For an illuminating Atlantic piece published on Monday, Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed several Trump administration officials in an attempt to pinpoint an elusive Trump Doctrine — a credo that articulates this administration’s belief system, such as it is. (The commentariat’s obsession with assigning every president a “doctrine” is a topic for another day.)
In the course of Goldberg’s quest, officials provided him with two slogans that go some way toward summing up Trump’s philosophy in a single sentence: the realpolitik-flavored “No Friends, No Enemies” and the even more alarming “Permanent destabilization creates American advantage.” But then, Goldberg really hit the jackpot:
The best distillation of the Trump Doctrine I heard, though, came from a senior White House official with direct access to the president and his thinking. I was talking to this person several weeks ago, and I said, by way of introduction, that I thought it might perhaps be too early to discern a definitive Trump Doctrine.
“No,” the official said. “There’s definitely a Trump Doctrine.”
What is it? I asked. Here is the answer I received: “The Trump Doctrine is, ‘We’re America, Bitch.’ That’s the Trump Doctrine.
Goldberg concludes that this phrase is “the most acute, and attitudinally honest, description of the manner in which members of Trump’s team, and Trump himself, understand their role in the world.”
Indeed, it does seem to capture the spirit of Trump’s unthinking, truculent nationalism — like Bush-era jingoism, but cruder and less interventionist — quite well. The last few days of American aggression against Canada, of all places, shows that, while Trump often acts on impulse, he usually comes back to his core beliefs — beliefs that explain why he feels so much more affinity with authoritarians than traditional allies. In the president’s dark view of the world, soft power is completely worthless. America has the biggest national economy, the most powerful military, and a globe-spanning banking system that everyone else relies on — so why shouldn’t it just dictate terms to everyone else?
Because actual power does undergird Trump’s bellicose rhetoric, the rest of the world must contend with that question, in many cases for the first time.
But another question is just how much American power will remain by the time Trump leaves office.