Donald Trump

The Dangers of Trump's Militaristic Isolationalism

Trump is a threat to the United States and the world.

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Donald Trump has crowned himself the winner of last night's debate. That is debatable—so to speak—but what's

Donald Trump
Gage Skidmore / Foter / CC BY-SA

not is that Trump has hit a nerve in the American psyche. Diffusing him will require understanding what exactly it is.

Many attribute his success to a loud-mouthed, no-holds-barred persona. That's certainly part of it, but that's not all there is. Indeed, the core element of his attraction to conservatives isn't his un-PC pomposity, but his promise of radical isolationism. Trump promises to "Make America Great Again" by using its military might to cordon the U.S. off from the evils of the world.

To understand Trump the isolationist, you have to first understand what he's not. He isn't a liberal, for sure. But his Republican rivals are also correct when they grumble that he's no conservative either. Trump is, after all, an erstwhile supporter of a Canadian-style single-payer health care system. He has no discernible commitment to limiting the size or scope of government. In fact, his campaign rhetoric is remarkably free from obligatory jeremiads against a lumbering federal bureaucracy crushing the animal spirits of American entrepreneurs. He pays lip service to the evils of crony capitalism because he instinctively understands its populist appeal, yet he simultaneously boasts about exploiting it. ("If you can't get rich dealing with politicians, there's something wrong with you," he harumphs.) Meanwhile, Trump issues blasphemous defenses of eminent domain—maintaining, incredibly, that rank-and-file conservatives oppose government seizures of poor people's private property on behalf of rich developers like himself only because no one has explained to them the public benefits of such grabs.

Trump is similarly not a fiscal conservative worried that America's ballooning entitlement state will bankrupt the country—a concern that has preoccupied serious Republicans for decades. The hapless Jeb Bush is promising to slash 10 percent of the federal workforce. Paul Ryan, the new speaker of the House, has staked his career on reforming old-age entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare and offering serious proposals to repeal and replace ObamaCare. Trump just yawns at all of this.

Trump is not a cultural conservative either; he wouldn't know "family values" if they hit him in the face. A twice-divorced Manhattan playboy, he once actually said if Ivanka Trump weren't his daughter, he'd date her because she has a "very nice figure." More to the point, he has no serious religious convictions, was never against gay marriage, and actually supported abortion rights for women.

None of this bothers Trump's conservative supporters. Why? Because they are preoccupied with the threat a fast-changing external world poses to them far more than the depredations of their own government. Hence, Trump's radically isolationist ideology—seeing the world not as a place full of opportunities waiting to be harnessed but a giant rip-off—resonates with them. His vow to "Make America Great Again" by nixing America's overseas commitments, slashing trade, and ejecting welfare-mooching foreigners makes perfect sense to many conservatives. Ann Coulter, perhaps Trump's biggest fan, has declared that she wouldn't care if he conducted abortions in the White House so long as he mass deported immigrants as he's promised.

In a fundamental sense, Trump is the anti-Reagan—and not only because his dour belligerence contrasts sharply with Reagan's sunny optimism. Reagan saw endless opportunities for mutual advancement in the world—and some threats. To guard against the threats, he wanted to build an impenetrable (if pie-in-the-sky) defensive shield around America. Other than that he wanted the country to stay open to foreign workers and foreign businesses—and he wanted the world to do the same. His exhortation to Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down" the Berlin Wall was based on Reagan's desire to open the Soviet Union to the outside world.

Trump wants to do the opposite. Sure, he calls himself the "most militaristic person" there is, and promises to make America's already strong military even bigger and stronger and greater. But what precisely does he want to use it for? He says he has no intention of spreading American democracy at gunpoint—a la George W. Bush's Iraq debacle (Trump rightly calls rivals like Marco Rubio, who want to escalate America's involvement in Syria to counter Vladimir Putin, not "hawks but fools"). Trump also has no interest in engaging in humanitarian interventions to protect vulnerable populations—a la Obama's Libya disaster.

Trump's military would be used as leverage to strong arm the world into doing America's bidding—whether that means forcing Mexico to build a wall on the Rio Grande, forcibly taking Iraqi oil as payment for getting rid of Saddam Hussein, imposing massive tariffs on companies that shift operations abroad, stopping China from "manipulating" its currency, or forcing South Korea and Europe to pay for America's security guarantee. In his universe, there is no win-win. It is either exploit or be exploited.

Everything on that wish list is bonkers, with the possible exception of the last item. But what's genuinely unhinged about it is that Trump is convinced that such policies can painlessly restore the American middle class. "All the Republicans are talking about, 'We're gonna cut, we're gonna raise the age, we're gonna do this, your Medicare, your Medicaid, your Social Security,'" he thunders. "I can bring wealth in so that we can save your Social Security without cuts."

