This week President Trump bluntly declared that, should a foreign government offer information about his 2020 opponent, “I think I’d take it.” The President’s attempt to walk back this comment underscored his view that taking a “look at” information from abroad is acceptable.
These declarations likely would’ve left the Founders aghast. Alexander Hamilton considered “the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils” among the “most deadly adversaries of republican government.”
In “Federalist 68,” he advocated for the electoral college because of his concern that foreign powers would attempt to “rais[e] a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union.” And this fear didn’t fade with the Constitution’s enactment.
The American republic was weak at its onset. Perhaps its most vulnerable point was the area where foreign and domestic politics converged. Engaging the outside world through foreign trade and diplomacy was crucial to gaining strength, yet fraught because of the potential for adversaries to meddle.
So, American leaders developed a foreign-policy ethic centered on keeping other countries out of American politics, one that focused on unilateralism and eschewed alliances. That foreign policy ethos fell away after WWII, but President Trump aims to resurrect it. Ironically, however, even as he agitates for a return to unilateralism, he has clearly forgotten why that policy seemed so appealing in the first place.