On January 22nd, Walter Russell Mead was interviewed on the Global Politico podcast.
Following is the full transcript of the interview:
Susan Glasser: This is Susan Glasser, and welcome back to The Global POLITICO. This is basically our one-year anniversary of the Trump presidency. We’re still trying to figure it all out, and I can’t think of a better decoder to have with us this week than the fantastic scholar, writer, and general wise man, Walter Russell Mead, who has been delightfully challenging the conventional wisdoms of American foreign policy for as long as I’ve been paying attention.
And he has a really interesting and unique story to tell, both about his own thoughts regarding Trump and foreign policy but his interactions as well with some members of the team and those trying to figure out what Trumpism is. So Walter Russell Mead, we’re at the Hudson Institute where he hangs his hat these days. It’s right across from the Trump International Hotel. It’s a couple of blocks away from the Trump White House. So I can’t think of any better place to be a year to the day more or less exactly after Donald Trump became our most unlikely new president. What have we gotten wrong about him in this year one?
Walter Russell Mead: Well, it’s, you know, we’ve been through so many cycles of—I don’t know that we’ve gotten a lot wrong in the sense that Trump—Trump doesn’t surprise you. He surprises you on a tactical level, but the Donald Trump who ran for office in 2016 is pretty much the Donald Trump who is there now. He’s still tweeting. He is still driving everyone crazy. He is still somehow—just when everyone has concluded he is totally incompetent he still manages to pull some rabbit out of a hat. It’s a really strange presidency, but it was a really strange campaign.
Glasser: Well, yes, I’ve been using the framework that he manages to stun us and shock us pretty much every day, even multiple times a day, but somehow we’re not surprised really.
Mead: Yes, but it’s also interesting we haven’t become immune to the effect. He still will tweet something and have the entire civilized universe going, “What’s happening here?” Even after a year of campaigning and a year of presidency he still has this immense capacity to surprise.
Glasser: Well, and I think that’s why I was so looking forward to having this conversation with you as a sort of Trump decoder or Trump whisperer. Some of your work, ironically, which began long before Donald Trump was even a twinkle in the Washington establishment’s eye—your framework for understanding the different schools of thought in American foreign policy, a lot of people feel like that has become one of the more accurate ways of trying to understand how this outsider figure could have come to town and triumphed.
You have basically compared Trump to this unlikely avatar of the Jacksonian school in American politic. Now, we all know Donald Trump is not the kind of guy who thinks of himself in Jacksonian or any other terms. He is not an ism person. But basically looking at the historical antecedents, which are long, of a kind of rabble-rousing, populist, outsider figure, do you still think that Jacksonian analogy applies to Trump? He campaigned as one, but is he governing as one?
Mead: Well, you know, I certainly think the kind of Steve Bannon side of the Trump presidency remains very Jacksonian. Bannon isn’t in the White House, and he’s not welcome I think, but his influence is still felt. And I think Trump’s base remains Jacksonian. And Trump knows how to play to this base. So even as Trump has kind of adjusted in some ways to the necessities of the Washington establishment and, you know, “Well, you can’t just completely reinvent American foreign policy,” he continues to orient in this way. He still has a portrait of Andrew Jackson hanging in the Oval Office.
Glasser: Well, and by the way, were you perhaps very unintentionally the man responsible for that?
Mead: That’s what Steve Bannon told me. In that Bannon had read Special Providence and thought that this Jacksonian—
Glasser: Which is your 2001 book giving us this typology of American foreign policy.
Mead: Right. And so what he told me was that he had talked to Trump about Jackson and Jacksonianism and that’s why at the beginning of the administration the president went down to Andrew Jackson’s old home. And so there was this kind of Jacksonian moment. I have to say, as a scholar of foreign policy this was sort of an odd feeling where these abstract typologies that you write about suddenly seem to be happening in front of you.
Glasser: Right. Some guy named Steve Bannon who you didn’t know.
Glasser: It’s not like you have a long relationship with him.
Glasser: Now, tell me about that. You told me once. You got basically a phone call out of the blue from Steve Bannon.
Mead: A text. A text saying he wanted to talk.