In short, Americans don't have to compete for jobs or endure cuts to old-age entitlement programs; they just have to keep thuggish foreigners from bilking their wealth or taking advantage of them. This might be a comforting vision—but it is also cartoonish and dangerous.

The last time America tried Trump-style protectionism and imposed the 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariffs, it triggered a global trade war that turned an economic downturn into the Great Depression. His plans to shake down Mexico to pay for a wall would incense all of Latin America. And his proposal to forcibly take away Iraqi oil would breed even more anti-American hatred around the world—not to mention terrorism.

If Trump's challengers want to prevent his loopy ideas from permanently poisoning the policy conversation, they'll have to stop pussyfooting around—and start exposing Trump for the snake-oil salesman he is. He is dangerous for America and the world.

A version of this column originally appeared in The Week.

NEXT: No, the KKK Is Not Invading Mizzou

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  1. Which readers of Reason magazine do they imagine are actually supporting Trump out of ignorance, and need to be dissuaded? What do they hope to accomplish with the never-ending stream of Trump-bashing? Is there any candidate on the Republican side that they can say something positive about other than Rand (who unfortunately has no shot)? To the extent I look to Reason to help me evaluate candidates, I certainly don’t need Reason to point out the the orange buffoon is, in fact, an orange buffoon.

    1. That, not the, in the last sentence, of course.

    2. It’s not about “them” with a never-ending stream of Trump-bashing. It is Shikha’s broken record of “I love people, who thumb their noses at American’s laws” and, since The Donald is the leading proponent of securing the nation against this invasion, she will come up with arguments as ridiculous as her false claim that Ann Coulter just wants him to “mass deport immigrants”, as though every foreign born person is in his gun-sights.
      America-haters, like Dalmia, just have to ignore the laws broken by these “immigrants” in what is nothing more than an example of the proggies desire for the Pyrrhic victory of the destruction of the U.S. .

    3. “Which readers of Reason magazine do they imagine are actually supporting Trump”

      Good question. I think a hint to the answer lies in the article:

      “Trump is convinced that such policies can painlessly restore the American middle class”

      See, Shikha doesn’t question the assumption that America’s middle class is in need of restoration, and neither do the readers of Reason, at least those who comment here. Trump doesn’t need the support of Reason readers. It’s enough that they accept his terms of debate.

  2. I hate Trump with the best of them, but at this point the biggest danger in the Republican Party isn’t Mr. HUGE!!!

    Senator Marco Rubio holds all the worst views of the GOP (foreign policy, the drug war, spending, etc.) but uses moderate rhetoric to avoid scrutiny. He’s their Barack Obama and they’ll give him pass because they think he can win and they might be right. We complained about Trump, Bush, and Carson all summer and into Fall, but we missed the real threat all along.

    1. Rubio is certainly a top contender for shittiest candidate, but I’d consider it a tie between him and John Kasich, and also maybe Milke Huckabee if we’re counting the second tier of candidates.

      1. In the establishment wing the worst candidates for me are: 1) Marco Rubio, 2) Chris Christie

        I don’t worry too much about JEB! anymore because even if he did some how win the Presidency building opposition to him both outside and within the Republican Party won’t be that hard. No one, not conservatives, moderates, or libertarians want another Bush. Not even the establishment wants him anymore, which is why they’re rallying behind Rubio. Kasich destroyed himself in the last debate, he’s turned himself into the Jon Huntsman of 2016 but without any of Huntsman’s good qualities (foreign policy, fiscal conservatism).

        Among conservatives Cruz actually scares me a little more than Mike Huckabee (though he’s better than Trump, Fiorina, and Carson) because of the probable outcome that he’s BSing his “libertarian-leaning” stances. Cruz (if he is lying) given the chance could be the most dangerous of them all. He would be nearly impossible to oppose on libertarian grounds in the GOP because of his near absolute popularity with the base. And could possibly make a compelling “conservative” case for the most anti-libertarian policies out there (a New Intervention oversees, the Drug War, etc.).

    2. True dat, but he has the NSAAP machine on his side.

    3. Thank goodness we now have the option of voting for freedom and individual rights instead of wasting votes on the looter parties. Before the LP the Republicans drafted our kids to send to Mohammegan crossfires. Today they have to arrest them for a hemp seed, then offer them the crossfire as an alternative to being raped in a Christian prison. It may not seem like a big improvement seen from far away, but it is a step in the right direction. Once prohibition is repealed, looters lose yet another way to violate the 13th Amendment.

