During an interview on CNN the other day, Donald Trump told JakeTapper that the “Trump Doctrine” is“strength.”Â HeÂ was specificallytalking about his foreign policy worldview, but strengthisn’t just Trump’s nationalsecurityÂ strategy, it’s his entire brand —hisÂ raisond’Ãªtre.Â
Strength isn’t just something President Trump would employto scare Putin or China, it’s how he gets elected, how hepushes an agenda, and how he intimidates his primary opponents. Ittranscends foreign policy, and defines his veryexistence.Â This is why people have no problem callinghim a strongman.
Just as Americans who are desperate for someoneÂ to“Make America Great Again” eat this up, those withstrongÂ philosophical leanings (and a healthy fear ofdemagogues)Â find it equally repellent.Â Theproblem with having “strength” be your electoralrationaleÂ is that it’s value free — andphilosophically neutral.
In this regard, the word “strength” is like the word“change.” Barack Obama inspired the masses withpromisesÂ of change, without ever noting that change canbe positive or disastrous. Likewise, theÂ attribute ofstrengthÂ does not denote virtue or freedom. GeorgeWashington was strong — but so was Napoleon. WinstonChurchill was strong — but so was Mussolini.
So how did we come to fetishizeÂ strength? In a worldwhere politicians seem weak and effete and impotent, asizableÂ chunk of voters seem willing to toss the diceon a guyÂ who makes things happen. (It hardly matterswhat things he makes happen.) An incompetent, corrupt, oranemic government sets the stage forÂ public passions tobe swept up by an inspiring figure who canÂ restore anation to its glory days. Thus, Mussolini can pretend he’sremaking the Roman Empire — just as Churchill can talk aboutdefending Christendom and western civilization.
Don’t get me wrong, having seen Hillary Clinton dominatethe debate stage and the Benghazi hearing, Republican voters wouldbe wise to nominate someone who’s tough enough to go toe totoe with her. And having seen Barack Obama dither these last eightyears, American needs a president who can project a strong imageabroad. But while strength should certainly be one of the qualitieswe look for in a leader, it should, by no means, be the only— or even primary — attribute we look for.