The Trump Doctrine

As the fulcrum of power moves away from the West, so does America. This fact lies at the core of the President’s intuitions about the world.

Published on: March 29, 2018
Bruno Maçães is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and the author of the newly published The Dawn of Eurasia (Allen Lane). A U.S. edition of the book is forthcoming from Yale University Press.
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  • RankAndFile

    Well, I’m a little mad. I used my one free article to read this because the titled pulled me in. I didn’t see any well-made argument that the “fulcrum of power” is moving away from the “West” [USA] at all. The security architecture that under-girds the global economy is still provided for/guaranteed by the US, and pretty much exclusively the US at that, and that’s from Japan and Korea to all of Europe.

    The whole “Asian models” bit is a little tired. Yawn. You can’t do trillions of dollars worth of business and outsourcing to Asians, especially to Communist China, and tolerate huge deficits with them, on the one hand, and then chide someone for speaking to how they do other business. C’mon. Grow up.

  • QET

    Good article, and one that (thankfully) avoids the ad hominem maligning of Trump pervasive in this publication lately. But I am a little confused by the author’s thesis. The prior Administration acted at all times as though it believed the “fulcrum of world power” was moving away from the West and was quite eager to help it along. So I don’t see how such an attitude can rightly be attributed by name to Trump.

    In fact, I believe Trump is actively trying to swim against that current rather than drift along with it. The author mentions two elements essential to “global leadership”: a strong economy and a national will. Trump is attempting to strengthen the first by borrowing methods he sees other strong economies using, and he is almost single-handedly attempting to assert US national will, using his own will to supply the force that the national will clearly lacks.

    The author notes Trump’s untypical (for a President) business background. His Administration is the most economy-centered one in recent memory. Trump is supremely practical, not ideological. Captious ideologues of all persuasions greatly enjoy tittering at Trump’s attempts at ideological speech. He is so unpracticed in ideology that it makes even a sympathetic listener wince to hear him attempt it. But his instinct is to be practical and to that end he does not allow ideological differences to prevent his adoption of economic methods utilized by US ideological adversaries. He is an opportunist like all successful businessmen are. That he does not have a raging Wilsonian streak does not mean he is moving away from the West. Such a perception is of the same order as that when sitting in a stationary train while the one next to it pulls out of the station. One feels oneself to be moving but isn’t.

    In earlier times when “It’s the economy, stupid” reigned as the supreme principle of Presidential Administrations, a single-minded concentration on improving the US economy, especially for the middle and working classes, would all but guarantee a strongly positive reaction among the citizenry. But we live in a different era. Despite the appeal of Sanders, mostly among the young and ignorant, mature progressives realized long ago that their own economic theories were failures and that they could not continue to organize their politics around economic matters (simply shouting “inequality” all the time is not an economic program).

    So now the center of gravity of politics in this country appears to be social issues, and it is now axiomatic among progressives and their media organs that it is categorically morally wrong for the US to assert its national will internationally. And this is the reigning mentality in Europe which is why Trump appears to be moving away from it, whereas his predecessor endorsed it. The “West” has been abandoned by Europe. Trump is not moving away from it.

  • WigWag

    Europe is toast. Good riddance.

  • The central fact about Singapore government is quiet and austere competence and deference to experts, which take precedence over strict democratic values, and specially over simplistic populist solutions. I don not see the similarity.

    • Che Guevara

      Which is why China has modeled its reforms after authoritarian Singapore.

      • Yes, Singapore tends to be quite effective, so the policies they tested can be a good model to follow. That makes Singapore the exact opposite of the current US government.

        Which doesn’t come near to clarifying whether el Che is a voluntary or involuntary self parody, but that’s a different story.

        • Che Guevara

          I’m the reincarnation of Che Guevara, but with a degree in quantitative finance. My heart follows socialism, while my brain follows the laws of economics.

          • And your soul believes in reincarnation. Contradiction is the stuff of humor.

          • Che Guevara

            Contradiction is the stuff of humor.

            That’s why both of us are here.

          • Reminds us of student politics in our college days, or something like that.

    • QET

      So does Singapore execute drug traffickers or don’t they? If they do, is that policy the result of quiet and austere expert competence or simplistic populism? If the former, does it no longer qualify as quiet and austere expert competence if it is adopted elsewhere by simple populists? Does populist adoption negate the austere expertise in what is adopted? And if they don’t, then why hasn’t anyone pointed that out yet? Asking for a friend.

      • The fact that you consider death penalty for drug traffickers the core issue on which everything hangs says a lot about you, and perhaps your “friend”, not much about Singapore.

