Donald Trump says so many strange and outrageous things that it is impossible to remember them all. But one Trumpian remark that has stuck with me is the US president’s repeated insistence that, after conquering Iraq, “we should have kept the oil”. To the ears of the Washington establishment, this was yet another Trump gaffe. Even Dick Cheney, the former vice-president and most hawkish of hawks, had never portrayed Iraq as a war of conquest. But Trump’s deliberately provocative remark was an insight into both his philosophy and his appeal to voters. When many Americans feel frightened that both US power and their own living standards are in decline, Trump is making an appeal to American ruthlessness. The US president says to voters that the country cannot afford to be “politically correct” any more. The way to Make America Great Again, in the words of his slogan, is to rediscover the ruthless instincts that made America great in the first place. In a nod to past American ruthlessnes...

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