Everyone who was paying attention could tell that Donald Trump was an unusually poor match for the presidency. Casting aside all of his racist statements and nonsensical policy proposals, Trump’s hasty, oversensitive personality should have been disqualifying in itself. Ironically, Trump still managed to campaign on persistent promises that he would strengthen and protect the security of the United States. His words were devoid of value, but valued nonetheless.
Now, Trump does not merely speak words. He must take these ideas and use them to direct his policy choices as the leader of the United States government. This situation is not entirely unique. The presidency has been bestowed on many individuals with little to no major foreign policy experience. The issue, however, is not that Donald Trump has a steep learning curve. It’s that his basic temperament precludes him developing the necessary mindset to be a competent foreign policy president.
We see almost every possible indication that Trump still doesn’t understand the weight of the office and likely never will. This lack of respect has destructive effects on domestic policy, institutional legitimacy and notably, foreign affairs. In this sense, these deleterious effects can be conceptualized in two ways: first, an harmful set of guiding principles that arrogantly ignore the reality of the world, and second, a disregard for the basic practices and duties of national security pose significant risks to peace.
Let’s begin with Trump’s most consistent foreign policy claim: the persistent charge that America is no longer respected in the world. Regardless of the reality, he is obsessed with the idea that American leadership has been “weak,” and that a firmer voice will improve the position of the United States on the global scene. Such a view is not necessarily out of line with more mainstream conservative thinking. Trump, however, seems to believe that firmness and belligerence are one and the same.
Further, traditional allies of the United States have little value to Trump. To him, foreign relations is cold, transactional and devoid of any long-term vision. It is a perspective that allows him to deem NATO obsolete and forces his Secretary of Defense to rush to reassure our partner nations. Donald Trump believes the United States can go it alone, a myopic view in an increasingly multilateral world. He also embraces perspectives that portray an entire religion as an enemy, apologize for authoritarianism abroad and disregard our current international order.
It is not surprising that Trump’s first domestic security was a de facto Muslim ban. It must always be noted that this was a severe violation of basic human rights. And of course, it was legally sloppy and ineffectual, making it inoperable as it undergoes challenge in the courts. But for now, it highlights how Trump’s worldview is married to a persistent incompetence. When asked about international anger inspired by his Muslim ban, Trump replied that “the world is an angry place.” Based on what Trump says, he apparently thinks the problem can’t get any worse. Yet his actions, ironically, tell a story of a man determined to prove himself wrong.
In conversations with world leaders Trump has frequently horrified top aides with a freewheeling style that utterly ignores the sensitive language of diplomacy. Most remarkably, the president even managed to spark a diplomatic incident with Australia. Imagine being so bad at your job that you alienate one of your nation’s closest allies. Then imagine not even realizing that’s a bad thing.
Moreover, consider the fact that the presidential campaign, ultimately, revolved around the question of Hillary Clinton’s sub-optimal handling of secure information. Now we are gifted with a president who reportedly uses an unsecured cellphone and conducts meetings of intense international importance in an open dining hall of his country club. He cares so little for security that he has aides pointing phones to illuminate classified documents, and a team of paranoid presidential staffers using an secret app to communicate about the inner workings of the White House.
The height of Trump’s failure, of course, is Russia. With the recent resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, this story will continue to drag down his administration with a steady drip of negative stories. Possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials hints at one of the biggest scandals in American history. What’s more, Trump’s ties to Russia have fractured his relationship with this nation’s intelligence community. The IC is afraid to even share information with the White House out of concern that it will be shared with Russia. A government that fails to communicate with itself is a government that will not be able to detect or prevent potential threats.
Simply, what we have are the makings of catastrophe. The Trump administration is wagering that high level competence is an unnecessary factor in the nation’s security. At some point, a crisis will occur.. It is true, at the least, that there is anger in the world. More accurately, there are geopolitical controversies in waiting — with Iran, Syria, and North Korea, to name a few. Key officials in the Trump White House have — such as Bannon — have even suggested that war with China is inevitable. And there are the incidents we cannot foresee. When these occur, they will require rapid and relatively unquestioned executive decision making by the president of the United States.
That president is a man who has an uncontrollable urge to seek revenge whenever he is wronged or humiliated. He is a man who has allegedly asked why the United States even has nuclear weapons if we can’t use them, and who has openly welcomed a nuclear arms race. That president, right now, is Donald Trump. Sleep well.
Kevin Kowalewski is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Democratic Dialogue appears alternate Thursdays this semester.