Glasser: And this was last summer, right, when he was already running into trouble in the White House?
Mead: Right. He was still in the White House, he was still with the administration, but he had about a week, I think, to go. And he seemed to know that that was ending. And then we had another conversation sort of later in the summer, a kind of a long, late-night conversation after he was out of the White House about things.
And it does seem to me that there is a real connection between the kind of Jacksonian populism which has its positive and negative aspects. I mean, I think America wouldn’t be a democracy without Jacksonian populism, but at the same time there is a kind of this—you know, certainly Jacksonianism itself was a whites-only kind of movement, and the Jacksonian populist community in America is usually not the leader on any kind of civil rights or sort of reaching out to the other. So in its more negative moments you can call it xenophobic. And yet somehow the health of our democracy historically has rested in many ways on exactly this sometimes quite problematic strain in American politics.
Glasser: What do you think? When you talked to Bannon, what was he seizing on about it in particular? Why did he think Jackson? In many ways Jackson was totally, totally unlike Donald Trump. Why did he think those two had a kinship?
Mead: Right. Well, the obvious one is trade, where Jacksonians, as I write in Special Providence, are not free traders by instinct. But also more profoundly I think it’s in questions of sovereignty and power. Jacksonians are not liberal Wilsonians. They don’t actually think that the world is headed toward a kind of a peaceful universe where international institutions and international—basically they don’t think that the European Union is the model of where humanity is trying to go or that the purpose of American power should be to try to make the world more like the European Union. And they believe in a kind of an unfettered American sovereignty as being at the core. They really tend not to believe much in democracy promotion as a national policy.
Glasser: And there is a lot of establishment bashing, which I think is something that Bannon clearly showed Trump how to deploy to great effect.
Mead: That’s right.
Glasser: And Trump naturally gravitates towards that.
Mead: There’s a sense that legitimacy resides in the grassroots and the further government or institutions get from the grassroots, the less legitimacy they have. So U.N. bashing, the U.N. is the least grassroots of all institutions. And the roots of this go deep into American, even American colonial history. And in some ways the revolution was kind of a Jacksonian populist revolt against those aristocrats of England and their Tory hirelings in America.
Glasser: So did he have any specific questions for you, like, “How do I apply this model to the present day?”
Mead: I mean, we only had a couple of conversations. I didn’t get the feeling that Steve was coming to me for advice. He had, and I think still has, a clear political vision. He thinks he’s got a better sense of where the country is going. He was also a little bit shocked when I told him, “Well, you know, Steve, I write about Jacksonianism. That doesn’t mean I am a Jacksonian.” And I think he had this kind of moment when I said, “Well, actually I voted for Clinton in the election.”
Glasser: Well, I was going to ask you that. I’m glad you made that point, because I do think since there are so few people who have offered kind of historical and intellectual frameworks for understanding Trump—you know, mostly it’s been sort of a big cry of agony from the anguished elites—that sometimes when I look at people’s writing about your writing or their efforts to pigeonhole you, it does seem as thought they want to conflate you, the scholar of Jacksonianism, with a proponent of it.
Mead: Right. And I think you have to have a little bit of sympathy to write about something. I divide American foreign policy into these four schools: Jackson, Hamilton, Wilson, Jefferson. And I try to make the point in the book and since that we actually need them all, that any one of them, if it goes too far, is likely to get us in trouble, but that somehow our country works better with having this kind of multiplicity of ideas in it, and they open up different policy alternatives.
Glasser: Well, and your point, which I think is a very interesting point—we can talk more about this—is basically that over the last few decades in essence it’s been the Wilsonians and the Hamiltonians who have been ascendant, that basically in both parties there have been sharp debates between neocons and Democrats who are more wary of military power, but basically the proponents of what we would call kind of the liberal international postwar order have more or less operated as a rock-solid consensus in American politics.
Mead: That’s right.
Glasser: And your view is that actually this current debate about foreign policy that Trump has opened up is arguably the biggest ferment since before World War II, since FDR’s time.
Mead: Right. And certainly since 1990.
Glasser: The end of the Cold War.
