A Debate on America’s Role—25 Years Late

When the U.S.S.R. fell, elites envisioned a new U.S.-led order. Voters were skeptical.

 .. The roots of the problem go back to the late 1940s, when the U.S. set out to build a global order in the aftermath of World War II. America helped create a long period of integration and growth by rebuilding Europe, promoting development in the decolonizing Third World, encouraging free trade, and providing safe passage for global commerce across the seas.When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the bipartisan foreign-policy establishment was united in seeing a historic opportunity to deepen the liberal order and extend it into the rest of the world. Yet the public had always been skeptical about this project. Jacksonians in particular believed that American global policy was a response to the Soviet threat, and that once the threat had disappeared, the U.S. should retrench.

.. American voters have never shared the establishment’s enthusiasm for a foreign policy aimed at transforming the post-Cold War world. When given the choice at the ballot box, they consistently dismiss experienced foreign-policy hands who call for deep global engagement. Instead they install untried outsiders who want increased focus on issues at home. Thus Clinton over Bush in 1992, Bush over Gore in 2000, Obama over McCain in 2008, and Trump over Clinton in 2016.

Today the core problem in American foreign policy remains the disconnect between the establishment’s ambitious global agenda and the limited engagement that voters appear to support. As Washington’s challenges abroad become more urgent and more dangerous, the divide between elite and public opinion grows more serious by the day.

The establishment is now beginning to discover what many voters intuitively believed back in the 1990s. Building a liberal world order is much more expensive and difficult than it appeared in a quarter-century ago, when America was king. Further, Washington’s foreign-policy establishment is neither as wise nor as competent as it believes itself to be.

How Trump’s Candidacy Has Divided Conservative Media

Ann Coulter’s role in inspiring some of Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric and policy, she tweeted – and I’m not sure if this was after his campaign announcement announcing that he was running – she tweeted (reading) I don’t care if Donald Trump wants to perform abortions in the White House after this immigration policy paper.

And I’ve just been trying to imagine somebody like William F. Buckley or George Will tweeting something like that or ever saying something like that. It’s just inconceivable, like the rhetoric has changed so much within the right-wing media. And…

DRAPER: Well, you’re not the only one who thinks that, Terry. The conservative talk show host – and in a lot of ways intellectual godfather in conservative talk radio Mark Levin tweeted back after Ann Coulter’s tweet, which, indeed, was immediately following Trump’s announcement speech. Levin had said this has to be one of the more pathetic statements that I’ve ever read.

So a lot of people who are horrified, of course, Ann Coulter has made a career out of horrifying people. And she – among her many gifts, understatement is not one of them. She also had said that that speech was the greatest thing written since “Magna Carta.” But, of course, this was self-glorification, too, since Ann Coulter recognized the rhetoric as her own.

 

.. GROSS: Do you think that the impact of talk radio and cable news is changing in terms of politics in America?

DRAPER: Well, what’s clear is that talk radio could dictate, basically, the tenor of the electorate. And I don’t think that that has taken place in this election cycle. The numbers show that talk radio is still a very healthy phenomenon. Though, it does not own a monopoly on conservative activism the way it did in the 1990s when Rush Limbaugh ruled the roost. Because of social media, because of Breitbart, because of Drudge – they are not the only voices that count.

 

.. DRAPER: Well, I think that no area of the overall Republican family has had such an awkward time with the Trump candidacy than Fox News. I mean, I think even more than the Republican National Committee. And you can actually see, on the air at Fox News, people who have made a choice to throw themselves utterly behind Trump and others who have been skeptics and others who have been vigorously opposed to him.

 

.. But it’s notable to me that Trump, while continually denouncing the media, is in his own way accessible to a number of us. He’s been talking to reporters from The New York Times, including myself, constantly for months and months now, where Hillary Clinton, for example, notably has not. And now, I’ve been at rallies where we are confined to this media pen and where Trump makes a big exercise out of pointing out to everyone in the audience that there is the disgusting, dishonest media. Lots of booing ensues. I’ve, you know, been a journalist for several decades so I’ve not ever been concerned that this is going to rise to a level of violence. I hope that I’m not proved wrong on that.

But to me, this is not the civil rights era and being cursed at by people in the crowd is not the same thing as what our colleagues endured 50 years ago going down to the Deep South. But it can be alarming for the uninitiated. And – but my view is that it’s for show.

