Fri | Jan 19, 2018

Ian Boyne | Trump : weapon of mass destruction

Published:Sunday | January 29, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Ian Boyne
President Donald Trump salutes as he disembarks Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington last Thursday.

The famous Doomsday Clock set by the world's most eminent atomic scientists was set at two and a half minutes to midnight on Thursday, a 64-year high, partly because of Donald Trump's assuming the United States presidency.

The symbolic clock, which tracks mankind's closeness to doom, was adjusted 30 seconds forward. In a paper issued on Thursday titled 'It is Two and a Half Minutes to Midnight', the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says: "The board's decision to move the clock less than a full minute something it has never done before - reflects a simple reality. As this statement is issued, Donald Trump (is) the US president ... . Words matter and his (Trump's) words and his actions ... have broken with historical precedent in unsettling ways. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or outright reject expert advice related to international security ... . In short, though he has just taken office, the president's intemperate remarks, lack of openness to expert advice, and questionable Cabinet nominations have already made a bad international security situation worse."

One of the world's leading theoretical physicists, Lawrence Krauss, writing in The New York Times on behalf of the group, says further, "The United States now has a president who has promised to impede progress" on both nuclear weapons and climate change.

"Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statement of a single person. But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter."

If his words were troubling during his election campaign, those he has uttered since he has become president have been chilling. It is finally dawning on a shell-shocked world that Donald Trump is, indeed, the president of the most powerful country in the world. A most scary and nightmarish thought. His inaugural address, which even some fierce critics hoped would offer some conciliatory and congenial platitudes, stung and stunned.

His 'America First' isolationist policy pronouncement, overturning the post-World War Two liberal international order presided over by the United States, was received with shivers in world capitals. He wanted us to hear him unambiguously.

When Trump proclaimed in his inaugural that "every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families", he was espousing the narrowest definition of American interests. Every American president, no matter how liberal, has always acted in the interest of America first. But no American president has defined America's interests so narrowly and so myopically. All previous American presidents, whether reactionary, neo-conservative, or liberal internationalist, understood that America's interests were intertwined with the international community's.

America's interests are best served by a liberal, open, democratic international order. In his brilliant study of American foreign policy titled Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How it Changed the World, the prominent foreign-policy scholar Walter Russell Mead chronicles the various foreign-policy tendencies in American history Jeffersonian, Hamiltonian, Wilsonian, and Jacksonian. As I told Cliff Hughes a day after Trump took his oath, what we are seeing in Trump is the resurrection of Andrew Jackson.

On Monday, Mead was dispensing his scholarly gems, writing on the Foreign Affairs website on 'The Jacksonian Revolt: American Populism and the Liberal Order'. No one can say it better than this genius of international relations: "The distinctively American populism Trump espouses is rooted in the thought and culture of the country's first populist president, Andrew Jackson. For Jacksonians, the United States is not a political entity created and defined by a set of intellectual propositions rooted in the Enlightenment and oriented towards the fulfilment of a universal mission. Rather, it is the nation state of the American people and its chief business lies at home.




Trump does not fall in the Republican tradition. The Bushes believed in remaking the world in America's image. George W. believed in democracy promotion, and the neo-conservatives under him believed in transferring American values in the Middle East and other places, making the world "safe for democracy". Obama was most clearly a liberal internationalist who loved using American power a as tool for good in the world, impacting institutions. But whether Republican or Democrat, America's leaders have believed in global engagement.

The phrase 'America First' was actually the name of an organisation led by Charles Lindbergh, which strongly opposed Franklin D. Roosevelt before the US entered World War II. America First then meant that America should stay neutral between Churchill's Britain and Hitler's Third Reich. America's interests have not been so narrowly defined until the advent of Donald Trump, a man un-American in terms of US foreign-policy tradition.

Trump is an aberration a very dangerous aberration. He is a terrifying example of a combination of ignorance and power. No US president has been so intellectually unprepared for office. Trump makes George W. Bush look brilliant.

His executive order withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) displays an appalling naivety about geopolitics and the need to use offshore balancing to contain China. The TPP is in the interest of America. It was not signed for altruistic purposes, but was an important part of the "Asian pivot" in American foreign policy.

His picking a fight with an important trading partner like Mexico is similarly short-sighted and silly. It not only risks economic consequences for the United States itself, but deepens security threats and offends the Latin American region. The cascade of consequences from worsening US-Mexico ties is deeply concerning. Many were hoping that some of his outlandish rhetoric on the campaign trail was just that, and that when he came to power, he would act differently.

Last week was not encouraging to those optimists. His determination to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it, to crack down on illegal immigrants, and to restrict Muslim immigration show that Trump is determined to stay faithful to his base of nativists, xenophobes, and racists.

His determination also to pull out of the climate-change agreement and the Iran deal will make the world a much more unsafe place. Frightening, too, is his plan to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Every US president since Truman has held that Jerusalem has to be part of a comprehensive agreement between the parties. A decision like that would anger US allies in the Middle East, stoke the fires of terrorism, and inflame the Palestinians.

Trump is a menace to every region. Unless held back by knowledgeable Republicans in the House, Trump will push humanity been closer to its midnight.

- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to and