After 614 nights with Donald Trump in office, we know quite a lot about the president’s foreign policy. He has visceral beliefs about America’s role in the world that date back 30 years, most notably skepticism of alliances, opposition to free trade, and support for authoritarian strongmen. Many of his administration’s senior officials do not share his views and fight against them, with varying degrees of success. Trump is undisciplined and impervious to normal forms of argumentation and bureaucratic process. He likes those who praise him and hates those who don’t. He is often shocking but rarely surprising.
All of these features were on display in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. However, there are two things that we do not yet know: What’s Trump’s second act on the world stage? And how does it end? If one looks closely, Trump provided some clues to the answers yesterday.
About a year ago, Trump was resentful of being managed by the so-called adults in the room—Rex Tillerson, H. R. McMaster, Gary Cohn, James Mattis, and John Kelly—and he began pushing back by issuing orders over their objections. Since then, he has rushed through his presidential bucket list. He moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, imposed tariffs on China, had his summit in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin, went to the brink with NATO over defense spending, and effectively normalized relations with North Korea.