to engage in multilateral negotiations for environmental agreements.
As the Governor of California from 1967-75, his environmental record was highly appreciated by many, particularly his path-breaking California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). However, his first presidential term starting in 1981 termed “Reaganomics” resulted in tax reduction, economic deregulation, a decrease in government spending and an aggressive policy of issuing leases for oil, gas, and coal development in million acres of lands belonging to the nation. Later, in his second presidential term, Reagan signed thirty-eight bills that added more than 10.6 million acres of spectacular forests, mountains, deserts, and wetlands to the National Wilderness Preservation System.
Trump’s one-man show
Trump harbours ill-will towards multilateralism, particularly its recent product –the Paris Climate Agreement. This is in stark contrast with the consultative and multilateral approach of Reagan. Trump is wading through the unilateral process by connecting issues like job losses of Americans, the rise of China and India, loss of a manufacturing base for the US and is trying to present the climate change crisis as diversion and digression from his “America First” slogan.
Reagan’s diplomatic acts
Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987 after multi-party negotiations under the umbrella of United Nations, is an extraordinary example of American Republican stewardship. It was skilfully traded by Reagan in the wake of threats to American industry and jobs at the time. The protocol was aimed at protecting the UV-deflecting ozone layer from eroding due to human intervention. Without Reagan’s contribution and convincing power, the ozone layer would have resulted in the death of millions owing to skin cancer, cataract, immune deficiency and other diseases.
More than 125 billion USD worth of equipment in American supermarkets, buildings, automobiles, electronic instruments and foam blowing relied on ozone-depleting chemicals. These chemicals were proposed to be phased out under the Montreal Protocol. American chemical industries sold about 100 ozone-depleting chemicals at the time of negotiations. The value of goods and services from these chemicals was $28 billion every year.
The predicted American job loss due to provisions of the Montreal Protocol was threatening not just the very foundation of Republican popularity, rekindled by Reagan, but the very tenets of American superiority and competitiveness. “Hoax” cries against the science of ozone layer depletion by human interference echoed in America. Now, the only difference is that we hear these echoes from the lawns of the White House.
Reagan, in partnership with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and, surprisingly, USSR President Gorbachev, held a number of informal consultations over the Montreal Protocol, including financial and technical support to developing and emerging countries like India and China. Many diplomats have termed the Reagan-Gorbachev summits of 1987-88 as “Ozone-Glasnost”. Regan and Gorbachev even collaborated on stratospheric ozone research through joint satellite missions.
Trump’s moves: Undoing of Reagan’s policies
Trump’s stance on the Paris Climate Agreement, his alleged cyber space-affair with Russia and his buzzing ‘America First’ campaign, in comparison to Reagan’s past, appears to be in pitiful defiance of Reagan’s diplomacy.
Now, three decades later, Reagan, an actor-turned-politician is remembered as the key contributor to the unique success of the Montreal Protocol, implementation of which has averted the global catastrophe so far. Thirty years from now, real estate businessman-turned-politician Donald Trump will leave historians wondering on how to describe his contribution to a climate solution.
The writer is an alumnus of IIT, Chairman at TERRE Policy Centre and was a former Director of UNEP.
Featured Image Credits: Visual Hunt
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