President Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg sit to the left of Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel as he delivers a speech during the NATO summit in Brussels on May 25. (Thierry Charlier/European Pressphoto Agency)
Opinion writer

As we have discussed previously, pulling out of the Paris climate agreement is not justified on economic grounds. U.S. businesses want to remain in the agreement. CNBC business reporter Ron Insana explained recently on MSNBC Live: “Most businesses have moved towards a more sustainable form of energy, reducing their carbon footprint, and what have you, against the backdrop of concerns about climate change. So, if we pull out, in the short run, certainly you could see some benefit to companies because their compliance costs go down. In the long run, this is not the way the world is going, and so companies really do have to stay lined up with this accord because, at the end of the day, it also benefits them too in terms of productivity and efficiency and so on.” The array of businesses that favor continued participation in the Paris agreement is remarkable:

In recent months, big business has lobbied fiercely in favor of the deal, which aims to end the fossil fuel era. Even major oil firms like Chevron and ExxonMobil  back it. Exxon CEO Darren Woods wrote a personal letter to Trump earlier this month, urging him to stick to the deal. The U.S., he said, is “well positioned to compete” with the agreement in place and staying in means “a seat at the negotiating table to ensure a level playing field.” It might appear to be a strange move for energy firms, but many like the agreement because it favors natural gas (which they produce) over dirtier coal. It’s more than just energy firms, though: Microsoft, Apple, Starbucks, Gap, Nike, Google, Adidas and L’Oreal  all support continued U.S. involvement. Large companies around the world are warning President Trump against leaving the Paris climate pact. Business leaders say the Paris deal, also called COP21, will help generate new jobs, limit damage from climate change and help assert American leadership on the global stage.

Many states, most prominently California, may also keep regulations in place that require compliance with anti-fossil fuel rules.

In other words, withdrawing won’t in reality accomplish what President Trump wants (ending compliance with the Paris deal), but it will send a powerful signal. No, Trump’s pullout from the international accord would be a political act — one that signals solidarity with his climate-change denial, right-wing base that revels in scientific illiteracy. Being a climate-change denier — which entails dogmatic opposition to the Paris agreement — is a dog whistle to the far right, a snub to “elites,” who in this case include academics, government and private scientists, technology chief executives and others whose livelihood depends on accurate data. (Between “2013 and 2014, only 4 of 69,406 authors of peer-reviewed articles on global warming, 0.0058% or 1 in 17,352, rejected AGW [anthropogenic, or man-made, global warming]. Thus, the consensus on AGW among publishing scientists is above 99.99%, verging on unanimity.”)

This would also be an international dog whistle, reflective of Trump’s rejection of the Atlantic Alliance and the bonds of cooperation that tie Western democracies together. R. Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, is quoted as saying, “From a foreign policy perspective, it’s a colossal mistake — an abdication of American leadership. The success of our foreign policy — in trade, military, any other kind of negotiation — depends on our credibility. I can’t think of anything more destructive to our credibility than this.”

More symbolic than shoving the prime minister of Montenegro out of the way, pull-back from the Paris deal tells allies, whom Trump considers to be pests when they fail to slobber over him as manipulative autocrats do, that he need not listen to them. He can go it alone, you see. He’ll show them!

Alas, the very idea of an alliance means that parties have common but not identical interests. They depend on a sense of comity, a willingness to look out for one another, take some political risk domestically and extend oneself for the benefit of the common good. “America First” is the nonsensical idea that we benefit from snubbing or ignoring allies, treating our closest allies as nuisances. With that attitude, when we next look to see who has our back, we’ll see fewer major powers.

What happens, for example, when we want European members of the P5 +1 to comply with strengthened sanctions against Iran? They will have little reason to put their business interests aside if the United States wouldn’t do the same in another context.

There is never perfect reciprocity between allies, but Trump’s senseless act of defiance would materially damage our credibility and our persuasiveness as we seek our allies’ help with Iran, the fight against the Islamic State and other issues of national security. It’s not conduct indicative of the leader of the free world, who, come to think of it, these days seems to be Angela Merkel of Germany.