Why a Moralizing Trump Could Be More Dangerous Than a Transactional One

Why a Moralizing Trump Could Be More Dangerous Than a Transactional One
President Donald Trump delivers a speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit, at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 21, 2017 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

Has Donald Trump lost faith in realpolitik? On the campaign trail, the U.S. president promised to adopt a hard-nosed approach to promoting America’s interests. He ostentatiously spurned the stock talking points about his country’s values and global mission that most presidential candidates tend to trot out.

Since taking office, Trump and his advisers have sometimes repeated the case for a cold-eyed approach to foreign affairs. The president told one interviewer that the U.S. is not morally superior to Russia. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has warned diplomats that an excessive emphasis on advancing American values “really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests.”

Yet the administration has not been able to resist the appeal of highly moralistic rhetoric. In Riyadh this weekend, Trump gave a speech on Islamist extremism suffused with religious language. He framed the battle against groups like al-Qaida and the so-called Islamic State as war between good and evil, and threatened terrorists with damnation. “If you choose the path of terror your life will be empty, your life will be brief,” the president intoned, “and YOUR SOUL WILL BE CONDEMNED.” The capitals are in the official version of the speech.

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