  3. Trump’s military would be used as leverage to strong arm the world into doing America’s bidding?whether that means forcing Mexico to build a wall on the Rio Grande, forcibly taking Iraqi oil as payment for getting rid of Saddam Hussein, imposing massive tariffs on companies that shift operations abroad, stopping China from “manipulating” its currency, or forcing South Korea and Europe to pay for America’s security guarantee. In his universe, there is no win-win. It is either exploit or be exploited.

    Of the things you just described, all of them are quid pro quo, which qualifies as a win-win in “Trump’s universe”. Europe and Korea paying for it’s American provided security is not exploitation, it’s one thing in exchange for another which is exactly what a win-win looks like. Whether or not his statements on Iraq and China qualify as a win-win is debatable, but it’s clear that Trump sees them as something in exchange for another, which means you’ve once again mischaracterized the argument of those with whom you disagree.

  4. The unemployment rate under Obozo has been much higher than under Reagan. Of course, the numbers have been jiggered to make Obozo look better. Those who have given up looking for jobs are not considered “unemployed”, nor are part-time workers. In real terms, today’s unemployment rate is likely double (triple?) what the government reports.

    Or, as Jeff Sessions put it:

    “…all net employment gains since the recession have gone to foreign workers while 1.5 million fewer U.S.-born Americans hold jobs today than did then – despite the total population of U.S.-born adults increasing by 11 million over that same time.”

    source: http://www.sessions.senate.gov…..ngress.pdf

    I’d say that was a pretty good reason to slam the door on immigration.

    Is it any wonder that those who want to preserve the American way of life are anti-immigration?

    1. “Is it any wonder that those who want to preserve the American way of life are anti-immigration?”

      Even a casual reader of Reason should know that it is not aimed at those wanting to “preserve the American way of life.” Reason celebrates creative destruction. Reason doesn’t mourn the loss of millions of buggy whip manufacturing jobs, it celebrates the loss and the creative potential that the loss releases. That native born Americans don’t seem to be able to capitalize on these opportunities to the extent that the foreign born are is not relevant. There are plenty of individual Americans who continue to work and take advantage of the chances afforded to them.

      The fact that the foreign born are

  5. I think the truth of why Trump is so popular has nothing to do with any platform he has. He’s an outsider and that’s it. People are sick of these worthless fleshbags in the government. Trump is the wildfire that could come through and burn some of the underbrush out. If he gets the illegal immigrants out, that’s just a plus.

    1. Donald Ross Perot was also an “outsider.” The technical and strategic term is nonlibertarian decoy. Perot fled the field just in time for the same Nixon-subsidized looters to entrench one of their own. But I hear what you’re saying.

  6. Shikha Dalmia — How convenient of you not to mention the 200 — 300 billion dollars the taxpayers spend on illegal immigrants in the form of schooling, hospitalization, crime, welfare, etc.

    Your intellectual dishonesty is glaring. Are you afraid the government is going to kick you and your family out? Is that what this is all about?

    1. “How convenient of you not to mention the 200 — 300 billion dollars…”

      Let’s be fair. The tax payers (and don’t forget that whatever else they are, these illegal immigrants are also tax payers) spend vastly greater sums on non-illegal immigrants.

      1. mtrueman — You say:

        “Let’s be fair. The tax payers (and don’t forget that whatever else they are, these illegal immigrants are also tax payers) spend vastly greater sums on non-illegal immigrants.”

        I say, YOU be fair. The illegals are here illegally! Why should we have to pay a fucking cent for any of them? Let alone 300,000 billion dollars.

        And all of these illegals cutting grass and waiting outside of the Home Depots and nurseries, I can guarantee you they aren’t paying ANY employment taxes.

        And so what if “the taxpayers spend vastly greater sums on non-illegal immigrants.” That’s besides the point. That’s another issue altogether, but yes I would address that mess too.

        1. I still urge fairness. These illegals soak up only a small portion of tax dollars compared to other immigrants and the native born. The legals and native born have all the advantages of family and roots and legality. Why should we have to pay a fucking cent for any of them? I can’t agree with you that where you were born should guarantee you a position at the tax payer trough, as though your birth place were some accomplishment.

          There’s something important about Libertarianism you should understand. It’s the free movement of goods, services and people.

          1. “There’s something important about Libertarianism you should understand. It’s the free movement of goods, services and people.”

            Philosophically I agree with you. But it’s an impossible situation with the modern welfare state. Large amounts of low skilled immigration, just drive the native low skilled population onto some form of welfare and increase costs on the entire system.

            So until that issue is fixed, your argument is a pipe dream. I’d encourage you to start a purely Libertarian state somewhere, but I’ll strongly resist any attempt to damage the US in support of a philosophical argument.

