From the May 1 edition of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS:
FAREED ZAKARIA: After Donald Trump's foreign policy address this week, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Bob Corker, announced that he was very impressed, extolling the broadness, the vision of the speech. The Wall Street Journal said it was “serious.” The National Interest's Jacob Heilbrunn opinedthat the candidate was “more restrained.” Clearly we now consider it a wonder of sorts that Donald Trump can spend 40 minutes in front of cameras during which he avoids vulgarity, refrains from bigotry and reads from a teleprompter. The speech was in fact an embarrassment, a meandering collection of slogans that were mostly pablum.
DONALD TRUMP (VIDEO CLIP): We must make America strong again…. Our goal is peace and prosperity, not war and destruction.
ZAKARIA: It did not contain his most absurd and unworkable suggestions, building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, stopping people from sending their own money to relatives in Mexico, banning all Muslims from entering the United States, and a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods. So, in that sense it was an improvement, I suppose.
The most striking aspect of the speech was its repeated contradictions. We will spend what we need to rebuild our military, he promised, though Washington already spends more than the next seven countries put together. But almost in the same breath he talked about pinching pennies because of the crippling national debt. Trump is against humanitarian inventions, but he implied that we should have intervened to help embattled Christians in the Middle East. Which is it? Trump put America's closest allies on notice that if they didn't pay their fair share on defense, a complaint, by the way, Washington has made for at least four decades, he would end America's security guarantees to them. We have no choice, he exclaimed. Then he assured them that he would be a close and reliable ally. Trump promised to be consistent and yet unpredictable. Is your head spinning yet?
Mostly Trump's speech was populist pandering masquerading as a strategy, but one theme emerged: Donald Trump is a Jacksonian. In his book Special Providence, Walter Russell Meade explains that Andrew Jackson represents a distinctly populist style of American thinking that is different from the country other major ideological traditions. It is anti-immigrant and nativist, economically liberal and populist, in foreign policy largely isolationist but if and when engaged abroad militaristic and unilateral. In trade it is protectionist and on all matters deeply suspicious of international alliances and global conventions. Jacksonians are exasperated not so much by enemies but by our allies. They want to abandon the world or utterly dominate it. What is exaspirating, in fact, intolerable for them is engaging with the world, working with other countries to achieve incremental progress, manage conflicts and thus solve problems.
Unfortunately, that happens to be what the bulk of foreign policy actually looks like. If we want to defeat ISIS, for example, what is going to make that possible is a complicated series of military and diplomatic moves. But Trump has a better idea, a secret plan he says that will zap the group into oblivion. He won't tell them or us what it is or when it will happen. In 1993 the scholar-Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote an essay entitled “Defining Deviancy Down.” In it, he explained that American society was quietly accepting as normal behavior that would be considered abnormal by any earlier standard. Welcome to the Trump campaign of which his speech on foreign policy was only the most recent example.