Donald Trump Thought

by Chris Patten Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong and a former EU commissioner for external affairs, is Chancellor of the University of Oxford. 28.11.2017


LONDON – After US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to China, it can only be a matter of time before right-wing media outlets like Breitbart News and Fox News suggest that he should take a page from President Xi Jinping’s playbook, despite the overwhelmingly Leninist nature of its contents.

At last month’s 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Xi was effectively anointed his country’s supreme leader. By enshrining so-called Xi Jinping Thought in the CPC charter, Party members established Xi alongside the People’s Republic’s two historical giants, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping – the only other Chinese leaders with officially recognized eponymous ideologies.

The content of Xi’s intellectual contribution to Marxist-Leninism further entrenches his position. Light on Marxism and heavy on Leninism, Xi Jinping Thought merges central control with nationalism. And it firmly establishes Xi as his country’s most powerful leader since Mao, enabling him, to paraphrase Trump, to “make China great again.”

Trump can only envy Xi. After all, changing the CPC charter is straightforward: Anyone who dares to disagree openly with a proposed amendment can look forward to a visit from the Party’s anti-corruption police. Changing the US Constitution is not so simple.

But just consider the possibility: Amend the US constitution, as has happened 27 times, to include “Donald Trump Thought,” and fire up the masses, yet again, with the hope of “America First.”

Donald Trump Thought is easy to understand and requires little intellectual strain to master. First, be nice to countries where there is, or could be, a Trump Tower or other family franchise. Be particularly friendly to countries that roll out a long red carpet – or, better yet, a golden welcome mat – when Trump stops by.

Don’t worry if the country in question is a democracy or a dictatorship. Actually, a country may be a better friend – to Trump, if not the US – if it is run by a “tough guy” who locks up (or worse) critics and opponents. Democracies require leaders to answer too many questions, jump through too many hoops, and face too much resistance.

The second tenet of Donald Trump Thought provides a way to circumvent these inconveniences at home: Any news the leader doesn’t like is fake news. Reality is whatever makes the leader look good.

This tenet dictates the following imperative: Keep every idea so simple that it can be expressed in less than 280 characters, tweeted from the sofa, Fox News blaring. These ideas should appeal to the electorate’s most atavistic urges. Their defining message should be “blood and soil.”

Hostility toward previous US presidents is a must as well. By definition, anything Barack Obama said or did was wrong. Trump need not acknowledge that his predecessor saved the US economy from the depths of depression; he can simply take credit for the results, including rising job creation and asset prices.

Donald Trump Thought takes aim at two of Obama’s signature achievements: the 2010 Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. But repealing Obamacare has proved much harder than Trump expected. It would be a lot easier if only Trump could find something to replace it that would not leave poor and sick people – including his own constituents – much worse off.

As for the nuclear deal, Trump has moved beyond demonizing Iran publicly to decertifying the agreement, even though Iran has kept up its end of the bargain. According to Donald Trump Thought, it doesn’t matter if that decision intensifies the Sunni-Shia clash in the Middle East. Nor should a Trumpian thinker care if America’s closest democratic allies – in this case, the Europeans – disagree; on the contrary, European support for the agreement with Iran is yet another reason to scrap it.

Trump’s creed includes three more key principles. First, trade surpluses with other countries are important – so important that it does not matter if the increased US exports mentioned in press releases after foreign visits are real or virtual. The key is to be able to announce and even sign deals that sound big – the more billions in the boasts, the better. (Questions about how to execute this requirement should be directed to China, where phantom deals for gullible foreigners are a diplomatic specialty.)

Second, evidence and facts are no basis for policy. A Trumpian thinker diligently ignores all the mumbo jumbo about climate change. Let the winds blow, the storms rage, the rain pour, the sea levels rise, and the air pollution kill, while denying that it could possibly have any relationship to humans greenhouse-gas emissions. If scientists offer evidence to the contrary, call it a hoax, concocted to weaken America. Above all, accept no limitations on coal production and hold the oil industry’s interests close to your heart at all times.

Finally, believe whom you want to believe – even if that means trusting Russian President Vladimir Putin, the ex-KGB man, over America’s own security and intelligence agencies. The closer Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators get to the truth about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the more you must insist that Putin “means” what he says. This can also be applied in the United Kingdom, where evidence is mounting that Russian money and social media activities played a role in securing victory for the Brexiteers in June 2016.

In Donald Trump Thought, Putin is both a prophet and a patron saint. Putin, like Trump, is a warrior for national greatness against the evil forces of multilateralism and cultural pluralism. And, like Trump, he knows who his friends are.


Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong and a former EU commissioner for external affairs, is Chancellor of the University of Oxford.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2017.
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