You would expect, amid all the tiresome comment written and broadcast on Donald Trump’s “first 100 days,” something worth thinking about might have appeared somewhere. I have had no luck looking. Instead of detached, thought-through analysis, it has been either pabulum, echo, or more of the usual and not-very-useful denigration—the unpolished style, the dismissal of Washington decorum, the doings at Mar-a-Lago, and other urgent matters of global import.
As bad or worse on the foreign-policy side. Apart from people who once fretted about Trump and nuclear codes now applauding as he signs off on missiles and bombs, no one has much to say. The event that tipped me into writing this column was H.R. McMaster’s appearance on Fox News Sunday this past weekend. Trump, his national security adviser wants you to know, “has been masterful in his development of a relationship with President Xi,” the “masterful” being a masterful touch. Iran is “committing mass murder of its own people.” Do tell. No, we did not just watch as the Pentagon wrested foreign policy from civilian control. “He has devolved responsibility down to where it belongs…. So he’s doing things that have made our policy execution much more sensible.”
Read the transcript. It is vacuous euphemism, start to finish. I tip my cap to Chris Wallace: His questions were dead on the money, excellent. He got nothing back in response—or nothing he intended—but Wallace did get McMaster to make one thing perfectly plain. Even at the very core of power, this country’s leadership is not capable of a serious conversation about our conduct abroad. Their topic is meta-policy. It consists of sets and subsets of pretense, delusion, and disinformation.
There is a steep price to be paid for this drift further and further from reality. It is far too soon to guess the size of the final bill, but so far the cost of keeping ourselves calm by pretending to talk about things we decline to talk about is an ever more evident alienation from the world we purport to lead. “Americans are alone in the world” is the title Luigi Barzini put on a book he published in 1953. He meant that the unmatched power we assumed in the post-1945 order, along with our illusions, was bound to leave us an isolated people. Now that is what I call one prescient hack.
This is an anti–100 days column. There was a lot more in Trump’s opening act on the foreign side than anyone in our corporate media is going to acknowledge. There have been three key events, and they need to be considered together: (1) Trump inherited Barack Obama’s foreign-policy framework, (2) he arrived in office with certain ideas to rethink it, and (3) control of policy was taken out of his hands. If we think about these things as a sequence we stand a chance of living in the same world as the rest of humanity, and we might feel a little less lonely.