Observers around the world have found many of the statements coming out of the White House in recent days deeply unsettling. That is nothing new in the era of President Donald Trump. But within the overall stream of Trump’s controversial pronouncements, there is one current that contains important clues about what lies ahead in his presidency.
Since taking office little more than 100 days ago, Trump has reversed course on countless issues, including major matters of foreign policy. But he has remained remarkably consistent in his praise of authoritarian leaders. It has become indisputable that respect for strongmen is a viscerally felt sentiment for the U.S. president, and one that will have major ramifications for American policy during this administration.
Just this week, Trump reportedly left his own staff stunned when what was supposed to be a fairly routine phone call with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte turned into an invitation for a much-prized visit to the White House. Duterte has been mostly shunned by the U.S. and its allies since taking office last year due to his signature anti-drug campaign, which features government-sanctioned death squads that have killed thousands of people without any semblance of due process. Duterte himself has even boasted of personally carrying out killings of drug traffickers while serving as mayor of Mindanao. Relations between Manila and Washington became even more strained after Duterte called former President Barack Obama a “son of a whore” for criticizing the excesses of his crackdown.