The Making of Trump’s World View

Highly recommend this study of the “development” of Trump’s foreign policy world view by  Charlie Laderman and Brendan Simms (both at Cambridge). I put “development” in scare quotes because a key part of their argument is to show that Trump’s vision has NOT essentially changed since the 1980s. Indeed, in an interesting but surely key move, they argue that his most basic vision originates in his childhood in the solipsistic “who lost China” discourse of the 1950s:

“As Brogan noted, many Americans held to “the illusion that any situation which distresses or endangers the United States only exists because some Americans have been fools or knaves.”[ 2] Donald Trump was a child of the 1950’ s and, just as his domestic agenda is a nod to that era’s vision of the American Dream, his worldview reflects the mentality that Brogan identified. For Trump, almost every international problem that besets the United States is explained by the idiocy of its leaders.”

They then go on to show how Trump’s basic framework was elaborated in the 1980s in conventional critiques of the period of European and Japanese free riding. From the early 2000s he then substituted China for Japan as the Asian boogey man.

The book is also extremely useful in pinpointing how late in the day, from 2010 onwards, Trump began to assemble some of his other opinions i.e. hostility to Obama, politicized hostility towards migrants (as opposed to common or garden racism), fondness for Putin.


Seeing Trump as basically locked in an endless replay of the 1980s I think is an important key to understanding his domestic policy as well. He never got over the first traumatic impact of globalization. Or that era’s backlash politics.

Simms and Laderman are well known as exponents of a grand strategic approach to history and if you like this you may also like the short essay by Hal Brands and Colin Kahl. Brands at least shares with Laderman a Yale connection.

Trump’s Grand Strategic Train Wreck

As to Charlie and Brendan’s book I should admit that they are old friends. But their book really is an impressive demonstration of how valuable it can be to perform the basic operation of reading everything someone said in chronological order. Instant and powerful illumination!

Get your copy here:

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