The entirety of the foreign policy speech he gave Monday in Youngstown, Ohio
, did not exactly offer new ideas
. But when Trump explained his plan for restricting immigration he inadvertently gave voters something extremely useful: a guide for choosing the next president of the United States.
"We must," he said, "screen out any who have hostile attitudes towards our country or its principles."
Trump meant this as part of his "extreme vetting" plan to keep the wrong people from immigrating to America. But the idea makes even more sense when screening the candidates for the presidency. And unfortunately for Trump, this screening tool wouldn't do anything for his chances.
The Republican nominee is right that those coming into America should "embrace a tolerant American society." And he is correct when he argues that people "who do not believe in our constitution, or who support bigotry and hatred" should have no place in this country.
The question is, does he subscribe to these principles himself?
If immigrants should "believe in our constitution," the commander-in-chief most certainly ought to. But the evidence so far suggests that Trump only has a vague grasp of that document. And you don't have to take Democrats' word for it -- Trump's own words speak volumes.
Freedom of religion
Trump last year proudly announced a proposal
for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."
He has since tried to tweak this plan, but the willingness to enact a religious test stands in direct contradiction with the constitution, and has also been sharply rejected by conservative scholars and activists.
Freedom of the press
Trump may want immigrants to embrace American freedoms, but no political candidate in modern history has attacked the media with the viciousness of the Trump campaign. It has blacklisted major news organizations
and made public attacks on the "disgusting" press
and on individual reporters, at least one of whom said she was escorted out of a Trump rally by Secret Service agents
to ensure her safety after the candidate had whipped up supporters into a frenzy.
Meanwhile, Trump has promised to "open up" libel laws
if he becomes president, raising the specter of a president using the machinery of office to pursue those in the media who present unfavorable coverage.
The Fifth Amendment and due process
Trump has no trouble at all with authoritarian leaders. For example, he sounded sympathetic to at least some aspects of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's leadership, admitting that he is a "bad guy," but apparently one with some redeeming traits.
"He killed terrorists. He did that so good," Trump once said
. "They didn't read them the rights."
In Trump's America, it seems, due process is an impediment to getting things done. It's all a little too reminiscent of new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
, another populist strongman trying to make his country safe without regard for due process.
Separation of powers
The notion that the president is not omnipotent -- and that no one is above the law -- is the most basic of principles in the American system of government. Yet Trump seems determined to use executive powers with abandon, at one point suggesting that he would make the military disobey the law because "that's what leadership is all about."
(He has since backpedaled from that suggestion).
Equal rights for all
In his Youngstown speech, Trump vowed that his immigration policy would defend American values.
"Nor can we let the hateful ideology of radical Islam -- its oppression of women, gays, children, and nonbelievers -- be allowed to reside or spread within our own countries," he said.
It's an admirable idea, undercut by Trump's own rhetoric. Trump's troubling attitudes toward women, for example, are well documented. He has discussed a 10-point scale for women based on their sex appeal
and has an extensive record of insulting them
. That has translated into dismal approval ratings among women voters -- more than 80% of women say he doesn't show enough respect for people he disagrees with
, and 70% of women have an unfavorable opinion of him.
When it comes to gay Americans, Trump has tried to have it both ways, vowing to be their protector while presiding over a Republican convention with a virulently anti-gay platform
. He also chose a running mate, Mike Pence, with one of the worst records in the country
when it comes to ensuring equal rights for LGBT citizens.
Yes, Trump did a good job in his speech this week of distilling some of the most important elements of America's values -- a rejection of bigotry, equal treatment for all citizens, freedom from oppression, and a clear rejection of hatred for members of minorities. The problem is that time and again, Trump has turned his back on many of these very same principles -- and encouraged his followers to do the same.
Still, Trump has done voters a huge favor. He has reminded America what it stands for, and provided a template for deciding which candidate is more likely to embrace these fine principles. The trouble for Trump is that he is clearly not that candidate.