Donald Trump is a volatile personality with a penchant for creating chaos and uncertainty. His impulsive, irascible nature often makes it appear that the only logic to his presidency is whatever event or TV clip happens to grab his attention.
But it would be a mistake to regard his presidency as a disorganized mess. It’s an organized mess that follows a trio of consistent themes.
The first is protectionism. The second is racial and religious bigotry. The third is appeasement of Russia. Almost everything significant he does stems from one of more of these impulses. Mercurial though he is, he rarely deviates from them.
If you assume that Trump would like the U.S. to import nothing, regards nonwhites and non-Christians as dangerous or inferior, and desperately wants to please Vladimir Putin, you will not be puzzled by much that he does.
His abrupt decision to impose aluminum and steel tariffs on Brazil and Argentina and his threat to put 100% duties on some French products seemingly came out of nowhere. But given his deep aversion to imports, none of our trading partners can ever feel safe.
They are all potential targets, and to his mind, one is just as deserving as another. Which one “Tariff Man” decides to lash out at on any given day is impossible to guess. What matters is that someone be punished for the crime of selling goods to our people.
Hardly noticed in the impeachment furor is a revelation that would have been a major scandal in any other administration. The Southern Poverty Law Center recently obtained and released hundreds of emails from Trump’s chief immigration adviser, Stephen Miller, who recommended articles from the white nationalist website VDARE and praised “The Camp of the Saints,” a dystopian potboiler about Europe being overwhelmed by dark-skinned foreigners.
That this president would employ someone with a voluminous record of hostility toward any immigrants who are not Christian Caucasians is a virulent symptom of Trump’s deep-seated prejudices. From his vicious 1989 rant against the Central Park Five to his slander of a Mexican American judge to his Muslim travel ban, Trump has been a tireless peddler of hate.
His craven subservience to Putin has also been a central pillar of his administration. His presence at NATO’s 70th anniversary celebration was a reminder that he would like to be done with the alliance, an option he has often raised with advisers.
NBC News reported that in a private speech last month, his former national security adviser John Bolton “said Trump could go full isolationist” and “withdraw the U.S. from NATO and other international alliances.”
When Trump demands that our European allies spend more on defense, his motive is not to strengthen deterrence of Russia. It’s a way to undermine Americans’ support for the alliance. It’s a pretext for him to do less to protect Europeans from their aggressive neighbor. He resents German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron because they resist his pandering to Putin.
This week, his antics exhibited all the elements of his toxic trifecta. Shortly before the NATO summit, the White House threatened to impose tariffs as high as 100% on $2.4 billion worth of French goods. Trump berated his allies, with a torrent of lies, over their contributions to NATO.
And when Macron stood up to him, Trump found a way to invoke the fear of brown alien hordes taking over Europe. “Would you like some nice ISIS fighters?” he sneered. “I can give them to you.” Macron, let’s not forget, opposed Trump’s withdrawal from Syria, which was a favor to the Kremlin.
Trump invoked Muslim terrorists from the Middle East because he finds them far scarier than, say, the right-wing version. In September, acting secretary of homeland security Kevin McAleenan gave a speech warning of the burgeoning threat of “racially based violent extremism, particularly violent white supremacy.” McAleenan soon left the administration.
A possible clue to why lies in an August CNN report that “White House officials rebuffed efforts by their colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security for more than a year to make combating domestic terror threats, such as those from white supremacists, a greater priority.” These dangers are not something Trump can candidly admit — or sincerely condemn.
In London, as in most places, Trump looked like the ringmaster in his own circus of confusion. But in the weird, undying obsessions that drive him, he is not at all confused.