Josef Joffe’s article in last Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, “How Trump is Like Obama” castigates President Trump and former President Obama equally for the decline of the United States as a global leader. True to the headline, Joffe places Obama’s eight years in office alongside Trump’s five months (along with the things he’s said over the years) for undermining the American leadership the world has relied upon since World War II.
Obama’s actions certainly made clear his intention to withdraw the United States from its preeminence in the world. His signature failure had to be allowing Syrian President Bashar Assad to cross his rhetorical “red line” and use chemical weapons without consequences. His complete fecklessness with respect to the so-called Arab Spring is reminiscent of Jimmy Carter’s dawdling over the Iranian revolution in 1979. Unless one can make the case that Obama’s Iran nuclear weapons deal was good for the free world (I can’t), there was very little world leadership during his eight years as president.
On the other hand, Trump’s actions in his few months in office have shown strength and decisiveness. These include sending warships to North Korea and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to China; his very successful trip to the Middle East; rolling back Obama’s “opening to Cuba” until Cuba allows freedom to return to its people; and, of course, bombing that airstrip in Syria. Whether you agree with those actions or not, he has shown and continues to show a desire and a willingness to lead.
align=”left” Most Trump supporters believe the president’s agenda, as outlined in his campaign, is truly about making America great again. We are not just his voting base or a reliable interest group working on his behalf. He seems to see us the way Tocqueville saw America’s middle class: as the foundation and center of the American way of life.
The other area where Trump and Obama differ is in their willingness to spend U.S. tax dollars abroad, beginning with the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The Obama administration allowed TARP money to bail out foreign as well as American banks that had made money loaning to unreliable borrowers and reselling those loans without transparency as to their actual worth, but it did not bail out individual American citizens who got stuck with “troubled assets” like homes that dropped rapidly in value or stock portfolios that collapsed.
Trump, on the other hand, insists our allies pay their fair share of costs in all areas of international cooperation, including security and trade. Bailing out rich guys who take ridiculous risks is not on his agenda. The president’s supporters are pleased we finally have someone who cares about the American middle class and is lifting the burdens that have been placed on it by the increasing costs of government programs, both here and abroad. First he tried to protect our neighborhoods from settlement by un-vetted refugees and migrants. His latest effort to improve our families’ lives is ending the Department of Education’s tortured interpretations of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act.
Most Trump supporters believe the president’s agenda, as outlined in his campaign, is truly about making America great again. We are not just his voting base or a reliable interest group working on his behalf. He seems to see us the way Tocqueville saw America’s middle class: as the foundation and center of the American way of life.
Trumpians agree with the president that the existence of a vibrant middle class is essential to maintaining the American way of life. What does that entail? To most of us it includes: love of God, family, community, state, and nation, in that order. People blessed with the benefits of religion, family, community, and state are able to identify with and have great affection for America. When a majority of people are happy, even those who are less rooted, benefit from the stability and spirit engendered by the majority.
Progressives and globalists usually associate patriotism with irrational love of one’s own, while we believe there are many benefits, certainly more benefits than disadvantages to having a middle class that is geographically rooted—not to the point that people fail to move in order to provide for their families—but as an aid to that great American virtue, duly noted by Tocqueville, that he calls “self-interest rightly understood.” Tocqueville presents this as the American impulse to generously help one’s neighbors. He also says that this habit over time becomes second nature to Americans, who do it so naturally that they seem to lose track of who owes whom, reaching out ever further to be of assistance to those in need, and trusting that favors given will be returned without counting the cost every time they are rendered.
Joffe praises “pre- Obama, pre-Trump” diplomacy, which he characterizes as achieving our ends, not by going mano a mano, but by serving the interests of others as we do things like safeguarding security and the liberal trading order. This sounds a lot like “self-interest rightly understood,” taken to the international arena. But can it work there? With respect to these services the international community has come to expect, Trump says our current costs are too high. To which Joffe answers with Harry Truman’s question: “Which is better for the country, to spend 20 or 30 billion dollars to keep the peace, or to do as we did in 1920 and then have to spend 100 billion dollars for four years to fight a war?”
align=”right” Joffe praises “pre- Obama, pre-Trump” diplomacy, which he characterizes as achieving our ends, not by going mano a mano, but by serving the interests of others as we do things like safeguarding security and the liberal trading order. This sounds a lot like “self-interest rightly understood,” taken to the international arena. But can it work there?
Really? As Europe has completely recovered from World War II, is it not “self-interest wrongly understood” to continue to subsidize Europe’s security and access to trade? Even in 1947, there were economists skeptical of the massive transfer of resources from the United States to Western Europe. The economist Henry Hazlitt, for example, suggested that American subsidies would make it possible to hide the negative effects we could expect those nations to face if they continued to move in a socialistic direction. Maybe Hazlitt was right.
When it comes to keeping the peace, it is not Trump who has advocated a smaller, weaker military. The current president has given every indication, in word and deed, that he wants an America that is militarily strong to defend the nation from foes domestic and foreign. In this regard, Trump most closely resembles Reagan, not Obama.
Fact is, Donald J. Trump is the antithesis of Barack H. Obama and Obama is the antithesis of Trump. Our current president wants to Make America Great Again; the former does not believe it was ever great or particularly exceptional. Joffe is engaged in historical revisionism, but it is too soon and the experiences of the last eight years are too raw and recent. But this much is obvious: Trump is not like Obama, and from the perspective of Middle America, he is in every way, a better president for real Americans everywhere.