In April, while recruiting allies against North Korea, Donald Trump reportedly applauded a vicious war against drugs that has resulted in thousands of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. “I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” Trump told Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, according to a transcript of the conversation made by the Philippine government and leaked to several news outlets this week. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.” Later in the conversation, Trump invited Duterte, who has bragged about personally executing criminals, to the White House.
It’s yet another reminder not just of Trump’s soft spot for strongmen, but also the degree to which he has broken with his predecessors in prioritizing value-neutral transactions—in this case, apparently: I’ll give you a green light on the drug war in exchange for your support on North Korea—over the promotion of democracy and human rights.
With Trump vowing to put “America first,” the question is who comes second, third, and 193rd. The U.S. president has thrown allies and adversaries into a state of flux unseen in decades. Consider one illustrative example from Trump’s first trip overseas: After meeting with the American president in Brussels, European Union President Donald Tusk acknowledged that the two men don’t “have a common position, a common opinion on Russia.” We now live in a world where long-standing diplomatic relationships can fray or flourish at the speed of a tweet or a leak from inside the Oval Office. Countries such as Australia and China appear to have recently risen in Trump’s esteem, while others, including Canada and Syria, have fallen.