Mohammed Cherkaoui, a scholar of international peace-building and conflict resolution based in Washington, DC, was the guest speaker at the ACRPS' weekly seminar on Wednesday, 24 January, 2018. Cherkaoui, who teaches at George Mason University, will present a talk titled "Trumpism as a Political Philosophy: its Impact on Contemporary International Relations".

Cherkaoui said that his talk aimed to "unravel the 'Trumpist' rhetoric" and to arrive at a rational explanation for the "Trumpist Phenomenon". Crucially, Cherkaoui set out to understand Trump "from the inside out" before attempting to project philosophical interpretations of Trump onto the US president from abroad.

Cherkaoui's talk was formed along four main planks:

  1. Unraveling the "phenomenon of Trump," which, he explained, most political scientists have declined to describe as a "political philosophy". In contrast, Cherkaoui defines Trumpism as a "simplification of governance," as the fruit of a populist wave in the United States. Cherkaoui describes six characteristics of this populist wave: nihilism and an enmity towards the elite; protectionism and isolationism; anti-immigrant sentiments and "othering"; stoking nationalist sentiment under the guise of bolstering patriotism; and a desire to reform the Republican Party.
  2. Trump's promotional strategy, which Cherkaoui described as exhibitionist, impressionistic, deceitful and improvisational: it simply bore no relation to any achievements in the legislative sphere.
  3. "Make America Great Again": Cherkaoui explained that this involved a re-centering of "American Exceptionalism," a broad feeling that democracy in America meant that the country had a system of government unlike any other one in the world. From this perspective, the "Founding Fathers" of the American nation created a constitutional system which reflected the lessons they learned from the mistakes made by monarchies and empires in Europe. It was this vision of a singular and exceptional America which Trump is trying to reclaim.
  4. Trumpism and international relations: Cherkaoui discussed how Trump vacillated back and forth between two seemingly contradictory approaches to his foreign policy: either selective, intense interventions in armed conflicts abroad or a foresworn isolationism from international affairs.  

Cherkaoui explained to the audience that the sum total of Trump's actions on the world stage was to impose a new paradigm on international affairs. He termed this "value theory": forcing all international actors to think very clearly about the outcomes of their actions. Cherkaoui offered also that Trump's approach went further than could be expected by proponents of a classical realist theory of international relations. The new president, Cherkaoui argued, was motivated by a desire to secure financial returns for Washington's coffers through the provision of security to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Japan and South Korea. This was an approach which, Cherkaoui offered, signified Trump's embrace of the "utilitarian" principle. For observers in the Middle East, Trump's pragmatic steak could most easily be seen in two distinct categories: his approach to the trade and investment relations between the United States and the Gulf states, including his own personal investments; and the White House's new-found willingness to push human rights issues aside when cutting arms deals with Arab states.

Cherkaoui's discussion was followed by a wrap-up from Policy Analysis Unit Head Marwan Kabalan, who offered his own analysis on the seminar and on how the Trump presidency was impacting the Western military alliance.