A recent article by Politico's national editor Michael Hirsh argued that far from being a boorish yahoo with extreme un-American views, Donald Trump really is channeling the thoughts of the nation's founders and some of its greatest presidents in their advocacy of few if any foreign entanglements.
It's a piece replete with citations quoting Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, John Adams and John Quincy Adams to buttress the idea that foreign ventures would ensnare the country in affairs best left to people on the other side of the Atlantic, the Pacific, of course, being no point of reference to their late 18th and early 19th century minds.
Since the start of World War II, however, the United States has been globally engaged, first fighting the Axis Powers, then confronting Communist Soviet Union, China and Cuba in a Cold War, followed by a patchwork of alliances and adventures in the Middle East, the most recent being our tragic years-upon-years involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and our arms-length position vis-a-vis Syria.
But it is fair to ask, as Trump is, why we are simply continuing, through inertia and with little change, a system that was built up to thwart a set of threats that no longer exist. Maybe this vast, expensive global order was necessary against Hitler, and later Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev -- the very real threats of tyranny, totalitarianism and international communism in the 1940s, '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s -- but is Putin's Russia, or Xi Jinping's China, really enough of a threat to justify the same expense and effort? It's also fair to ask -- as Trump does, in his blunt way -- whether U.S. allies have grown a bit spoiled and barely notice any longer who's holding that defense umbrella over their heads, allowing them to continue massive spending on their welfare states.
Trump's advocacy of a reimagined United States relationship with our allies, and by extension our adversaries, has tapped a reservoir of innate American isolationism made all the more potent by a failed war in Vietnam (though the feared Domino Effect never transpired) and the twin disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the end, though, it should come down not to the electorate's knowledge of historical admonitions, but rather to the confidence Americans have in the knowledge, leadership and diplomatic skills they want in their next president. Trump has displayed little of those skills as he has rampaged through the Republican primary process, flipping positions as quickly as one changes gears in a sports car. He is not thought highly of in most foreign capitals. If he's elected, heads of state will have to deal with him but they might never be confident his word would be his bond.
The closest we have to a Republican head of state is Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, the second in line to be president should tragedy strike the chief executive and the vice president. Ryan has yet to endorse the presumptive nominee of his party, but with each passing day Republican office holders appear to be swallowing their scruples and lining up, however reluctantly, behind Trump. It's only a matter of time before Ryan caves, and without extracting any implementable concessions.
It seems they are all more interested in winning than in protecting the principles of the republic and their party. Their professed animosity toward Hillary Clinton trumps (pun intended) the reality that The Donald is unfit to be president of the mightiest country in the world, a country that has been a symbol of equality and decency throughout the world but under Trump would be willing to discriminate against Muslims and would sanction torture. The damage to American prestige would be incalculable.
No criticism is more pointed than from within one's family, so here's an excerpt from Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist of The New York Times, describing the factionalism of the Republican party that led to Trump's rise and his own failure to foresee his appeal:
So to catalog my wrongness: I overestimated the real commitment of both factions' leaders to their stated principles and favored policies. (Even though I didn't agree with many of those policies myself, I assumed from the party's longstanding resistance to change that someone did!) I overestimated their ability to put those principles ahead of personal resentments. And yes, since to acquiesce to Donald Trump as the Republican nominee is to gamble recklessly with the party's responsibilities to the republic, I overestimated their basic sense of honor.