Mead: The end of the Cold War. And the problem is with post-Cold War policy, in that during the Cold War the Hamiltonians and Wilsonians were busily building a world order and how great that was in the free world. The Jacksonians were on board not because they believed in building a liberal world order but because we had to contain communism. So Jacksonians operate out of fear. They see the outside world as a source of danger, not a source of opportunity.
Then when the Cold War ended the Wilsonians and Hamiltonians went ahead. In a sense they said, “Okay, we’re now going to globalize. Instead of containing the Soviet Union, we’re going to make the entire world a world of free market democracies. Russia will become a democracy. We’re going to open up. And, yes, China will become richer through trade, but it’s going to become a liberal democratic partner. It’s going to be a pillar of the international system.” And, you know, very optimistic ideas, very characteristic Wilsonian and Hamiltonian ideas.
Glasser: Right. This notion of integration.
Glasser: Which certainly as someone who has paid a lot of attention to Russia over the last couple of decades, that was literally the definition of our policy toward Russia after the collapse of the Cold War, whereas a different narrative has obviously taken hold inside Russia, that this was American triumphalism.
Glasser: The Americans in both parties who I’ve spoken with over the last couple of decades, they viewed their policy as one of integrating Russia in the world order. Certainly it was an America-led world order. But that’s the part that people are now recognizing didn’t work.
Mead: Right. That basically Russia and China after the Cold War would do what Germany and Japan did after World Ward II and become reliable partners in this world system. And so it hasn’t worked. And that means that in American foreign policy, first of all, it’s the world is much more dangerous, and the American people are probably going to have to spend more money on defense dealing with China. We clearly haven’t even—you know, there are a lot of questions of Russian influence. We’re going to have to rethink a lot of our policies for living in a world where there is actual hostility and there is no global consensus about a liberal world order.
Glasser: So you see Trump as a response to that, not creating it?
Mead: Right. Well, the gap between the establishment predictions about where the world would go and then the reality of where the world is opened a gap that enabled Trump basically to run as the little boy saying the emperor has no clothes.
Glasser: Although ironically now a year into his presidency, in fact, the debate we’re having is whether he has become the emperor with no clothes.
Mead: Right. Well, again, he ran essentially on a negative agenda, that the establishment didn’t know what it was doing. And his proposals tended to be pretty vague and often contradictory. So, yeah, now he has the difficulty of, you know, “How do you govern?” This is always a problem for populism, is once you’re in office what do you do?
Glasser: And you’ve written about this. You know many of the people. It’s not just Bannon who you’ve encountered. But actually you are close to, have talked extensively with the “globalists” that Bannon would dismiss as his internal rivals, people like H.R. McMaster, the national security advisor; Senator Tom Cotton, who has emerged as probably one of Trump’s closest outside advisers on Capitol Hill. f He is a huge fan of yours. You’re friends with him, you know, went to his birthday party. They don’t seem to share the same foreign policy views as Trump. How is that working out?
Mead: Well, again, I think it’s hard to say. Trump’s foreign policy team is not very Trumpian. And one of the interesting things about the last year has been to watch how this sort of, let’s say, the wilder figures in the Trump entourage on both foreign and domestic policy have generally been pushed to the margins. Now, I think some of this is just due to circumstance, that by the time Trump entered the race, A, all of the serious foreign policy types who associate themselves with candidates were already lined up. So, you know, he could either have nobody on foreign policy or he could have people who nobody else wanted on foreign policy.
Glasser: Right. And military folks.
Mead: And military. And so a guy like Mike Flynn would have looked like a real godsend to the Trump campaign at a certain point. But once he becomes president he has a much broader range of people who are willing to work with him and work for him, and it looks to me as if he’s used that freedom fairly consistently to bring military people in. That, by the way, is a very Jacksonian trait, that the military is pretty much the one branch of the federal government that Jacksonians tend to support. So respect for generals is very much a Jacksonian tradition.
Glasser: Although, of course, it’s a big difference with Trump in that Jackson himself served.
Mead: Was a general, right. Again, right, Trump is not Andrew Jackson. He is not the second coming of Andrew Jackson. But there was such a hunger in America for a Jacksonian figure that people were willing to project a lot of qualities onto this sort of very unlikely Queens real estate developer who becomes the folk hero of Americans who hate New York and are suspicious of big business.