I mean, Trump very much sees himself as an entertainer whose foremost job is to keep people listening. And he has said as much, that when it looks like he’s losing the crowd he’ll start talking about building the wall and having Mexico pay for it.

 

.. I’m saying we hoped this a year or a year and a half ago – that this election might actually provide an opportunity to sort of build at least a rickety bridge between both sides that there’d be some healing after the divisiveness of the last really 16 years or some, perhaps longer.

But there’s no end in sight to this. I think that if Trump becomes president and he abuses his authority, there will be articles of impeachment. If Hillary Clinton becomes president, the House Republicans, already lying in wait due to the Benghazi and email server situation. We’ll also be contemplating articles of impeachment. I simply do not see a way in which things become better

 

.. GROSS: You mentioned that Trump is good at flattering people, and that’s – your implication is that that’s kind of a tool that he uses.

DRAPER: Well, I have personal experience with him, going back to my first encounter with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago when he walked in, saw me and said nobody told me he was such a handsome guy.

(LAUGHTER)

DRAPER: And then throughout what turned out to be about a four-hour evening, Trump, you know, was constantly asking me what I thought about certain members of the media, what I thought about his chances in a particular – the state of Wisconsin, what I thought about particular commercials that other candidates were putting up. And I – as I mentioned, really couldn’t tell whether or not he was acutely interested in my opinions or wanted me to feel like that he was interested in my opinions or if he just wanted to hear my opinion, so he knew where I stood, not so that he would follow my opinions.

But, nonetheless, to be around a guy who is a billionaire and has achieved a lot, I think, you know, would probably – that would be like a momentous thing for someone. I can see how for individuals who have not been asked their opinions before by major political figures that Donald Trump doing so would make them feel like, wow, I’m a Donald Trump consultant. And my my own view is that – and I mentioned this in the story – that lest I would have had any kind of illusions that Trump really valued my insights relating to his prospects that just a few days later, I saw him on the campaign rope-line, you know, asking the very same question to total strangers. So this is just something that Trump does.

The Trump Turn

President Trump’s growing engagement with former corporate executives in his White House—and business leaders outside of it—helped shape this week’s reversals on several positions that defined his campaign. We report that unlike in the early weeks of his presidency, when his senior staff consisted of a close-knit group of former campaign aides, Mr. Trump has sided recently with a wing of his administration that espouses economic and foreign policies much more in line with the Washington establishment’s traditional view. We look at several of Mr. Trump’s shifts, from the U.S. Export-Import Bank to NATO.

The Non-Transformation of Donald J. Trump

It’s astonishing, isn’t it, how suddenly Donald J. Trump is being viewed, in certain precincts, as—what’s the word?—yes, “Presidential,” and all it took was for him to issue an order to launch fifty-nine cruise missiles

.. Laura Ingraham tweeted, “Missiles flying. Rubio’s happy. McCain ecstatic. Hillary’s on board. A complete policy change in 48 hrs.”), there was wide approval from the foreign-policy establishment. The former Secretary of State John Kerry was said to be “absolutely supportive” and “gratified to see that it happened quickly,” and there’s been non-stop gushing within the Trumpian orbit. Kellyanne Conway, gusher-in-chief and Presidential counsellor, spoke about “our very tough, very resolute, very decisive President.

.. For a television performer, television appearances matter a lot.

.. when Trump started getting intelligence briefings, his briefers were advised that he was “a visual and auditory learner”—in other words, that he should deal with as few words as possible and, instead, get “more graphics and pictures.”

.. preference for pictures over words explains, as Trump might phrase it, so much, so very, very much.

.. “We rushed into Korea with no advance planning, and we stumbled into the ground war in Vietnam with uncertain footing. In neither case did we have any fully thought-out ideas concerning our objectives or the means we would be willing to expend to attain them. As each situation arose we extemporized, unsure what the next step would be, until we were far more committed than we had expected to be.” Our best soldiers never forget that sort of lesson.

.. What’s most worrisome about Trump is what’s been worrisome all along: that he doesn’t think through the consequences of what he says and does, and that he acts without a glimmer of consistency, or guiding principle; he’s a man of constant surprise. In that way, Trump is not unlike another erratic world figure, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, who also seems capable of acting in extremes, without warning, at any time, and at any level of incitement.