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The Benefits and Hazards of Trumpism

Donald Trump’s most recent foreign policy speech, in which he explained how he would deal with the Islamic State (ISIL) and the Middle East in general, contained multitudes – everything good and everything questionable about his brand of “America First” nationalism. Here is Trumpism on full display, the common-sensical and the nonsensical intertwined. While I realize a presidential election campaign is not the time for nuance, it behooves us to pull apart these disparate strands if we want to understand this moment in our history.

He starts out by defining the problem: the series of attacks that have horrified the world and flummoxed our law enforcement agencies. And what’s notable here is that he just doesn’t talk about what’s going on overseas, as you might expect in a speech ostensibly about foreign policy: he talks about San Bernardino and Orlando alongside Paris and Brussels. In short, he brings it all home.

This underscores his entire orientation: it’s what “America First” is all about. Why should Americans care about ISIL? Well, folks, says Trump, it’s because they’re attacking us right here on the home front. Contrast this with the usual neocon-Hillaryite politically correct gobbledygook: we have to spread Democracy and Goodness throughout the Middle East! They don’t have gay rights in Afghanistan! We must defend the “international order”!

There’s the problem: ISIL. So what caused it? Trump’s answer:

“The rise of ISIS is the direct result of policy decisions made by President Obama and Secretary Clinton.”

What? I seem to remember some guy named George W. Bush – didn’t he invade Iraq or something? – who vowed to pursue the goal of “ending tyranny in our world.” Why, as I recall, he even invoked Doestoevsky’s novel about revolutionary nihilism, The Possessed, and pledged to ignite “a fire in the mind” throughout the Middle East – and the world! And the fire is still burning….

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