President Donald Trump with, Vice President Mike Pence, left, speaks in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 23, 2018, about...
Manuel Balce Ceneta

A president who tears down, rather than builds up


It took five years of difficult diplomatic work to put an international sanctions regime in place that forced Iran to come to the negotiating table. It took two years of difficult diplomatic work to reach an international agreement that blocked Iran’s nuclear program and worked exactly as intended.

It took a few minutes for Donald Trump to throw all of that work away.

President Donald Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran – essentially abandoning the Obama-era nuclear deal – leaves the international community scrambling to salvage the pact. […]

Although Trump has been emphatic in his opposition to the deal, he was less clear about what should replace it or how far the U.S. is willing to go to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions or its regional aggression.

To a very real extent, it’s “repeal and replace” all over again: the Republican president knows he’s against an effective status quo, but Trump can’t explain why, and he hasn’t the foggiest idea what kind of policy framework he’d like to put in its place.

Indeed, Trump may have given up on the Iran deal today, but he offered no proof to substantiate his assertions of its failure, and he’s unveiled no Plan B.

Which brings us to an eerily familiar dynamic for this presidency.

On the Affordable Care Act – the result of real, difficult work by committed policymakers – Trump decided he hated “Obamacare,” so he was eager to tear it down and replace it with “something wonderful,” the details of which he’s never shared.

On the Paris Climate Accords – the result of real, difficult work by committed policymakers – Trump convinced himself it was a bad policy, so he eagerly tore it down, making vague promises about new negotiations that will never occur.

On the Trans-Pacific Partnership – the result of real, difficult work by committed policymakers – Trump rejected it almost immediately after taking office, leaving our former partners to move on without us, and failing to follow through on assurances about a replacement that didn’t and doesn’t exist.

On Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – the result of real, difficult work by committed policymakers – Trump again tore it down, again without knowing what it was, again replacing it with nothing.

Across the policy spectrum, Americans have certainly heard a lot of talk from the president about his self-professed greatness and perceived accomplishments, but what we haven’t seen is constructive policymaking.

As we discussed last fall, having a former real-estate developer in the Oval Office might have led some to believe that the president would be good at building things. But if there’s one thing that’s become painfully obvious, it’s that Donald Trump’s political skillset, to the extent that it exists, is the inverse of his professional background.

The president is a world-class demolitions expert, preoccupied with a retrospective vision of tearing down, not building up.