        • QET

          Well, the article only mentions Singapore once, describing how Trump said we should adopt their death-to-drug-traffickers policy. So it’s not a personal core issue for me, but it was the only Singapore-related statement in the article. You commented on Singapore, so I confined myself to asking about that specific policy because that is the policy mentioned in the article. Seems pretty straightforward.

          But your response was you didn’t see the similarity between Singapore and (presumably, because you don;t say explicitly) the Trump Administration. Your remark about Singapore appears to be very general, not limited to the one issue already mentioned, but I assume the statement applies to the specific Singapore policy mentioned in the article, else why would you have made the comment?

          Your comment opposes “quiet and austere expert competence” (Singapore) to “simplistic populist solutions” (Trump, I assume). I was just trying to understand how it might be that a quietly competent expert policy (the words suggest your approval) loses its character as such when adopted by a simplistic populist (which I suppose you believe Trump to be).

          I was not making any statement about Singapore one way or the other. I was trying to understand your statement about Singapore.

  • prankeapple

    The author doesn’t really understand the basis of Trump’s ideology or the political movement that propelled him to power – Trump is fundamentally a reactionary politician primarily appealing to whites. Not too long ago, America was a 90% white country – in the 2010 census it was 63% white, and it’s dropping fast. America is currently experiencing one of the largest cultural/racial displacements in history. Nobody wants to admit it for fear of being called racist, but Trump appeals to the collective unconscious of European-derived Americans who sense something bad is afoot.

    Marginal tax rates don’t matter as much when the existential foundations of your civilization are under threat.

    • Anthony

      You give an interesting insight (and combined with record levels of ‘relative’ inequality) and are on target in my opinion: the white identity politics that has mobilized around the idea of whites as an endangered, discriminated against group (something rarely discussed when questioning Trump’s 33%-42% approval ratings).

      There was an essay in the Atlantic (by a professor at Vassar) that gave your thought some space: The End of White America? One of the premises was “in combination with the profound demographic transformation now taking place in America, the suppressed urge on the part of many white Americans – to feel solidarity and pride in their group identity, as others have been allowed to do – remains a source of Trump’s cultural attraction.”

      Surely as you assert, for many Marginal Tax Rates pale in comparison when “at its core the problem is simple but fundamental. While Black Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, Jewish Americans, and many others are allowed – indeed, encouraged – to feel solidarity and take pride in their racial or ethnic identity, white Americans have for the last several decades been told they must never, ever do so.” So, here we are (as Americans) with an extremely fraught set of relational dynamics (though, I would not categorize it as existential).

      • It should not have been difficult to find pride in America, the greatest country in history, the one that was able to look at its failures as historical facts and work to correct them.

        Until 2016 it was almost easy. Maybe in the future it will again be easy. Right now, the people who love America are having a hard time with the fact that for many Americans, the lofty values on which the country was founded matter less than hatred, bigotry, and racism.

        • Anthony

          Yes, historically our country has made some shameful mistakes and has worked spasmodically to correct them. Still, most (who pay attention) are unaware that America has an authoritarian streak (what you reference as hatred, bigotry, and racism). Traditionally, our norms (mutual toleration and forebearance) mitigated or acted as guardrails to both counteract the extremists in our mists as well as to sustain the lofty values infer. Today, Pait, our guardrails have been weakened and exasperated by race and cultural conflict. That conflict is America’s challenge; we cannot retreat from it.

          “The simple fact of the matter is that the world has never built a multiethnic democracy in which no particular ethnic group is in the majority and where political equality, social equality and economies that empower all have been achieved.”

          • Speaking of norms, I wrote about Levitsky and Ziblatt’s book for my hometown newspaper. In fact others did to, so the book must be resonating. I mentioned books by Frum, Snyder, and Garton Ash also, but the book that got attention from more reviewers was the one about breakdown of norms.

          • Anthony

            Frum, Snyder, and Ash are all on one level undergirding status quo with modifications. Levitsky and Ziblatt (in my opinion) considers what sustaining democracy going forward (in USA) may require of all of us – that may suggest why it got such attention in your hometown review (fortunate hometown by the way).

          • I suppose that’s why they all appealed to my conservative side. Democracy is worth conserving.

          • Anthony

            Nothing at all wrong with being a “reflective” conservative.

