Throughout his candidacy and the early months of his presidency, Donald Trump has drawn praise from his supporters and ire from everyone else as a result of his penchant for being an unscripted person unafraid to speak his mind about a range of issues. Being unafraid to speak what one is truly thinking is not necessarily a bad thing, but the overwhelming evidence is that it is a bad thing when the mind is Donald Trump’s.
Take one of his most recent episodes, for example. Trump retweeted misleading videos about Muslims originating from a right-wing hate group in Britain. With the thoughtless push of a button he caused a completely unnecessary diplomatic issue with one of America’s strongest allies as he was rebuked by the British government. He made things even worse by firing back at Prime Minister Theresa May over Twitter, but not before he tweeted at some random Theresa May because he’s honestly not that smart.
This is the problem with someone who says what they want without any filter. Trump supporters may hate scripted politicians, but when it comes to international diplomacy it can often be paramount to choose one’s words carefully to avoid escalating issues. The argument was made time and again that this aspect of Trump’s temperament would be a massive hindrance if he gained the presidency, and I think the clearest example of that is in Iran.
For several years prior to Trump taking office, moderates had made small gains in Iran. The nuclear deal was a major defeat to hardliners in the country who didn’t even want to negotiate with the United States, and moderate/reformist candidates met with success in a number of elections. It might have been the start of a long path towards a more liberal Iran that might open up to the rest of the world.
Then came Donald Trump and a whole slate of Islamophobic rhetoric. The Trump Administration has routinely blamed Iran for all the problems in the Middle East. He has promised to end an agreement that Iran has not violated, and that is vital to the overall economy in Iran. And in a speech about Iran where he accused the regime of “spreading death, destruction and chaos all over the globe” he infuriated Iranians by referring to the Persian Gulf as the Arabic Gulf, yet another example of how Trump’s basic incompetence is hurting our country. “How is it that a president has not learned the name of the international historical gulf?” the Iranian president said in response.
Instead of a path toward reform, Trump’s reckless rhetoric has helped accomplish what the repressive elements of Iran’s government could not do on their own: drive up public support in Iran for the hard-line view that the U.S. cannot be trusted. Says one Iranian reformist, “There are many here like me, who don’t care for the Islamic Republic and its rules... At the same time this American president is breaking our hearts with his rhetoric and threats. We have to choose sides. I choose for my country.”
This is the cost of having a president who says whatever he wants and was elected with no real experience. Say what you will about how Hillary Clinton’s presidency would’ve turned out, but she had a breadth of foreign policy knowledge and would have brought that to the table when dealing with foreign countries. Since the end of the Obama presidency global confidence in the U.S. president has dropped 42 percent and the number of people having favorable views of the U.S. has dropped by 15 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.
I sincerely hope that our experience with President Trump will teach us about why politicians act and speak the way they do. When it comes to foreign policy, it is important that actions are measured and thought through carefully. By no stretch of the imagination could anyone, even Trump’s supporters, make a legitimate case that he does this. If he did, he wouldn’t retweet videos from hate groups in Britain. In the future, the American public should do a better job evaluating how a president’s rhetoric will be judged by those around the world, instead of only considering how it sounds to them.