How we deal with other nations should be about more than ‘winning.’
Arguments about foreign policy seem esoteric when viewed against the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency. Who cares about Estonia when faced with that? But viewed through another prism, how a candidate thinks about foreign policy is an important indicator of how that candidate views the American experiment.
Donald Trump’s doltish foreign policy tells us that he clearly has no understanding of what defines us. Had Trump contemplated how the ideas enshrined in our founding documents promote liberty and the rule of law abroad, his foreign policy would be markedly different.
Trump sees foreign policy as “winning.” John Quincy Adams said in his First Inaugural, “Glory is not dominion, but liberty…Her march is the march of the mind.” Thomas Jefferson: “We are firmly convinced, and we act on that conviction, that with nations, as with individuals, our interests, soundly calculated, will ever be found inseparable from our moral duties.” As Sesame Street taught us, “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong…”
Jefferson called America an “empire of liberty.” Our revolution prescribes a foreign policy different from other nations. A cornerstone of liberty lends itself to a different foreign policy than one premised on a geographical place or the people in it. As such, our president bears the responsibility of curating a liberal order that fosters liberty — without employing the military to do it — and one that promotes free commerce. Yet, Trump’s foreign policy debases NATO, regurgitates Lee Iacocca’s inaccurate talking points about our Asian alliances and threatens trade wars.
For Trump, our liberal alliances are not so much alliances as transactional arrangements that a little “art of the deal” could improve. For him, America is just another country — nothing exceptional. He does not see America reflected in our NATO allies, for example. When he disparages NATO, it says more about his understanding of America than of NATO.
Of course, there are exceptions — Saudi Arabia, for example. That is a more complicated discussion, but those exceptions make defending our alliances with countries that willingly parallel our ideals a no brainer.
Not only does Trump undermine the ideals of the revolution, he attacks the very institutions that are the fabric of our democracy — institutions that define us overseas. Strikingly, he casts our military in a mercenary role protecting allies that may or may not “pay up.” If you or a loved one serves in the military, Trump sees you as a revenue source.
And he continues to misunderstand the importance of our elections. Just this week he took another run at their legitimacy because he think it will help him win. 240 years ago plenty of soon-to-be Americans died for the radical cause of instituting free and fair elections. How does Trump pay homage to that sacrifice? “It’s rigged.”
It goes without saying the most fundamental mission of the military is to protect our ability to choose our own leaders. Good Heavens, every schoolkid knows this. Not Trump. If Trump’s America could not lead with the moral weight of our free and fair elections, it would change our relation to the world entirely. Elections are the sine qua non of our foreign policy.
If you care about what makes us great this, more than anything he has said, should get your dander up. We see this kind of stuff in a banana republic. To cast it in a framework relatable to Trump: how much leverage do you think Venezuela has in a negotiation?
Trump’s foreign policy indicates that he has no respect for the majesty of the office he seeks. Trump just wants the perks like a free house and cool plane. For him, the presidency is simply a lofty pinnacle from which to bark orders. Does anyone doubt that instead of being awestruck upon entering the Oval Office for the first time Trump would immediately look for ways to kitsch the place up with his vulgar trademark of brass and marble?
Ronald Reagan chose a phrase from the Sermon on the Mount — the city on the hill — to describe our foreign policy. The phrase has a long tradition in the context of communicating our foreign policy. Puritan John Winthrop used it to describe the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. JFK used it. Reagan used it. It should ring familiar. For 386 years the city on the hill fairly described our foreign policy. Trump would rather we just “win.”
In truth, I am tired of talking about Trump. He is garish, thoughtless, and does not understand my country. I would much rather talk about that other unfit person running for president. Remember her? The Libya intervention, the Iran deal, Iraq, Syria, ISIS, Benghazi, the Asia pivot, the Russia reset, etc. — all disasters that diminish America. Having the oxygen to talk about her foreign policy would perfectly illustrate her unfitness for the highest office in the land. Rather, Trump demands we constantly discuss him. His narcissism does not let him see that all that does is highlight his buffoonery and cause us to question whether he passed high school civics.