  • D4x

    Bruno Maçães writes from an extremely odd point of view: […] It started with his acceptance speech in January of last year. It was a very odd speech, at times sounding both apocalyptic and like something you might deliver at the Oscars or the Emmys. More important, it was an odd speech because it left out the core of what an elected politician in the United States would include: an appeal to the universal principles of freedom, democracy and equality guiding America in its action at home and abroad. […]

    Maçães must not know anything about American history, especially not the history between election day Nov. 8, 2016, or he would have a clue about the intense hysteria fomented by the losers, unprecedented since elections of 1860 and 1800. ‘Universal principles’ were not relevant, not after the past twenty-five years of failed foreign policy, the past sixteen years of incompetence in all branches of the Federal government, and the previous eight years of ‘fundamental transformation’ of the USA into something that became ever less democratic, free, or equal, but an oppressive regulatory state more interested in pronouns, bathrooms, hyphenating Americans, trading access for votes; a politicized, intrusive state that relies on miseducation and media echo chambers, etcetera.

    America was NOT just fine thank you we will still make the world safe for democracy in a global wonderland regulated by ideological symbolic-analysts without a clue how to change a light bulb. Whatever Maçães’ motive, not worth another keystroke..

    WASHINGTON, D.C.As Prepared for Delivery – Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, fellow Americans, and people of the world: thank you.

    We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.
    Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for years to come.

    We will face challenges. We will confront hardships. But we will get the job done.Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent.

    Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.
    […] This is your day. This is your celebration.

    And this, the United States of America, is your country.

    What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.

    January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.

    The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.

    Everyone is listening to you now.
    For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.
    The Bible tells us, “how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”
    A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions.

    It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag.

    And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.

    So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words:

    You will never be ignored again.

    Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams, will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.

    Together, We Will Make America Strong Again.

    We Will Make America Wealthy Again.

    We Will Make America Proud Again.

    We Will Make America Safe Again.

    And, Yes, Together, We Will Make America Great Again. Thank you, God Bless You, And God Bless America.

    It was a good speech for a broken nation. I actually had a glimmer of hope after sixteen years of being pounded.
    Now? I really wish I had been born somewhere sane, or too dumb to read.

  • ToolPusher

    Two problems with this thesis: 1. While it may be true that the center of economic gravity (and by extension all that comes with it including hard and soft power) is moving to China (arguably greater Asia, but, really China at least in the near to mid-term), the economic prosperity is a result of China finding ways to grow and in many cases exploit the existing world order to tap into and use its great potential to achieve its economic “miracle.” However, the current world order was built and most importantly maintained by the United States. The United States is the lynch-pin to this order; should the United States pull back from maintaining the order it built after World War Two, the new order that results could eliminate, but, certainly would severely curtail the conditions that led to China’s (and other Asian nations’) prosperity. China could still be powerful, perhaps very powerful (the progress it has made doesn’t simply disappear at least not at first), but, it will be so distracted by many, many, problems locally and internally that it largely be contained as a regional power at best. Think about how China achieves its prosperity: by shipping raw materials in, using its large population to cheaply manufacture, and then sell overseas. Should China’s supply chains be disrupted, its economic engine will sputter; and when it sputters the populous will have little incentive and likely every intention of pulling away from the centralized state.

    However, the author claims that the United States is so addicted to maintaining its place in the world that it would never dream of giving it up (addicted to power). Which is the second problem. 2. There is a persistent strain in the Untied States of isolationism; and it is not a stretch to see Trump’s supporters or at least people who are of a similar mind to Trump supporters (if not actually in favor of the President per se but in many of the same ideas his supporters agree with) who do not see isolationism as necessarily a bad thing. Now, I don’t seriously think the United States will go back to true isolationism or even the situation prior to World War Two, but, we may certainly pull back from being the guarantor of the current world order and instead focus on primarily domstic issues and only engage the world largely on specific issues that that we have a significant interest in. Discounting this possibility is folly. The United States has done this before, and Americans are not inherently globalists (even though the demographics, e.g. of 1920, are very different now and almost all generations alive have existed in a very globalized world, many see this as an increasingly failed prospect). Should the United States pull back from the world, even if only slightly but enough to no longer guarantee the current order, globalization as we know it will fall apart and China (and everyone else really) will live in a less prosperous and very dangerous world that will sap most nations’ strengh (including China) but a few will, if not thrive, come out very much ahead like the United States: given our inherent stability (sure this could be undermined and we did fight a civil war in our history, but, the United States is much more stable than most other nations especially ones of similar scope), lack of geopolitical rivals close by (oceans apart in fact), vast natural resources (including oil and gas); which will place the United States in a position to once again be the unquestioned leader of the world when Americans choose to re-engage and the rest of the world has entered a mini-dark age so to speak (i.e. 1930s).

  • TheRealCarlosTheJackal

    I think you’re giving Trump too much credit for coming up with a doctrine. I don’t think Trump even knows what the word “doctrine” means, let alone espouse one. While it might seem Trump is partial to Asian imperialism, I don’t believe that he knows what the outcome would be for any move he makes. “We’ll see what happens” would be closer to the Trump Doctrine, imho.

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