            1. You should feel the coerced movement of goods services and people on your hide. The difference between the real United States and the “pipe dream” that freedom is divisible, is men with guns making decisions for others. Looters agree with us “philosophically” all the time, yet cannot define words like value, rights, freedom or even government. With friends like these…

          2. mtrueman — Your “free movement of goods and people” is a great philosophical ideal but as soon as we have the next major terrorist attack where your “free people bring in free goods” in the form of nuclear destruction, out the window your “ideal” flies.

            You also say:

            ” I can’t agree with you that where you were born should guarantee you a position at the tax payer trough, as though your birth place were some accomplishment.”

            Using your logic we should allow ANYONE on the planet access to our taxpayer trough. Again, this philosophical dreamworld you live in doesn’t cut it in the real world.

            There’s something important about Libertarianism you should understand. It should stop socialism before ANYTHING!

            1. Another word for ballistic is “predictable.” Ballistic missiles can be intercepted much more easily today than in the 1980s, when cowards wanted to surrender to soviet socialism. In the real Defense Caucus that existed then, the job of defense was to stop hydrogen bombs and invasions. As long as mystics convince the unwary that altruism and sacrifice are good (as opposed to deadly), morons will want to try socialism. They will try to shoot their neighbors and children that learn the truth and try to escape (Todes-schutzen), and they will contrive to ignore the mass murder and starvation that inevitably result from rule by initiation of force. Some people have to smash their thumbs with a hammer repeatedly before the lesson sinks in. Let them. Death-seeking stops itself.
              The problem you struggle to ignore is the “taxpayer trough” brought about by importing communist manifesto plank 2 into the Constitution as the 16th Amendment (alongside prohibition and collectivist election of Senators)

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  8. Shikha Dalmia, now shows on the doll where the Trump touched you. Was wearing his KKK outfit? Did he leave a poopswastica?

    1. A Republican not wanting to bomb the other side of the planet is… what did the looters call the LP? Isolationist?
      Here is how the looter cartoon world depicts that party: http://www.ragingpencils.com/2010/7-30-2010.html

  9. How does one get their tripe posted here at Reason? I keep reading “analysis” that analyzes nothing. These are personal gripes seemingly centered on bizarre interpretations of sound bites. Where has Trump called for withdrawing from the world? If so, wouldn’t that make a libertarian ecstatic?

  10. One way to reduce the growth of social security costs is when there is a cost of living adjustment for retirees to only give the COLA to those who are over the age of 70. The following years when a COLA is applied it will only apply to those over 71. The next time to those over 72, etc.

  11. Dalmia’s turning into a one-woman anti-Trump machine. Trump could say the sky is blue and Dalmia would find a reason to not only disagree, but insist that Trump’s Blue-Skyism was a threat to the U.S., if not the whole world (maybe the galaxy!).

  12. So Reason is going to the looter press for pukka sahib Engrish dirt on the only non-machine National Socialist Republican candidate. Kindly realize that Trump Perot is already diffuse in that sense that the rank-and-file morons whose Lt Calley and Mormon Patriarch candidates lost to Jesse Owens have rejected God’s Own Prohibitionist soft machine and back the boob by elimination. Now, since Perot has already signed a pledge to not turn coat and seek the LP nomination, his candidacy could only throw the match for the looter congress or State of Florida to decide, which is right back to square one anyway. Who among the televangelist, nazi, John Bircher and ku-klux field of Republicans is better than T. Perot? And wasn’t there a non-looter party out there somewhere?

  13. Wow! You make him sound good! It’s about time we acted in out own interest again, not everybody else’s!

    1. Don’t get me wrong. I was duped by democratic and republican machine fraudsters. It took me eight years, some of them on campus, to discover the Libertarian Party even existed, thanks to the thoroughness with which the media plays the tune called by the Nixon campaign subsidies piper. I vote for libertarian ideals enacted into law, and it works like acceleration. Acceleration is abstract, the second derivative of motion. But you cannot change the position of anything without affecting its acceleration. Before Richard Nixon signed the DemoGOP campaign bribery law of 1971, spoiler votes effectively changed the laws (not always in a good direction). Nothing could make me repeat the childhood error of voting for either of the looter machine parties. I am happy with the libertarian party, and it is changing the laws despite Nixon’s nationalsocialism.

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  15. Libertarians, unwilling to bomb the other side of the planet for no good reason, are “isolationist.”
    Trump Perot likes libertarians…
    Trump Perot is isolationist.

  16. The predicted costs for Germany in 2015 are somewhere north of 21 billion (ifo institute; currently headed by Sinn). Naturally the left still extols the economic benefits to Germany. Apparently just giving money to people for showing up is the best investment strategy yet conceived. (Right now they’re arguing about whether letting all tolerated migrants/refugees bring in their family members too is the non-neanderthal thing to do. For 2015 that’d be something like 1,2 million times 3-5.)

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