I know that we Americans rarely cast our votes on the basis of foreign policy. We are noticeably insular when it comes to campaigning and politicking. But the rest of the world is watching with interest and increasing horror to see whom we might put in our highest office. The international community recognizes that all politics is local, and they're used to American presidential candidates talking tough about their kicking-ass-and-taking-numbers foreign policy fantasies. The citizens of the world have adjusted to the rough rhetoric of American politics... or, at least, they had. With his trademark senselessness, Donald Trump has shocked our rhetorically calloused world.
Trump doesn't do nuance. His voters say they like his plain talk, his rough-shod riding over civility and complexity. Trump channels America's id, our darkest imaginings and desires set loose from all constraints of decency. From a foreign policy perspective, Trump doesn't just talk tough, he talks insane. He says we should build border walls, expand our use of torture, kill the families of terrorists, pick a trade war with the world's other largest economies, and do just about everything possible to flex America's muscles so we can "win again."
And that brings us to Islam. Trump as president would aim to create "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" at least until that unthinkable day when "our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." Like so many of Trump's policy proposals, this one ends with an ellipsis, a threat trailing off into the dismal future. He reiterated this proposal this week in the wake of the Brussels bombing. Setting aside the near impossibility of such a ban (how would U.S. Customs identify a person's sincere religious belief?), Trump is suggesting we close America's borders to the world's second largest religion, nearly a quarter of all humans living today.
For several weeks now, Trump has been saying that "Islam hates us." This is, of course, nonsense. Islam isn't a person or even a singular perspective. Islam, like every religion, is a living tradition, a collective of perspectives, experiences, ideas, and opinions. Islam doesn't hate or love anything. Even a more circumspect statement like "Muslims hate us" would require the clarification that hundreds of millions of the world's Muslims either love or feel neutral toward the United States. One thing that can be said for certain: Many Muslims hate Donald Trump. And for good reason. Trump is vying politically for command of the most elite and destructive military force in human history, and he has repeatedly put Muslims collectively in the crosshairs of his harebrained foreign policy rants.
Trump saying "Islam hates us" reminds me of that old joke about the Lone Ranger where he and his Native American sidekick Tonto are suddenly surrounded by hostile Apache warriors. "It looks like we're going to die," says the Lone Ranger. "What do you mean 'we', Pale Face?" replies Tonto.
Yet American Muslims and Muslims around the world look on as this sneering buffoon careens toward the White House. Trump personifies the worst version of America in relation to the wider world: our tendency toward selfish exploitation and indulgence, our geographic and cultural ignorance, our bull-in-a-china-shop style of intervention. Trump the candidate is scary enough; Trump in the Oval Office would be far worse. Here would be a man who never apologizes, confronting a world in which we have much to apologize for. Here would be a man who asserts that he never backs down commanding American forces in a chaotic world where de-escalation is the name of the game. Trump would be our Insulter in Chief, the caricatured villain of the world's worst nightmares.
I mean this with only a touch of hyperbole: a Trump presidency right now would be a perfect recipe for World War III. Our world is awash with percolating volatility. The alignments and narratives of the Cold War have given way to many factions and countries battling for regional dominance. The European Union teeters on the brink of dissolution. Syria is a snarl of selfish actors, a Sunni-Shi'a and Iranian-Saudi proxy war, poised on a razor's edge between a murderous dictator on the one hand and ISIS and al Qaeda on the other. The waves of instability radiating out from Syria are not just coming in the form of migrants to Europe, but the entire region is roiling with tension, violence, and the pitiless machinations of dictatorial strongmen. China's mix of economic limitations and military assertion threatens to upend decades of relative regional peace. Israel and Palestine... North Korean nuclear weapons... Our global order is wobbling.
Now just imagine President Trump offhandedly picking a fight with Vladimir Putin via Twitter. Imagine President Trump insulting the Prophet Muhammad on a lark. Imagine President Trump burning down 75 years of post-World War II international agreements and collaboration because the UN is too much a part of the establishment.
I understand how appealing some Americans find the simple notion of America "winning again." Nationalism and nativism have always been crowd-pleasers. Trump's policy solutions have this going for them: even a child could understand them. Yet in Trump's zero-sum vision of the world, America winning means someone else losing. Indeed, given Trump's ignorant scattershot alienation of the rest of the world, if he did in office even one-tenth of what's he's proposing on the campaign trail, America winning would mean the rest of the world losing. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the rest of the world won't take that lying down.
So as this primary season rolls on and the world looks down the barrel of a possible Trump presidency, I'm begging the American electorate to take a deep breath and think about foreign policy. Trump's campaign is holding up a mirror and cartoonishly embodying America's narcissism, America's ignorance, America's bullying impulse. I hope and pray that the better angels of our nature will not only shout down but vote down Donald Trump. The rest of the world will be holding its breath until we do.