Donald Trump – Isolationist or Imperialist?

Tom Costello

In very recent polls related to the upcoming presidential election in the United States, the race between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hilary Clinton seems to be neck and neck.

According to a CNN poll, Trump has experienced a post-convention boost in popularity and currently leads the potential first female President by 5 percent (44% to 39% in Trump’s favour). However, an even more recent poll by NBC has declared no such surge in popularity for Donald Trump and in fact Hilary Clinton leads that poll by a single point (46% to 45%). What is clear is that this election is currently on a knife-edge and no one can be certain of a victor.

What makes this election even more of a tight race is the fact that both Miss Clinton and Mr Trump both have core supporters who will passionately support them whilst they also have millions of fierce opponents to deal with respectively. The unpopularity of both candidates has led to some Republicans refusing to support Trump (viewing his potential election as suicide for the country) and with Hillary Clinton reportedly failing to win over Democrats who were supportive of former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

The possibility of Donald Trump being elected as the most powerful man in the world is an elephant in the room that can no longer be ignored. It is times like these that we realise how lucky we truly are to live in the UK. Waking up to Brexit is one thing but imagine waking up to Donald Trump as the leader of your country. The question is whether a potential Trump presidency would be more of a disaster for Americans or more of a disaster for the world. Is Trump an isolationist or an imperialist? Does Trump want to ‘make America great again’ at the expense of his own people or at the expense of others outside of America? Perhaps the answer is both.

First, let’s deal with the argument that Donald Trump is an imperialist. His campaign has already displayed fascistic tendencies in the form of his racist policies and persona which has encouraged shockingly racist and bigoted behaviour from his army of supporters. He claims that he would take a very tough stance on China by increasing the US military presence in the East and South China Seas and enforcing harsh sanctions and trading tariffs against the People’s Republic.

Conversely however, Trump would increase co-operation with Russia and even North Korea. Trump believes that as a ‘businessman’, only he would be able to sit down and persuade Kim Jong-Un to see world how Trump sees it. In a more violent foreign policy move, Trump would increase the US’ involvement in Iraq and Syria with the goal of eliminating ISIS. Whilst Trump seeks to build bridges with Russia and North Korea, he of course to wants to build a wall between the US and Mexico.

Trump Clinton
Source: CNN

Interestingly, this move is has both imperialist and isolationist qualities. It is isolationist simply because the construction of this ‘great wall’ will cut the US off from Mexico, in an attempt to reduce immigration and crime which Trump has blamed upon Hispanic immigrants. However, what is imperialist about this move is that Trump plans to bully Mexico and its people into paying for this ridiculous wall. Trump’s presidential campaign claims that Mexico needs the US much more than the US needs Mexico and as such, America allegedly has all the leverage in this situation. Trump claims that he will force the Mexican government to pay for the wall by hitting Mexico with large tariffs, cutting US funding to Mexico as well as increasing the fee for Mexican visas to the US, whilst outright cancelling some of these visas. The billionaire who has bizarrely become a working man’s hero in America claims that immigration is a privilege and not a right.

Let’s focus more on the argument that Trump actually doesn’t care about the world outside of America and instead of embarking on a war-hawk foreign policy, he would actually be the most isolationist US president in decades. Although his foreign policy agenda and tough stance on immigration has attracted both support and controversy, the majority of Donald Trump’s publically-declared policies focus on domestic issues such as healthcare reform, tax reform and protecting the American right to bear arms. Trump loathes the idea of globalisation and seeks to re-arrange most US trade deals with other countries. He was also a vocal supporter of the Brexit movement, viewing the European Union as a corrupt and bureaucratic institution.

Trump recently displayed another isolationist behaviour, causing controversy by claiming that if another NATO country was attacked, Trump would not immediately come to that country’s aid, in line with NATO’s ‘Article 5’, which deems an attack on one NATO member to be an attack on all. The Republican nominee added that if he was President and that scenario occurred, he would first review if the country under attack had ‘fulfilled its obligations’ to the United States. A NATO official hit back at Trump however, reminding the presidential candidate that Article 5 had only been activated once in the past: in order to come to the aid of the United States in the wake of 9/11. Another gaffe by Trump right there.

In my opinion, Trump leans towards being more of an isolationist than an imperialist. He is obsessed with halting immigration to the US and effectively cutting the country off from much of the world. Many might disagree with my opinion that Trump is primarily an isolationist, countering that Trump actually seeks to reshape the world with America’s interests at the centre. After all, Trump claims that he wants to make America great again, not the world great again. Although foreign policy might not intentionally be his priority if he became president, it is likely that if America were attacked by a country or organisation, Trump would respond with the country’s full military might. An attack on America during a Trump presidency would truly be a gift for the controversial real estate mogul. No doubt Trump would use an attack on America to his advantage, seizing the opportunity to steal American hearts and minds for his own political gain.

A devastating terrorist attack before November’s election would be even worse timing. It could play right into Trump’s hands and inspire Americans to vote with their emotions and not with common sense. As the bitter election campaign continues, the United States and indeed much of the world continues to hold its breath.

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