The Atlantic

Trumpism: Speak Loudly and Carry a Big Stick

“It’s entirely possible that the blowup is just yet to come,” says one observer of the president’s foreign policy.
Source: Olivier Douliery / AFP / Getty / Shutterstock / The Atlantic

It’s tempting to view the recent reshuffling of Donald Trump’s foreign-policy advisers—along with the make-or-break nuclear diplomacy with North Korea, looming trade conflict with China and other countries, pending deployment of the National Guard to the border with Mexico, and threatened U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA, the Iran nuclear deal, and the Syrian war—as merely the latest episodes in the Trump Show. But they may instead be the start of a new season.

Nearly 117 years after Teddy Roosevelt stood before a crowd at the Minnesota State Fair and stated the maxim that would come to define his foreign policy—“speak softly and carry a big stick”—the 45th American president is refashioning the doctrine of the 26th. Trump has brandished the big stick of America’s military and economic might in his dealings with America’s enemies and allies, recalling how Roosevelt built up and showed off the U.S. navy to establish the United States as a great power in the Americas and beyond. But whereas Roosevelt advocated soft-spoken diplomacy undergirded by strength and resolve—“if a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble,” he warned—Trump has placed little stock in the softer side of diplomacy. Instead, he has employed bluster and incivility as strategic assets.

Where previous presidents spoke carefully about the possibility of war with North Korea, Trump has famously threatened Kim Jong Un with “fire and fury” and his “nuclear button.” Where previous presidents expressed mild irritation with allies’insufficient sharing of

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