Glasser: Yeah, and he seems to be extremely skilled at speaking to them, both in the campaign and now, but he does have this team of “globalists,” as Steve Bannon has called them.
Mead: Right. Well, it’s interesting, though: Andrew Jackson’s actual foreign policy was a lot less inflammatory than his rhetoric. And I think Trump, for one thing, understands that Jacksonians like for America to sound tough. They don’t like long, grinding wars, inconclusive wars. And, in fact, they would rather not fight wars unless America is attacked. So it’s logical in a way and it builds to his base for Trump to take a tough line, but he’s been rather cautious about where does he actually commit troops and how much war is he willing to get into.
Glasser: Well, this is an important point. Right? You know, the question of what are we to make of the president’s inflammatory rhetoric, his at times extremely confrontational tweets on North Korea and other issues? Do you think that’s just mere bluster? Some defenders of the president basically say, “Don’t pay attention to his tweets.” Do you agree?
Mead: I’ll tell you this. If somebody were going to be my defender, I would rather they not start by saying, “Don’t pay attention to him.” Look, I think for Trump everything is show business. And he comes to international politics from the perspective of a real estate business guy. In diplomatic culture there’s certain ways of conveying your—you know, there are a lot of conventions in diplomacy about how you let somebody know that you’re really angry, that you might use force, that you’re not angry. And there’s a lot of emphasis, particularly in American diplomatic culture, on clarity, on not sending confusing signals. But for Trump in business I think one of the things you try to do is you confuse the other side so that they have no idea where you are, and then you see what that elicits. So you’ll hear him; to North Korea he’ll go in a week from, “I’m ready to bomb you now,” to, “Well, you know, everything is open and we really could be friends.” I think if you’re in business you do that as a way to try to then find out, “Okay, what does that elicit? What do they put on the table?”
Glasser: So you have talked a lot with some of the people who are trying to figure out how to advise him or how to make his foreign policy successful. How do you think they are working through that puzzle of understanding both the president himself but also what they can get done given that?
Mead: I actually think it’s very useful to read the National Security Strategy carefully.
Glasser: This was what was just put out by General McMaster written by scholar Nadia Schadlow, who is now, it looks like, going to be the deputy national security advisor.
Mead: Yeah, right. And what they really tried to do, it seems to me, is put together a lot of the themes that you find in Trump’s speeches and themes that seem to be important to him and try to bring that together with a National Security Strategy statement that starts from a lot of the premises that classic post-World War II American strategy has involved. So they’re trying to build a bridge between a more conventional American strategic take and a Jacksonian take.
Glasser: And you feel like that works? I mean, a lot of people felt like it got basically positive reviews from conservatives and more progressive types, more Democratic types, but I think most people were left wondering, “But does Donald Trump actually believe any of this?”
Mead: I mean, again, this is the problem. I think I wrote at one point that nobody in the history of American policy has ever said—you know, there is a heated policy argument and you settle it by saying, “Wait a minute. It says right here on page 37 of the National Security Strategy.”
Glasser: Well, that’s right. Those documents are often overlooked.
Mead: That’s right. But I think this one is more important than most. Not that Donald Trump is going to be bound by it. He doesn’t think himself bound by anything his employees write. But that it does, I think, represent a serious intellectual attempt to strike a balance between where Trump and his voters are coming from and where American foreign policy has been. So I think in a surprising number of cases policy may end up evolving along the lines that are laid out there.
Glasser: What do you make of those who say that Trump is much worse than we think on foreign policy? Right? You know, there is this case, “Well, he’s not got into any wars.” You’ve already laid out some of it, but that, you know, the destruction that he’s doing to America’s image in the world, his volatile personal interactions with world leaders. I just did a big reported piece and was really kind of stunned actually. I was surprised by the reporting. There is so much that we haven’t even heard about that, you know, world leaders, he’s met with more than 100 of them so far. Many of them have come away stunned that this is how the president of the United States is talking to them.
Mead: Look, I guess I don’t write more about the downsides of the Trump presidency because it looks as though it’s being—
Glasser: It’s well covered?
