Last week, Thomas Wright, an expert on U.S. foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, made a bold claim on Twitter about the presidential race in the United States. “Pretty clear this is the most important election anywhere in the world since the two German elections of 1932,” he wrote, in reference to the parliamentary elections that ultimately resulted in Adolf Hitler coming to power. “No other election has had the capacity to completely overturn the international order—the global economy, geopolitics, etc.”
Throughout this campaign, as others have dismissed Donald Trump’s foreign-policy views as incoherent and ill-informed, Wright has taken those views seriously and sought to place them in an ideological and historical context. He’s carefully separated Trump’s bluster (“Obama founded ISIS”) from what appear to be Trump’s core beliefs. Sifting through Trump’s public statements about international affairs since the 1980s, Wright has concluded that the Republican candidate actually has a consistent worldview unlike anything expressed by a major-party U.S. presidential nominee since America became a superpower.
Trump’s isolationist ideology has three components, according to Wright: 1) opposition to U.S. alliances; 2) opposition to free trade; and 3) support for authoritarianism. In Wright’s view, these three beliefs, if translated into policy in a Trump administration, could do away with the liberal international order that the United States helped design after World War II and has led ever since. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, is a more conventional U.S. presidential candidate committed to preserving that order. Hence why, days before the election, Wright is casting his gaze back to the 1930s.