The most bewildering part of President Donald Trump’s speech on Thursday - and there were plenty of bewildering moments - was when, in a nationalistic fervor, he decided to blame the Midwest for his ridiculous decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord.
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Trump said in his very best old-man-screaming-at-the-TV voice, while standing in the Rose Garden.
A while later, he added: “It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with many, many other locations within our great country, before Paris, France. It is time to make America great again.”
In response to Trump’s ignorant rambling, the mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, quickly tweeted: “I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future.”
He wasn’t alone. Within a few hours, the mayors of 68 cities representing 38 million Americans in red and blue states had published a letter declaring their intent to defy Trump’s decision to exit the Paris accord.
They call themselves the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, which is different from the United States Climate Alliance, the brainchild of the governors of California, New York and Washington to unite states in defiance of Trump.
Hours later, the list of mayors had grown to 92.
“We will continue to lead,” they wrote. “We are increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. We will buy and create more demand for electric cars and trucks. We will increase our efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create a clean energy economy, and stand for environmental justice. And if the President wants to break the promises made to our allies enshrined in the historic Paris Agreement, we’ll build and strengthen relationships around the world to protect the planet from devastating climate risks.”
Point is, no matter what Trump says, his brand of economic nationalism does not represent the Midwest when it comes to climate change and the benefits of the clean energy economy. That’s because most people in the Midwest live in cities that have worked hard to transform their economies after years of getting creamed by declining old school manufacturing businesses.
Take Pittsburgh. That’s the Pennsylvania city that Silicon Valley’s Uber chose for an initial trial of its driverless cars. It’s also a tech hub that long ago shifted away from its industrial roots. It is home to Carnegie Mellon University, which is known globally for its robotics and computer science programs.
Or Detroit. Admittedly slow to shrug off its manufacturing roots, it’s now a hub for the development of autonomous electric vehicles, working with and competing with California tech companies to be the first to stake a real claim in that space.
Or Youngstown. Once it was a booming industrial bastion of Ohio. Now there’s talk of making money off the growing renewable energy industry. On Thursday, Mayor John A. McNally said: “Nothing about the U.S. withdrawal would seem to indicate any form of job creation for the city of Youngstown.”
Even in the middle of Vice President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana, South Bend’s Mayor Pete Buttigieg tweeted: “One of SB’s best job creators is a solar company. One of SB’s worst problems in 2016 was a climate disaster. All climate change is local.”
The people who live in these cities sitting in these swing states don’t want to go back to working in some coal mine or to give up their manufacturing job in next generation clean tech.
Trump says the Midwest is with him on this. Don’t believe the hype.
Erika D. Smith is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee.