Concerning foreign policy is President Trump an isolationist? If he is, to what extent?

His anti-globalist 'America First' rhetoric and his anti-alliance talk would indicate he is an isolationist yet his interference in Syria and possibly his role in brokering talks with North Korea indicate he is not an isolationist in the classical sense.

Are there any books or articles on Trump and isolationism people recommend?

  • "Are there any books or articles " - recommendations are off topic on this site, so I recommend editing that out
    – user4012
    Dec 14, 2018 at 14:50
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    Supporting books and articles are a reasonable part of an informed answer. How is that off-topic? It wasn't is main question. Dec 14, 2018 at 18:17

4 Answers 4


I wouldn't use the word isolationist. That would be inaccurate. Sending the U.S. Navy to trouble spots like the South China Sea is far from it.

The positioning of American armed forces is a much better indicator of a president's isolationism than are words coming out of pundits mouths, because the president is the commander-in-chief.

Isolationism is not about international trade policy, but isolating the country in other international relations, especially the political affairs of other countries. When Trump comments about Brexit or the Russian conflict with Ukraine, it is pretty clear he isn't an isolationist.

Trump's foreign trade policy hasn't really been isolationism, but an unwillingness to engage in certain relationships he feels are to the disadvantage of the country. Trade sanctions are distinct from isolationism.

Dictionary Definitions

If you look the word up in a dictionary, you will generally find it's properly used in the plural. Consider this typical definition (from Bing):

isolationists (plural noun)

a person favoring a policy of remaining apart from the affairs or interests of other groups, especially the political affairs of other countries.

Example (from the Oxford English Dictionary):

Those who would have us involved in a perpetual war of intervention invariably call those who are unenthusiastic "isolationists."

False dilemma

This above example show how labels like isolationist are typically misused in political context. Isolationism refers to a characteristic of polices, not people. A president can make some policy decisions which lean toward isolationism while simultaneously supporting other polices of interventionism.

To argue Trump is an isolationist is to invoke the informal fallacy of false dilemma. Such an argument has no place in reasoned thought.

George Washington, in his farewell address, famously advised against "foreign entanglements". While that aspect of Washington's address might be leaning toward isolationism, that doesn't necessarily make him a good example of being an isolationist, as he was also defending free trade and suggesting the federal government should be limited to defending the rights of American merchants.

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    There's also an element of the Affirming the Consequent fallacy: just because an isolationsit would do something, doesn't mean everyone who does it is an isolationist. Jan 4, 2019 at 18:52

Isolationism isn't a binary "yes" or "no" choice. It's more of a spectrum, with less international engagement on one end and more on the other.

Trump is definitely more towards the isolationism end of the spectrum than some previous presidents like Bush or Obama, who was closer to the "non-isolationism" extreme than towards the center. However, he's nowhere near the far isolationist end of that spectrum, like some 19th century presidents, or other figures in US politics (a more well known example is Pat Buchanan).

Trump's philosophy is "America First", which means not isolationism, but not engaging with other countries just for the sake of engaging; only doing so when it benefits US. (I'm talking about general philosophical/theoretical framework here, leaving aside whether rational choice for specific policy decisions is a correct one or not based on that framework).

  • Downvoted as an unsupported opinion-based answer by an experienced contributor, making attacks on figures unrelated to the question, e.g. Buchanan. The guideline is "Be friendly". Dec 14, 2018 at 18:11
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    @Burt_Harris Has isolationism become a dirty word at some point? It's just as legitimate a world view, as interventionism. Dec 14, 2018 at 21:30
  • The answer is sub-par, not "dirty". Beginning with the assumption the OP was expecting only a yes/no answer, then it launches into an explanation contrary to the dictionary definition of the word with no supporting information or links. To be precise it seeks to use ad-homonym reasoning and guilt by association based on Trump and Buchanan independently using the "America First" phrase. Jack, I wouldn't downvote it if you had posted it, but someone with a 68K reputation should do better. Dec 15, 2018 at 0:29
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    @Burt_Harris - Buchanan is the most high profile isolationist figure in US politics I can think of. I needed an example to anchor the spectrum. Feel free to propose a better example. Although you assuming that I'm somehow deeply biased against either Trump or Buchanan is a welcome breath of fresh air considering people have accused me of being a right wing far nazi pro trump Russian troll in comments before.
    – user4012
    Dec 15, 2018 at 12:54
  • You are simply misusing the word by applying it to someone who would reject the label. American Isolationism is mostly a myth. The closest it came to isolationism was in the period between WW1 and WW2 when the US refused to join the league of nations. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isolationism#United_States, 2001-2009.state.gov/r/pa/ho/time/wwii/102129.htm, american-historama.org/1929-1945-depression-ww2-era/… Dec 15, 2018 at 17:03

Trump is not an isolationist. He renegotiated trade deals with Mexico and Canada, working on a deal with China right now. His aggressive attitude on the trade deals isn't to isolate America from others, it's because he wants America to do business with others but thinks that prior administrations let other countries get an upper hand assuming it's okay since America is the big guy and it's benevolent to give the little guy an extra hand up. But representing your people doesn't work like that. So he's renegotiating trade to be fair. That's not isolationism

He's intervening directly with North Korea and Iran. Not isolationist.

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    Come on guys, this was a good try by a new contributor. It really doesn't deserve to be voted down. Be friendly: +1 Dec 14, 2018 at 10:14
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    Not a downvoter myself, but the phrase "renegotiating trade to be fair" is easy to take as a subjective opinion. "Renegotiating trade to be more beneficial to the US" would be more accurate and objective. Dec 14, 2018 at 10:35
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    I would also add, that he regotiating "Renegotiating that he thinks it is more beneficial to the US", i am not confessed that many moves was beneficial for the US but you might have an other opinion on this.
    – chris
    Dec 15, 2018 at 0:08

There really isn't such a thing as an "isolationist" any longer in US politics. A better term might be "non-interventionist"?

Considering the US has over 800 military bases in 170 foreign countries, compared to Russia & Britain's grand total of 30 bases in foreign countries, between the two. For a POTUS to prove that he were an isolationist he would likely need to shut down literally 100s of foreign bases. I think that the label "isolationist" is just used for the sake of fear mongering by the NeoCon/Neo-Liberal pro, military industrial complex war-hawks, to keep the endless wars going.

This book is an enlightening read on the topic of American Intervention:

'A Republic, Not an Empire: Reclaiming America's Destiny' by Patrick J. Buchanan

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