Magazine article The New Yorker

Homecoming

Magazine article The New Yorker

Homecoming

Article excerpt

Homecoming

To unveil Donald Trump's decision to abandon the Paris Agreement on climate change, his Administration held an upbeat ceremony featuring a jazz quartet in the White House Rose Garden. "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh--not Paris," he proclaimed.

The White House ceremony, on June 1st, took place in the middle of the night for Beijing, where David H. Rank, the most senior American diplomat in China, would have the responsibility of delivering the news to the Chinese government. Rank, who was running the U.S. Embassy until the arrival of Trump's Ambassador--the former governor of Iowa Terry Branstad--is fifty-two, and has spent more than half his life in the Foreign Service.

Growing up in Park Forest South, Illinois, a working-class suburb of Chicago, Rank gave no thought to diplomacy or politics; in a landlocked town, he fantasized about being a marine biologist. At the University of Illinois, he met his wife, Mary, who had grown up showing hogs and steers in 4-H competitions. Rank entered the Foreign Service following a student-exchange program in Taiwan, and he and Mary began their life abroad.

A diplomat's job consists of living in places where most Americans would rather not live, and studying esoterica that most Americans would rather not study. Rank served, in addition to Beijing, in Shanghai, Taiwan, Greece, and Mauritius. In 2011, he deployed to Afghanistan, and spent six months living in a converted shipping container, eating canned kale, and trying to persuade a reluctant President Hamid Karzai to continue supporting counterinsurgency operations led by American soldiers.

When Trump announced the withdrawal from Paris, Rank had a problem. Over the years, he had, at times, executed orders that he considered unwise. This one, however, was "morally wrong," he said last week. "I'm not a great theologian, but, just in my gut, I thought, We're stewards of creation and the world. As a parent, I've spent my life trying to make my children's lives O.K. And, finally, in terms of national interests, it's just dumb."

Rank sent a message to State Department headquarters: I can't do it. He offered to resign and was told to return to Washington immediately. Rank gathered the Embassy staff. He spoke ardently of public service, but said he could not back the Administration on the Paris decision. …

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