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Could Donald Trump Be a New Kind of Transactional President?

by Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds:

The possibility that Trump would step on favored political toes and act pragmatically to rein in Imperial over-reach terrifies the bloated Imperial city of Washington D.C.

Political scientist and theoretician Joseph Nye, Jr. differentiates between transformational presidents and transactional presidents: transformational presidents consciously set out to radically transform America and/or America’s role in the world, while transactional presidents are pragmatists who focus on managing crises and responding with caution rather than taking bold and dangerous bets.


Nye explains the difference in Do Presidents Really Steer Foreign Policy?: George H. W. Bush was a (successful) transactional president, George W. Bush was a (failed)transformational president.

Other historians have drawn distinctions between ideologically driven presidencies (Reagan and Carter, for example) and those who practiced realpolitik–making decisions based on realities and circumstances on the ground rather than on an overarching moral or ideological framework. Richard Nixon is widely seen as a realpolitik president, as were Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.

You see the overlap, right? Ideological presidents are transformational, as the world inevitably fails to match up to their ideals and goals. Realpolitik presidents are transactional, making decisions based on context, risk, and the situation on the ground. These presidents are often criticized for not “saving the world,” i.e. intervening to “right” some morally reprehensible crisis, or for not “defending America’s interests” more aggressively.

Obviously, every president has a mix of ideological underpinnings and pragmatic skills.

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