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Trump’s anti-exceptionalism will exacerbate global instability, because Trump’s nationalism is inherently zero-sum and conflictual. He has said that he objects to the use of the term American exceptionalism because it is “insulting the world”. His candidacy was based on the assumption of US weakness: “We need somebody that can take the brand of the United States and make it great again,” he declared. “We’re like a Third World country.” In other words the US was once great, but exceptionalism diverted the US because it meant supporting values, rather than seizing more wealth and power than others. Thus Trump’s criticism of the Iraq war was that the US did not seize Iraqi oil during the campaign.

In so far as Trump has expressed a grand strategy, three issues dominate his thinking. The first is radical Islam. His administration has adopted a notably less nuanced approach than either George W. Bush’s or Obama’s. For Trump it represents a civilisational threat that must be “eradicated” from the face of the earth, invoking a clash of civilisations. His conception draws no real distinction between Sunni jihadists such as IS, Shias or other Islamic sects, and includes Shia Iran, which often finds itself at odds with radical Sunni jihadists.

Second, Trump has elevated trade deals and trade practices of other countries to the level of a national security priority. This was at the heart of his election campaign. The Trans-Pacific Partnership and Nafta have destroyed American manufacturing for Trump, who labelled such free trade agreements the “rape of our country”. The primary focus of his invective has been China; indeed Trump has stated that “we already have a trade war” with China. He posits economic and military dominance over the US as Beijing’s goal. A range of economic and military appointees have echoed the president, also expressing warnings about China’s militarisation of the South China Sea.

Third, Trump claims that illegal immigration has cost American jobs, lowered wages and put unsustainable strains on the cost of living. He has raised this, too, as a national security issue, linking immigration to crime and terrorism. The latest targeted refugee and legal immigration ban was justified by Trump’s assertion that Muslim refugees were a “Trojan horse of radical Islam in the United States”.

In keeping with the idea of “America first” has been a focus on homeland security. The proposed US-Mexico wall, threatened deportation of illegal immigrants and the suspension of legal immigration from several Muslim countries are likely to be the first steps in a promised programme of measures. Equally, the first stages of protectionism have been put in motion — withdrawing the US from the TPP, pledging to renegotiate Nafta. Trump has threatened tariffs against China and “consequences” for US companies that move jobs overseas.

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