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Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Cincinnati, Ohio Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Cincinnati, Ohio, Oct. 12, 2020 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

To Defend Its Interests at Home and Abroad, America Must Vote Trump Out

Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020

Since World Politics Review began publishing 14 years ago, we have refrained from political endorsements. This is in keeping with our mission, which states that we are “unbeholden to any partisan affiliation or party allegiance.”

At the same time, nonpartisan does not mean disinterested. Over the past 14 years, we have published articles defending and supporting the foreign policy decisions of Republican and Democratic administrations alike. But in so doing, we have always referred to a certain vision of international politics and global order as our standard for judgment. As our mission statement also puts it, WPR seeks to strike a balance between realism and liberal internationalism, “combining an effort to see the world as it is with a preference for diplomacy and multilateralism in support of a rules- and norms-based global order.”

By any criteria, the choice in next month’s presidential election is a very clear one between a candidate who holds that vision in contempt and another who, however imperfectly, defends it.

Under the circumstances, then, and given what we believe is at stake both for the U.S. and the world, we feel the need to make an exception to our long-standing policy and state our position to our readers.

We believe that in his four years as president, Donald Trump has already done considerable harm to the U.S., its interests and the global order that best serves those interests.

We further believe that another four years of his presidency would do irreparable damage to America’s domestic political cohesion, its ability to advance and defend its interests in the world, and its ability to play a productive and stabilizing role on the global stage.

In saying that, it is not necessary to believe that Trump represents an existential threat to American democracy, or even an unprecedented one. Fortunately, his trampling of the norms and laws that limit presidential power and structure the interactions of America’s democratic institutions has so far been deployed more in the service of his clownish narcissism and venality than of some nefarious authoritarian ambition. The result has been not an incipient dictatorship, but a crisis of legitimacy that has already begun to take hold. Left unchecked, however, its corrosive effect on national cohesion could eventually pose a significant danger to the health of the republic.

As for Trump’s approach to foreign policy, from the very beginning of his presidency any attempt at criticism ran into the difficulty of distinguishing between word and deed, between impact and implication. “Never mind the Twitter feed,” we were told. “Pay attention to the policy.”

Over time, however, those distinctions have become increasingly blurred.

Another four years of Trump’s presidency would do irreparable damage to America’s ability to play a productive and stabilizing role on the global stage.

It is true that on some fronts, Trump’s bark has been worse than his bite. For all his vitriolic criticism of America’s allies, for instance, those alliances remain robust at the operational level. But at the higher levels of political decision-making, whether in Europe or Asia, trust in America’s commitment and dependability has withered, and horror at the prospect of four more years of his presidency has taken hold.

On others, like climate change and the Iran nuclear deal, Trump has to the contrary been good to his word, with far-reaching and self-destructive consequences. In addition to ceding leadership on an epochal and existential global crisis, Trump has tarnished America’s reputation as a country that lives up to its international obligations.

His contempt for multilateral institutions has left openings for China to expand its influence in the bodies that will shape the rules of the road for the strategic competition unfolding between the world’s two global powers. And the melodrama and uncertainty surrounding his policy decisions have created power vacuums in regions where the U.S. historically played the role of arbiter and backstop, emboldening revisionist powers like Russia and Turkey.

Perhaps most damaging of all, Trump has turned his back on the values America has historically promoted and defended, if imperfectly and inconsistently, and instead adopted the coercive methods and bullying manners of countries the U.S. has long vilified. In so doing, he has turned the U.S. into a mirror image of the rivals and adversaries it used to seek to differentiate itself from. That will prove especially damning in the competition with China, where soft power will play as big a role as hard power.

Certain aspects of Trump’s approach to the world are likely to endure, even in the event of a Biden victory in November. It is likely that America will tolerate more friction, whether political or logistical, in its dealings with the world. The relationship with China is likely to remain competitive and confrontational, as we’ve seen under Trump. America is likely to continue asking allies in Europe and Asia to do more for their own defense and security, as well. Finally, greater obstacles to free trade, justified by economic nationalism and national security, will likely become a feature of America’s approach to globalization.

But in pursuing these objectives, a Biden administration would also likely lean more heavily on multilateralism and dialogue. While that wouldn’t resolve all the tensions and conflicts that arise, it would play to America’s particular advantage as a country that can attract and persuade as well as it can coerce and punish.

Biden can also be expected to compete with China more strategically, including by enlisting allies and partners in that competition in a way that shapes it to America’s advantage.

And as a candidate with a more conventional understanding of America’s alliances and global role, Biden would also likely wield U.S. power and influence to reduce tensions among allies, like Turkey and Greece; shore up allies against bullies, like Russia and China; and strengthen international and regional mechanisms for security and stability.

Not every problem would be solved, and vigilance would be needed to hold a Biden administration to account, so it doesn’t revert to tired bromides and obsolete formulas about American power that don’t take into account how much the world has changed in the past four years. More broadly, going forward, the U.S. must balance the need to shore up the foundations of its domestic sources of power, particularly the health of its political system and its national cohesion, with the need to avoid turning so far inward that it retreats from a world that still depends in many ways on American leadership.

No one believes the president alone can heal the nation’s divides. But with Biden in the White House, we can at least be certain the president is not a driving force widening them.