The Illiberal Tide
Why the International Order Is Tilting Toward Autocracy
Covering the Trump administration is difficult because it requires disentangling three strands of its behavior: the normal, the incompetent, and the dangerous.
The normal aspect—the administration’s conventional Republican policies and appointments—is, broadly speaking, politics as usual. The amateur aspect—its early fumbling and bumbling—is what one finds every time power changes hands, exacerbated by an unusually inexperienced incoming team. The danger is unique.
Every administration spins, fights with the press and the bureaucracy, pushes its own agenda, and tries to evade intrusive oversight. But ordinary White Houses do not repeatedly lie, declare war on mainstream media institutions, pursue radical goals while disdaining professional input, and refuse to accept independent scrutiny.
How seriously you take these behaviors depends on how you assess the motivations behind them, generating a game that some have taken to calling “Stupid or nefarious?” or “Veep or House of Cards?” Do slow appointments signal poor management or a deliberate attempt to “deconstruct the administrative state,” as Trump guru Steve Bannon says? Is dismissing experienced senior officials en masse just a clumsy way of handling a presidential transition or a purge of potential obstacles and whistleblowers? Are all the lies mere venting or a deliberate plot to distract critics and undermine reasoned discourse?
Damage is already being done. In our lead package, G. John Ikenberry details the harm the administration is inflicting on the liberal international order. Philip Gordon traces how a continuation of the administration’s early course could lead to three different wars. And Robert Mickey, Steven Levitsky, and Lucan Way document the ongoing deterioration of American democratic norms and practices.
Foreign Affairs, as its editorial manifesto stated almost a century ago, “will tolerate wide differences of opinion.” As always, our pages and pixels are open to all articles that are “competent and well informed, representing honest opinions seriously held and convincingly expressed.” We will not hesitate to offer readers defenses of administration policy, such as the article by Matthew Kroenig that rounds out the package. But nor will we shy away from offering criticisms and warnings as appropriate. And rarely, if ever, have those criticisms and warnings seemed so urgent and important.
—Gideon Rose, Editor