On Wednesday morning Donald Trump tweeted, "I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Agreement on climate change over the next few days. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"
That's right, America, your President was teasing pulling out of the historic and vital Paris agreement like it was a possible lesbian kiss coming up on a daytime soap with failing ratings.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly stated that climate change is a "hoax." He has credited the Chinese with the idea, tweeting "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."
He campaigned on pulling out of the agreement, and a number of news outlets reported, after the tweet, that officials familiar with the President's plans said that's what he'd do. I imagine that, even as they said this, they had no firm idea of what would actually come out of Mr. Trump's mouth when the time came.
On Wednesday evening Mr. Trump elaborated, promising he'd be "announcing my decision on Paris agreement, Thursday at 3:00 P.M. The White House Rose Garden." You may recall Mr. Trump's recent tweet on the possibility of repealing the Affordable Care Act. "If victorious, Republicans will be having a big press conference at the beautiful Rose Garden of the White House immediately after vote!" he enthused.
There is no greater evidence that the 70-year-old, exhausted-looking Donald Trump would much prefer to be retired than his endless quest for excuses to spend more time in his rose garden.
I imagine when those same leaky officials read his rosy promise of a decision, they sighed and placed their bets on what he'd actually say once there. The odds were likely even on the presentation involving Mr. Trump's proudly again telling the world that "The Germans are bad, very bad."
The kindest word for the President is "capricious," and no one uses it.
This is an administration where the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is tweeting but always has to be prepared for a 3 a.m. "Hey, that right hand was totally lying to you and there is a very good chance I conspired to obstruct an FBI investigation!"
After all, it was widely circulated that, despite his previous characterization of NATO as "obsolete" and his apparent belief it was some kind of heavily armed American-owned private golf club to whom much of Europe owes late membership fees, the President would be reaffirming America's commitment to NATO's Article 5 – the part that makes it more than just a heavily armed golf club – and he very much did not do this.
Upon Mr. Trump's return from his less-than-serene sojourn, national-security adviser H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, wrote a Wall Street Journal editorial boasting that Mr. Trump had done a great job "reconfirming America's commitment to NATO and Article 5."
There's so much spin coming out of the White House it's as if the entire world's been crowded into a basement and forced to watch someone's entirely disastrous vacation slides while his doting family narrates.
There is a disconnect.
"Oh, I loved this!" we hear, as they click from image to image. "This was one of the highlights of his trip!" But all anyone paying attention can say is "Umm, it kinda looks like he's completely covered in fire ants."
"Look at all the great friends he made with his positive energy," they say, clicking over to a slide showing their star shoving the Prime Minister of Montenegro out of his way and then preening before the cameras.
"Dear God, is the Prime Minister okay? Did any of the fire ants get on him?" we cry out in understandable concern.
"No, really, the trip went great! The fire ants only caused a little bit of unbearable agony, hardly any unspeakable torment at all, really, and the other world leaders were thrilled to have him there."
"Was that Angela Merkel in that last slide," someone calls out from the back, "climbing up a pillar to hang a 'Team Fire Ants!!' banner from the ceiling?"
"No, you're mistranslating that," snaps the projector operator, clicking rapidly through the next four slides.
"It was in English," says a child in the crowd.
Footage of Mr. Trump greeting President Macron as though the French leader's arm were a recalcitrant child he was trying to get into a snowsuit was spun as an attempt to show strength on Mr. Trump's part, but of course, as every parent knows, there is no way of coming out of that battle looking statesmanlike.
Mr. Trump's thorny Thursday Rose Garden announcement that the United States will indeed pull out of the Paris climate agreement, which was signed by 197 countries and ratified by 147, was telegraphed in that McMaster/Cohn editorial. The U.S. wants to go it alone.
"The President embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a 'global community' but an arena where," they wrote, "nations, non-governmental actors, and businesses engage and compete for advantage. We bring to this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it."
This is not the mindset of someone looking to maintain the current liberal-democratic world order with themselves at the top. This is the plot to Rollerball, which, by the way, is set in 2018 if you haven't got your skates yet.
The Paris agreement isn't a magic bullet but it is widely agreed to be the best hope we have of coming together against the greatest threat the Earth has ever faced. We could think of it as good practice, as a template for dealing with other crises.
It's as if legions of man-eating, radioactive squid monsters from outer space have come to Earth and started doing what man-eaters do best, beginning with the very poorest and most vulnerable among us. Earthlings – with the exception of that one uncle at Thanksgiving dinner who argues that Squid Monsters from Beyond the Stars are just a natural cycle the Earth goes through, and will clear themselves up in a few years – agree this is a really bad thing.
After painstaking discussion, it is agreed that the world's nations should start eradicating the squid monsters on their soil before it's too late, setting their own targets, determining their own methods, but letting their global partners know how that's going from time to time.
There would be global dismay if the President of the United States announced that he, along with the head of his Extraterrestrial Prevention Agency, had determined that the Terrible Space Squids were actually just Chinese President Xi Jinping in a squid costume trying to scare people away from the coal mines they are so sentimental about. Were the President to stand gleefully in his Rose Garden and announce that the U.S. would instead be investing in some tremendous meddling kids and their talking dog, it would have disastrous results for the whole "not being eaten by space squids" effort, but that is pretty much where we are.
The vast majority of Americans support staying in the Paris agreement. Many businesses, from the growing green-energy sector to ExxonMobil and Shell, wanted the same. But abandoning this deal was a campaign promise, and Mr. Trump has fulfilled almost none of those.
In between talk of how much he "love[s] coal miners" and paranoid rambling about the agreement being "less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States," the words "previous administration," contrasted with "my presidency," played a starring role in Mr. Trump's announcement. This wasn't even mindless populism; it was naked egoism, a difficult quality to respect.
There were roses, a jazz band and an old man talking about the good old days. American hegemony, it seems, will end not with a bang or a whimper, but with a terribly costly brunch.