This week, I’d like to talk about Trump’s effect on US foreign policy over the last year, and how it relates to his remaining supporters. Last week, the New York Times dedicated its entire op-ed page to letters from Trump supporters who are sticking by their man one year later, to give a voice to an apparent minority, and let the rest of us read about why they believe in him. It’s enlightening, and I recommend everyone who opposes Trump read it, and to do so with humility. You don’t owe these people anything, but if we want to understand how to oppose Trump, this is how we do it. You can find it in the comments below.
The most common things his supporters pointed to were the tax bill, the defeat of ISIS, and the economy. In some cases, opposition to international treaties was also a hit. Out of those first three though, two are domestic, and only one and a half are attributable to Trump. He can have the tax bill, though it’s benefits can be debated, and he gets some credit for the economy, though that could change. ISIS, though, was pretty much a solid continuation of Obama’s policies, and not nearly our biggest threat.
This makes sense. He ran on an America First platform – it follows that he would have the most success at home. Likewise, those on the left often criticize him based on how pernicious he is to our country and our democracy – his flouting of conventions, norms, and laws – or his personal defects (see: Twitter). These are things his supporters in parts condemn or simply accept as the price we pay for “something actually getting done”, but again, largely domestic. And while plenty of people are talking about how bad that makes America look, I don’t hear a lot of conversation, at least among my family and peers, about what effect that has on our foreign policy and the global order (other than Putin is having his way and China is rising, both of which could bear a little more discussion).
Let’s look at how we’re perceived. According to a Pew poll from June, 74% of respondents from 37 different countries had no confidence in President Trump. For context, that number was only 23% at the end of the Obama presidency. Only 22% of respondents had confidence in Trump. That’s lower than any time in the past 15 years – lower than Bush in 2008. And, to reiterate a point made by Ben Wittes on Rational Security, in 2008, Bush was dealing with a failed war in Iraq and a global economic crisis. Today, Trump is fresh off a win in Syria and the economy, as his supporters love to point out, is doing great. How’s your 401k?
Alright, so some folks don’t like him much. Who cares what they think anyway? Well, turns out, we might want to – we depend on the goodwill of our allies and even our rivals to pursue and achieve our goals abroad. The US pursues a wide range of activities abroad, including a number that end up in catastrophe and chaos (see: Vietnam, Libya). However, because the US has a reputation (deserved or not) of generally having good intentions, we get a pass on our mistakes, and license to continue other pursuits. This is crucial to the national interest.
However, much of that goodwill has been squandered, at first gradually, and then very suddenly with the election of Donald Trump. It’s tempting to simply say Donald Trump is the cause, he’s an embarrassment, and he is damaging to our national interest. And all those things are true. However, to some extent, Donald Trump has simply stripped away pretense and propriety, and accelerated a process that was already underway. Inequity is inherent in our country. Our allies are being given fewer reasons to look the other way. The question becomes, can our democracy self-correct? #fpf