Despite Donald Trump’s electoral win, many of the foreign policy positions put forward by his administration, and while on the campaign trail, are not only antithetical to those enshrined in American policy since the end of World War II, but also out of sync with the American public. These issues may in part account for the Trump administration’s abysmal approval ratings. While the disconnect between the administration’s stated values and public preferences poses a problem for the Trump administration in implementing their policies, it also leads to many questions about the future of U.S. foreign policy.
One of Candidate Trump’s most consistent campaign promises was to build a wall along the U.S.‑Mexican border and deport as many undocumented immigrants as possible. Although President Trump has backed off his original claims to deport all undocumented immigrants, Trump still seeks to deport over 2 million undocumented immigrants. The protests that erupted across the country in response to Trump’s executive order on immigration should not have come as much of a surprise to the new administration. According to a recent Pew poll, 42 percent of Americans believe that a growing number of immigrants actually help the U.S. economy, an increase of 14 percentage points from a decade ago. However, there are stark differences across party lines, with 67 percent of Republicans and 30 percent of Democrats believing that immigrants are hurting the U.S. economy. Furthermore, according to the same poll, 76 percent of Americans not only disagree with Trump’s derogatory remarks on immigrants but believe that undocumented immigrants are honest and hard working. Clearly, these figures do not support broad approval of the President’s anti-immigrant agenda.
Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders actively campaigned against free trade and the Trans‑Pacific Partnership (TPP), suggesting bipartisan opposition to this project. However, the American public does not share this view. 65 percent of Americans believe that globalization is mostly good for the United States, with 60 percent stating that they support the TPP. Although there are differences across party lines, with 74 percent of Democrats supporting globalization compared to 59 percent of Republicans, the majority of Americans see the benefits of free trade played out across a number of areas. It is important to note, however, that the majority of Americans view trade as bad for job security and creation. The high levels of support for international trade and globalization across the American public may take many by surprise. There are a number of interest groups that actively campaign against free trade and have made the current debate on trade one-sided. Trade and globalization have largely been beneficial to the American public but is rarely the sole issue that proponents of trade will vote on. Conversely, as the 2016 election highlighted, opposition to international trade is popular among certain segments of the electorate and can win votes.
If Trump is to be a successful and popular president, he will have to strike a balance between the opinions of the American public, his own campaign promises, and the national interest. The policies that helped launch Donald Trump to the presidency may have been popular and useful for winning votes in particular areas, but they are not in line with traditional American policy objectives nor broadly supported by the American public. While Trump has shown little care for the opinions of the masses, pursuing policies that are supported by the majority of the American people will ensure a more coherent long-term foreign policy. Otherwise, policy moves made by the Trump administration will likely be counterproductive to U.S. policy in following administrations. Although being vocal on trade and immigration played well with particular demographics, it will be difficult for Trump to be a “president for all Americans” without taking the majority opinion on these topics into account.