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Trump’s Effect on US Foreign Policy

Donald Trump's long-term impact on US foreign policy is uncertain. But the debate about it has revived a longstanding question: Are major historical outcomes the product of human choices or are they largely the result of overwhelming structural factors produced by economic and political forces beyond our control?

CAMBRIDGE – US President Donald Trump’s behavior at the recent G7 meeting in Biarritz was criticized as careless and disruptive by many observers. Others argued that the press and pundits pay too much attention to Trump’s personal antics, tweets, and political games. In the long run, they argue, historians will consider them mere peccadilloes. The larger question is whether the Trump presidency proves to be a major turning point in American foreign policy, or a minor historical blip.

The current debate over Trump revives a longstanding question: Are major historical outcomes the product of human choices or are they largely the result of overwhelming structural factors produced by economic and political forces beyond our control?

Some analysts liken the flow of history to a rushing river, whose course is shaped by the climate, rainfall, geology, and topography, not by whatever the river carries. But even if this were so, human agents are not simply ants clinging to a log swept along by the current. They are more like white-water rafters trying to steer and fend off rocks, occasionally overturning and sometimes succeeding in steering to a desired destination.

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