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Imagine Handing This F****d-Up World Back to Donald Trump

Democrats had better start making the all-too-obvious case that a return to Trumpism would do untold damage to a vulnerable world.

Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

I was in New Orleans over the weekend, where I visited the National World War II Museum. The exhibitions therein do an excellent job of conveying the sense of a world on fire over the course of the 1930s—and of the general lack of interest in those fires among the people of the United States.

It’s a different world now. Back then, average Americans knew very little of the details of Japan’s vicious assaults on Nanking and other Chinese cities, or Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia. Today, we know almost too much, in the sense that the details may be more than we can bear—and by the way, on the topic of Hamas’s October 7 atrocities, read this piece that was posted last Friday on The Media Line, but brace yourself before doing so: The details are grisly almost beyond comprehension.

Nearly a century on from this dark period of history, we all know a lot more about the world. On a human level, I’m sure Americans care sincerely about the victims of all manner of atrocities and crimes, as all decent human beings would. But I can’t help but wonder at a time like this, with the world on fire again (maybe not quite the same as the 1930s, but definitely not as different as we’d prefer), why on earth so many people of this country seem prepared to hand the White House back to Donald Trump.

I know that when people are polled about their presidential preferences they’re not thinking first and foremost about foreign policy. But Democrats should be doing more to make sure they are. Trump’s foreign policy in a second term may in fact be the worst and most dangerous thing about him.

Imagine if he were in the White House right now. Yes, he’s made some awfully weird comments about Hamas being “very smart” (this was after the massacre) and proclaimed that he was angry at Bibi Netanyahu. But if he were in the White House, there’s little doubt that he’d be 1,000 percent behind Israel widening the war—and nudging the United States toward the vortex of that conflict. The Biden administration seems set on containment, pleading behind the scenes (or perhaps not-so-behind the scenes, since details of these efforts are leaking like crazy) for Israel to tap the brakes on a ground invasion, minimize civilian casualties, and allow humanitarian aid. Who thinks Trump would be saying those things?

It’s a conflict in which Trump would likely give us the worst of all possible worlds. There’s little doubt that Biden has angered many Palestinian Americans and others who see him, not inaccurately, as having stood too shoulder to shoulder with this particular Israeli government. But given Trump’s proclivity toward strongmen, it’s not hard to imagine what he would be doing. For one thing, he told us last week he’d bar Gazan refugees from the United States and commence “ideological screening” of all immigrants to see if they’re Hamas sympathizers (by the way, people are already asked these questions). I doubt very much that he’d be urging any restraint on Israel. There’s a much greater chance that his rhetoric would be hugely inflammatory, urging Israel to crush Hamas without regard for innocent Palestinian lives, as well as egging Hezbollah into the conflict.

We live in a world where democracy is so close to the knife’s edge that these enmities could threaten to push things in a terrifying direction. The world recently experienced two elections where the hard right was defeated, at least provisionally. In Poland, the Law and Justice party lost its bid for a third term. In Argentina, there will be a run-off, but hard-right candidate Javier Milei finished second. These are some near misses—geopolitical indicators that demonstrate that this is an era that calls for influential leaders to hew to some temperance, humility, and restraint.

Those qualities are, well, not exactly the former president’s calling card. If Trump had been president, it seems more likely than not that he would have put a thumb, or perhaps several of his vulgar, short fingers, on the scale for Milei and Poland’s far right. He might not have flipped these results. But that isn’t the point. The point is that he would have put the United States on the side of authoritarianism.

And that brings us to Russia. When Trump says he’ll end the Russia-Ukraine war “in 24 hours” and bring peace to Ukraine, we know what that means. It means Vladimir Putin will get most or all of what he wants territorially and possibly that Volodymyr Zelenskiy will be deposed and replaced by a Putin puppet. This exchange Trump had with Maria Bartiromo back in July shows how delusional he is on the subject:

BARTIROMO: Well, that’s not going to be enough for Putin to stop bombing Ukraine.

TRUMP: No, no, no. No, I’m not saying that. I—what I’m saying is that I know Zelenskiy very well, and I know Putin very well, even better. And I had a good relationship, very good, with both of them. I would tell Zelensky: No more. You got to make a deal. I would tell Putin: If you don’t make a deal, we’re going to give them a lot. We’re going to give them more than they ever got, if we have to. I will have the deal done in one day, one day.

That last part, where he threatens Putin about giving Ukraine a lot of land, sounds nice. But how does it square with the “no more” to Zelenskiy? If Putin knows that Trump has told Zelenskiy he’s cutting off aid, which he’ll know, then why is Putin going to agree to give Ukraine territory? What a stable genius.

We know about the perhaps irreparable damage a second Trump term would exact here in the United States. We talk about it all the time. But we don’t talk enough about the hideous consequences for the world and the United States’s role in it.

It’s not like we have always pursued that role as we should have, Lord knows. This country has all too often had a hand in visiting death upon innocents; we’ve betrayed our principles on too many occasions. But at least those principles exist. A free people can assert them and condemn their violation. And for all the times we’ve betrayed them, it’s still the case that most of the world continues to believe that the United States stands for democracy and freedom. But that will stop cold under President Trump, who will align the United States with Russia, Egypt, Turkey, Hungary, and other nations run by right-wing strongmen who are enemies of democracy.

This might not be the 1930s but a long war in the Middle East, in which Israel also forecloses the possibility of a two-state solution, could start a pretty big fire of its own. And we know well which figure in this country carries around the biggest can of gasoline and is the right combination of macho, reckless, and stupid enough to dump it on the inferno. It’s hard to get people to vote on hypotheticals, but this hypothetical is nightmarish and Democrats had better try.