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Trump Versus the Government

Can America Get Its Story Straight?

Trump and members of his cabinet meet with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House, May 2018. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

As he reaches the halfway mark of his first term, President Donald Trump is finding the vast U.S. government to be both an instrument of and a frequent barrier to the implementation of policies that he desires. Reflecting on his frustrations, he might be amused by an old anecdote about the struggles of one of his predecessors. As the diplomat Charles Frankel recalled in his memoir, a White House visitor once presented a proposal to President John F. Kennedy. “That’s a first-rate idea,” Kennedy said. “Now we must see whether we can get the government to accept it.”

The distinction between the president and the government is not a product of the Trump era, but it has become one of the administration’s defining characteristics. Rhetorically, the president has often squarely rejected the U.S. foreign policy consensus of recent decades. He has questioned the United States’ commitment

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