Mead: It’s being really well covered.
Mead: And that trying to stay a little bit back from the noise and the screaming is a useful analytical contribution. It’s not the only response people should be making to this president, but it’s probably the one that’s getting least attention that could benefit.
Glasser: And, again, that’s why we’re having this conversation, because I do think that the effort to take this seriously, at face value, to try to understand both historically what’s going on here, why did this most unconventional political phenomenon arise, number one. And then number two, to help us decode seemingly puzzling aspects of the Trump presidency as it unfolds in real-time. So do you take away from this that we shouldn’t be as alarmed about the prospects of war with North Korea, for example?
Mead: Well, look. You know, what keeps me up at night about the North Korea situation is that this is one of these things that’s been clearly getting worse since the 1990s, and it’s one of those places where I think in general the foreign policy establishment has been willing to sort of pretend that we are doing something effective when it’s quite clear that we’re not.
Glasser: “Strategic patience” was the phrase used.
Mead: Yeah, that’s a beautiful phrase. It’s a beautiful phrase. It means nothing. And it means sort of hoping that something will turn up. Okay, so, yeah, the situation is now bad. It’s hard to see a good outcome to the situation. And now we have Donald Trump as the person in charge at the time when it comes to the head. Well, maybe the Clintons could have done a little more in the ’90s, or Bush or Obama could have all done something, but they didn’t, so here we are. So, yes, the North Korea situation is worrying. It would be worrying if George Washington were president or Abraham Lincoln were president. Is there an extra layer that is Donald Trump? Yes, of course there is.
Glasser: But Donald Trump says he is the best president, actually that he’s even better than Abe Lincoln in some respects.
Mead: Well, let’s hope that a year from now we’ll all be agreeing with him.
Glasser: So what, as you use your framework of thinking about the different strands of American foreign policy and where we are today, is it over for the Wilsonians and the Hamiltonians? Are we seeing the death throes of the liberal international order? Was Obama responsible for this?
Mead: Well, you know, I think first of all American foreign policy is very cyclical. You know, no one has ever counted out—this has been at least so far over 200 years. All the schools have had their ups and downs. So I don’t think anything is permanent here. But I do think that Wilsonians have some intellectual homework to do. If you think about, well, first of all, the end of history misperception and how that swept across so much of the American establishment.
Glasser: Right. At the end of the Cold War, this idea that democracy had won.
Mead: Yes. And that we wouldn’t even have to work hard to make it prevail everywhere.
Glasser: Yes, this week Freedom House released its annual report on freedom in the world. Twelfth straight year that democracy in the world has gone down.
Mead: That’s right. So Wilsonians clearly didn’t understand a lot about the world. Then whether you look at the neocon efforts to cure terrorism by curing the causes of terrorism, by bringing democracy and development to the Arab world. The neocon approach under George W. Bush had little to no real success. The Obama embrace of the Arab Spring and all of this has left wreckage, not to mention the invasion of Libya. So I think that Wilsonian ideas about the world are really appealing at a level of emotion and American ideology, but it’s really clear; there’s a demonstrated track record that the American human rights, Wilsonian foreign policy agenda has failed pretty frequently.
Glasser: Well, what’s so interesting about Obama—and you wrote this. We were talking about this before. You wrote this my first year as editor of Foreign Policy magazine. You wrote a cover story for us that tried to look at Obama’s foreign policy. And this was only one year into his eight-year presidency. But you at the time pegged him as a unique combination of Wilsonianism, certainly in his rhetoric, and Jeffersonianism, which is a more pragmatic, what’s associated with realism in modern-day international relations.
Mead: And less intervention.
Glasser: And less intervention. And I would argue that actually he was kind of both of those things all the way through to the end.
Mead: Yes, I think so. And that the difficulty I said back in the beginning was that the Wilsonian side of him will write checks that the Jeffersonian side won’t want to cash.
Glasser: Look at Syria.
Glasser: And how he resisted his own advisers, his own team who wanted him to intervene.
