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Trump's tough talk makes us weaker

E.J. Dionne Jr. on

The Marshall Plan was very much in our country's interests. But its passage required facing down the America Firsters of Truman's day. Its opponents could not understand why we would spend so much of our own money to rebuild the economies of Western Europe.

Trump said that Polish, French and British resistance to Nazism was motivated by "patriotism," and indeed it was. But patriotism is a richer and more complicated commitment than Trump's off-hand comment suggests.

Gen. Charles de Gaulle was condemned as a traitor for opposing France's Vichy collaborationist government -- its nationalist slogan was "Work, Family, Country" -- and joining with the British. De Gaulle was fighting for a genuinely free and democratic France and defending a view very different from Vichy's as to what patriotism meant.

The favorable reaction to Trump's speech from his habitual defenders is not surprising. But he also won praise from another group who are not really Trump-friendly but whom I have come to see as inspired by a hope: They calculate that if enough people say enough encouraging things whenever Trump seems to offer relatively normal ideas or take normal actions, he will respond to positive reinforcement and do more normal things over time.

Perhaps this would prove to be true, but it sounds like a coping technique that parents of teenagers might employ, and that is disturbing.

Even worse, pulling punches about the many outlandish elements of Trump's approach means throwing out every standard we have upheld to this point about how presidents of the United States should behave. It requires giving up on the idea that presidents should be eloquent, persuasive, responsible and thoughtful.

Any other president, Republican or Democrat, who gave a speech of the sort Trump delivered would have faced an avalanche of criticism. It just won't do to smile indulgently and say, "Oh, that's Trump being Trump," or, "He's just appealing to his base."

Trump's invocations of America First will ultimately leave our country behind in the world. His rhetoric sounds tough but will only make us weaker.

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E.J. Dionne's email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

 

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