As the United States (US) heads to its 59th quadrennial election, described by many as one of the most consequential in recent memory, it is time to take stock of the fundamental elements of the Trump administration’s foreign policy. Donald Trump has been called a “great disruptor”— one who has challenged some of the most longstanding assumptions not only about American domestic politics but also his nation’s foreign-policy priorities. His ‘America First’ rhetoric won him the White House in 2016, belying all predictions and assessments of him being a candidate bereft of substance. The American people — tired of their country’s multiple wars, angry over widespread economic dislocation, and polarised beyond recognition — put their trust on Trump as a non-establishment candidate.
Once in office, President Trump continued to generate strong reactions from all sides. Four years later, the American electorate will decide whether to vote Trump back to office or to give an establishment figure like Joe Biden a chance at the presidency; the rest of the world will have to live with the consequences of this choice. American presidents, by virtue of their country’s global heft, always tend to have an outsized influence in shaping global realities. Trump, too, has not disappointed. In more ways than one, his policies have impacted the global order in every single domain: China and the emerging balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, the transatlantic divide, trade and technology, and the multilateral order.
In this report, ORF seeks to engage with the question of how far Trump’s oratory matches the realities on the ground. Has he truly been as disruptive as is often claimed? Or have structural factors pushed him into a direction where a more nuanced reading of his foreign policy is needed? Can we make a clear distinction between issue areas insofar as Trump’s imprint is concerned? Is there is a method to his seeming madness?
To assess the influence of Trump’s presidency on global politics, we present here, analyses by ORF researchers that examine various geographies and issue areas and ascertain how disruptive in fact Trump has been. As this survey underscores, the Trump presidency’s impact on the world is much more complex than is often easily assumed. There is far greater continuity in Trump’s foreign policy than what his critics — and some of his own outlandish tweets and statements — would have us believe. Across geographies and domains, there are significant divergences that we need to examine to properly evaluate the likely long-term impact that Trump will have on the global landscape. Whether he is re-elected or voted out, the debate on his legacy will certainly not end with the announcement of the election results this week.
Download the full report here.