Mead: Right, but he would continue to make large-sounding proclamations. So there has been this sense—and then, you know, so that’s the Wilsonian problem. And it’s a problem of political and policy credibility. My own sense with the many Wilsonian friends I have is they haven’t really taken this to heart, that it’s still other people aren’t good enough to appreciate the wisdom and invest in what we want. And on the Hamiltonian side, again, well, there’s a lot of things to be said for free trade, but in practice has it made the American working class so much better off in ways that you promised?
Glasser: And that’s the interesting dilemma for the Republican Party today, is that free trade, we thought, was the core precept and principle, the bedrock upon which mainstream Republicanism was built in the United States.
Glasser: And yet they’ve proved once Trump came in and took over the party standard—they’ve seemingly abandoned that willy-nilly and not replaced it with anything.
Mead: Well, I think the significant argument is that China is a mercantilist power. And while free trade remains, in my view, theoretically correct in a best-case scenario, when the world’s second-largest economy is both aggressively mercantilist economically and aggressively revisionist geopolitically you can’t simply look at economic equations when you’re making policy. You have to look—you have to try to take a more holistic view. My guess is that’s where both Republicans and Democrats are kind of evolving on this issue.
Glasser: So to come back then to the practical realities of Washington in this unique age of Trump. I was struck by the effusiveness of the praise of Senator Cotton for you and your work. It goes to this issue again of almost conflating your analysis of Jacksonianism with an embrace or an endorsement of it as well. But he had some interesting things to say when he was on this podcast. And he talked basically about not only the glorious history of the Jacksonian mindset but the idea that Barack Obama had gone to war with this strand of America and that that in effect was the reason why we had Trump.
He has reemerged as a very controversial figure. You know, and not only a very hardliner on immigration but clearly taking President Trump’s side on almost all issues even where it wouldn’t seem to go with his principles, even taking his side on this disputed account of the “shithole countries” meeting. What is the dilemma for somebody like Senator Cotton? What do you think he’s getting at when he is touting your Jacksonianism? What is he trying to do there?
Mead: Well, he’s obviously trying to help my book sales, and that’s a wonderful thing. And so thank you, Tom.
Glasser: He is a real reader. That’s clear.
Mead: No, he is a reader. And look. I think, again, Tom comes from Arkansas, which is a pretty Jacksonian state in its way. I think Trump won overwhelmingly there. And one of the things about Jacksonians is that not many people have taken Jacksonian history seriously enough to think about it and write about it. And, again, not in this like, “Ooh, it’s racist. Ooh, kill the beast. Kill the ugly beast.” But this is a part of the American political system. It’s not going away.
We need to think about how it fits with others. And, in fact, I mean, I pointed out in Special Providence, we can all say how terrible some aspects of Jacksonianism are, but if France had been more Jacksonian in 1940 it might have fought on a bit longer. And without the Jacksonians who actually in many cases are the people who fight and win wars, war and peace, support our defense budgets, people around the world wouldn’t be that interested in what the Wilsonians and Hamiltonians have to say. So somehow integrating Jacksonian America into our institutions and our politics is something we need to do. I’m not saying it’s easy.
So I think for somebody like Senator Cotton when you hear somebody who is trying to think about what in some ways for many politicians in America is part of their personal dilemma, how do they fit their own instincts into a system in which Jacksonian isn’t the only political tradition in America and it’s not necessarily a majority tradition.
Glasser: Well, okay. So that’s what I want to ask you about. There is certainly a notion with the original Andrew Jackson that his version of populism was actually popular. Donald Trump is ending his first year as president as the most unpopular first-year president we’ve had in recent history. So his populism isn’t that popular.
Mead: Right. Well, you know, we’re going to see how this—you know, this is an experiment. And I can imagine any outcome from a premature end to the Trump presidency to a second term. You know, I can picture all of these. That’s the way Donald Trump is; you can’t use a lot of your conventional ideas. One thing I would say is that while he is very unpopular, he wasn’t really popular when he won the election. A lot of people voted for him who thought he was kind of a skunk and a second-rater and not trustworthy. They still voted for him. So I’m not sure that those polls actually are good indicators of how he might perform in a reelection campaign. But, again, that is so—three years—especially in the Trump presidency when it—
Glasser: Right. That seems like a million years.
