Donald Trump has long been known for his unpredictable nature. So, when he ran for president, he had to counter the widely held belief that thoughtful deliberation and a steady hand are essential for good governing. As Trump’s popularity grew during the presidential campaign, he went on the offensive with this issue and tried to frame his shoot-from-the-hip nature as a unique asset that made him the only viable candidate. In an April 2016 foreign policy speech at the Center for the National Interest, a think-tank founded by President Nixon, Trump insisted that “we must as a nation be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable. We tell everything. We’re sending troops. We tell them. We’re sending something else. We have a news conference. We have to be unpredictable. And we have to be unpredictable starting now.”
Since becoming president, Trump has displayed his unpredictability, which has proven to be more of a grab bag of ignorance, incoherence, and moodiness than a care package of shrewdness and discipline. This has not stopped loyalists inside and outside the administration from promoting Trump’s impulsive style as a magic elixir for the world’s woes. For example, in her final days as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley explained on NBC’s “Today Show” how Trump “would like to ratchet up the rhetoric” so that she could tell other ambassadors that her boss “is pretty upset.” Haley said she would then issue a dire warning: “I can’t promise you what he is going to do. I’ll tell you, if we do these sanctions, it will keep him from going too far.”
Not only has Trump’s unpredictability proven to be a liability, it has also become fairly easy to predict. When China does not comply with his economic demands, Trump threatens more tariffs. When Congress requests documents and witness interviews to fulfill its Constitutional duty of oversight, Trump refuses to comply. When someone like Congressman Justin Amash lobs criticism at him, Trump insults him with “loser” or some other tired, recycled name. In August 2017, Trump escalated the conflict with North Korea by promising “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Now Trump is raising tensions with Iran by tweeting a similar threat: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”
When Donald Trump brought his unpredictable nature with him to the Oval Office in 2017, his supporters believed it was just what America needed to become “great again.” Many others on the fence about Trump’s presidency insisted we give Trump and his unconventional ways a chance. But time has shown that Trump’s ad hoc approach to everything, particularly with foreign policy, is worth no more than a tin of snake oil. More than two years into Trump’s presidency, it is easy to see that his trademark unpredictability is not only dangerous but remarkably predictable.