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The “national” part of this may arouse suspicion among those who see the nation state as outmoded and nationalism as atavistic. In the age of empires, nations were often divided and downtrodden; in the unification of Germany and Italy, for example, liberalism and nationalism were indistinguishable. In the 20th century nationalism was indeed perverted by ideologues, but both Nazism and Communism were actually global ideologies, based on race and class respectively. Among the English-speaking peoples, the word “nation” has generally lacked the toxic connotations that still surround it in continental Europe. During the Second World War Winston Churchill, for example, led a National Government and chose to run for office in 1945 as a “Nationalist”. Trump’s espousal of nationalism ought not to brand him as a racist or an authoritarian. The nation state, Trump says, “remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition”. It is the basis of liberty, democracy and the rule of law.

What is really distinctive about the Trump doctrine, though, is what he calls “the principle of sovereignty”. I have written in Standpoint about what seems to me to be the ultimate source of this principle, in the Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes. In his speech to the United Nations last September, Trump used the words “sovereign” and “sovereignty” more than 20 times. With the talent for concision that the President occasionally displays on Twitter, he summed up his doctrine in one sentence: “But we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the sovereign interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.” Note that a regime that damages the interests of its own people — for example, by killing millions of them, as Nazi, Communist and Islamist despotisms have done and continue to do — thereby forfeits its rights as a sovereign nation. A regime that invades or threatens its neighbours may also forfeit its sovereign rights. Hence the Trump doctrine may, under certain circumstances, justify intervention, whether punitive or preventive, by the United States and its allies, without necessarily obtaining UN authorisation. There is continuity from Reagan to Trump. The odd man out is Obama, whose “leadership from behind” turned out to be no leadership at all. The control of wickedness by the use of force must sometimes override the limitless scruples of the self-righteous. Donald Trump is no more an isolationist and no less committed to the defence of the West than any of his predecessors, up to and including George W. Bush; but he reserves the right to exercise the sovereignty vested in him by the American people, rather than obey the invocations of international institutions. He prefers to serve those who elected him, rather than those who claim to speak for humanity but are elected by nobody.

Of a piece with this radical interpretation of the principle of sovereignty is another distinctive feature of the Trump presidency. Unlike most other presidents, Trump has so far shown every sign that he means to keep his promises: on the economy, taxation, immigration, defence, climate change, North Korea, Iran and Jerusalem. When his red lines have been crossed, as when Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, Trump has responded with “fire and fury”. When Putin used a nerve agent to poison people in the British city of Salisbury, Trump expelled 60 Russian diplomats. So much for the canard that he is soft on Russia. One may not like Trump or his policies: his unilateral imposition of steel tariffs, for example, is doing real harm not only to global trade, but to American jobs. To this outsider, however, it seems that if you vote for Trump, you know what you will get. It is hard to overestimate the importance of trust for voters.

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