Mead: A day under Trump is like a month under anybody else. So three years is an eon.
Glasser: Well, it’s funny. I’m reading this very good biography of Lenin that came out last year. And there’s a great line in there about, like, “Some decades it feels like nothing happened, then there are some weeks that feel like 10 years.” And I felt like that was a really good description of year one of the Trump presidency. Do you think that if things go on as they are, will that mean that Jacksonianism is discredited after the Trump presidency? What does it do to the future of the fight within the Republican and Democratic parties about foreign policy?
Mead: Right. Well, again, there will be a question of whether Jacksonian politics are the same as Trumpian politics. Because I think there certainly are other politicians active in America who are probably better sort of avatars of Jacksonianism than Trump might be.
So let’s suppose the Trump administration is considered a failure by the people in four years, three years from now. Some will say, “Well, it’s because he and the horse he rode in on both stank.” And then there’ll be some people who said, “No, it was him, but there are good ideas there, and we need to go further in that direction.” And then, of course, there’ll be people who said, “No, you’re all wrong. He was really a great president.” So how all of those things balance out.
And I do think there is one big trend that may be going on in the world now that could be good for Trump’s reelection but may be bad for Trumpianism in the long term, and that is as power over oil price moves away from OPEC and Russia to the U.S. basically we’re likely to see oil, while the price will go up and down, is going to stay maybe $50 or $57 a barrel cheaper than it would have been when you had the monopoly rents of OPEC and so on. That is like a gigantic tax cut in not only the U.S. but Europe, China, many other places.
Look historically. When OPEC came in and jacked up the price of oil, that’s actually when you see the stagnation in real wages begin. It’s when the European economies, which had been really galloping ahead after World War II—they kind of stabilized. So in some ways we might be seeing if this energy revolution continues a boost to the living standards of a lot of regular folks. If that happens, on the one hand, the president—
Mead: —who benefits, who is in office at this lucky time, benefits. But also maybe people won’t be as alienated and angry about the way things are going.
Glasser: Right, that anxiety clearly was powering a certain amount of this return of Jacksonianism to the American public stage. So, okay, final thought. As we’re here at the end of year one of this most unusual and remarkable presidency, do you think Donald Trump is a believer in Trumpism, or is it silly of us in our sort of academic mode to try to impose ideologies and isms on a guy like Donald Trump?
Mead: I try not to read other people’s minds. I’ve found I’m not very good at it. I think if you look at the pattern, at the record of things that President Trump has said over many decades, things like dislike of democracy promotion as a foreign policy, of limited wars, of trade, free trade, there are definite patterns. And it seems to me that we’re not going too far when we say, “Yes, the man does seem to have some core beliefs that persist.” But, you know, how he fits those in with what he is learning every day as president of the United States, you know, whether it’s from the briefings he gets from various advisers or whether it’s you try something and the whole country screams that they hate it and your poll numbers go down, well, that’s an education too. So every president changes in office. I don’t think Donald Trump will be an exception to that.
Glasser: But he really hasn’t changed that much so far, has he?
Glasser: I like to call it the bad boyfriend theory of the case of Donald Trump. You know, the man is 70 years old. He’s not changing.
Mead: Well, I’m not going to argue for a good boyfriend theory of Donald Trump, but I would say that at least in foreign policy, which is what I’ve been tracking, while his tweets have not changed, his personnel decisions and the sort of settled intentions, who does he have running Treasury, who does he have running State, who does he have running the Pentagon, his own office, and so on, have shown more of a penchant for stability than I think any of us expected a year ago today.
Glasser: Walter Russell Mead, I suppose that’s going to count as a note of optimism on which to end this conversation.
Glasser: No, seriously. And you can follow Walter’s writings in The Wall Street Journal, The American Interest I believe you’re a contributing editor at. You’re here at the Hudson Institute. Your book from 2001 still very relevant today, Special Providence. Thank you for being this week’s guest on The Global POLITICO. And thanks to all of you for listening and making this the best politics podcast in 2017, at least according to our fantastic friends at Quartz magazine who had the brilliance to honor us. But you can listen to us on iTunes or whatever is your favorite podcast platform. Thank you.
Mead: Thank you.