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Is Trump a Turning Point in World Politics?

Will Donald Trump’s presidency mark a major turning point in world history, or was it a minor historical accident? Trump's electoral appeal may turn on domestic politics, but his effect on world politics could be transformational, particularly if he gains a second term.

CAMBRIDGE – As the United States enters the home stretch of the 2020 presidential election campaign, and with neither party’s nominating convention featuring much discussion of foreign policy, the contest between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden apparently will be waged mainly on the battleground of domestic issues. In the long run, however, historians will ask whether Trump’s presidency was a major turning point in America’s role in the world, or just a minor historical accident.

At this stage, the answer is unknowable, because we do not know if Trump will be re-elected. My book Do Morals Matter? rates the 14 presidents since 1945 and gives Trump a formal grade of “incomplete,” but for now he ranks in the bottom quartile.

Top-quartile presidents like Franklin D. Roosevelt saw the mistakes of America’s isolationism in the 1930s and created a liberal international order after 1945. A turning point was Harry S. Truman’s post-war decisions that led to permanent alliances that have lasted to this day. The US invested heavily in the Marshall Plan in 1948, created NATO in 1949, and led a United Nations coalition that fought in Korea in 1950. In 1960, during the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the US signed a new security treaty with Japan.

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