There are many remarkable aspects of Trump's foreign policy, among them the triumph of historical ignorance and the abrupt reign of breathtaking hubris. Never has a U.S. president brought so much untutored conceit to the office. Here is a man in charge of the world's largest economy and most awesome firepower, and yet this man is but a child, with a child's way of looking at, and coping with, the world. He threatens not to take all his blocks and marbles home; that is, rather, the opening gambit of his game, the essence of his sandbox strategy — all of it born of blindness, arrogance and an immaturity so profound, one wonders if the world's greatest power (and the world itself) can endure four years of it.
Another remarkable aspect of Trump's unworldly Weltanschauung has been the uniformity of ideological opposition to it. Indeed his ineptitude has brought the left and right's animated objections together so tightly, they now form an undifferentiated center. Traditional partisan defenses of this Republican embarrassment have been blown away as the left's warnings have come to fruition with stunning dispatch. In reading Paul Krugman and Charles Krauthammer, for instance, one may be forgiven if authorship is confused.
"[Trump] appears serious about his eagerness to reverse America’s 80-year-long commitment to expanding world trade," writes Krugman this morning, "because he sees international trade the way he sees everything else: as a struggle for dominance, in which you only win at somebody else’s expense."
In that observation there's a comparison but no contrast with Krauthammer's: "[Trump's inaugural address] radically redefined the American national interest as understood since World War II. Trump outlined a world in which foreign relations are collapsed into a zero-sum game. They gain, we lose…. They’re all out to use, exploit and surpass us."
And so they proceed in likeminded condemnation of Trump, whose "views are so changeable and unstable — telling European newspapers two weeks ago that NATO is obsolete and then saying 'NATO is very important to me — that this is just another unmoored entry on a ledger of confusion," writes Krauthammer. Or is it Krugman? (I shall spare you the research; it's the former.)
Of far lesser discombobulation — in fact, this came with inexorable clarity — is Trump's first-week rupture with Mexico, America's third-largest trading partner. Before that (and remember, we're confined here to merely the first week of 208) was the administration's precipitous departure from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which portends even more economic woes for the U.S. than our shattered relations with Mexico. (Notes Krauthammer: "Last year the prime minister of Singapore told John McCain that if we pulled out of the TPP 'you’ll be finished in Asia.' He knows the region.")
From here, both Krauthammer and Krugman meet in what is now the vast middle of the commentariat's ideological spectrum — one so vast, differences with it lie only on the fringiest of the left and right. And from this, one is tempted to say, there radiates a kind of intellectual splendor — that is, one resulting from Trump's breathtaking ineptitude. A fresh foreign-policy consensus has taken hold, which transcends the old battles between soft power and neoconservativism. And though it's an emerging consensus, it's also a rather aged one, albeit one that Americans seem to have forgotten.
From the truest center, Fareed Zakaria summarizes the consensus, which centers on the inevitable wreckage of Trump's newly fashioned "America Firstism." Its original version, he recalls, "held that an outward-oriented America was a policy for suckers. It took Hitler and World War II to make Americans recognize that, for a country of America’s size and scale, isolation and narrow self-interest would lead to global insecurity and disaster."
Hence a postwar, bipartisan consensus formed — that of FDR's liberal international order. "Since 1945," Zakaria continues, "we have lived in what [historian] John Lewis Gaddis dubbed the 'Long Peace.' Through the Long Peace we have also had decades of rising incomes, living standards and health throughout the world, especially in the United States."
It is that that Trump's historical ignorance, breathtaking hubris and untutored conceit promise to upend. "One wonders what it will take to make today’s America Firsters relearn" the past's lessons, concludes Zakaria. And I wonder, to repeat, if the world's greatest power (and the world itself) can endure four years of this.