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Blessing America First Religion, Populism, and Foreign Policy in the Trump Administration

Buckley, David T.

Blessing America First argues that under Trump, religion in U.S. foreign policy shifted from an implement of statecraft to a tool of populist political strategy. Populism constructs ideological bounds between “the people” and threatening outsiders, and embraces personalist governance while rejecting bureaucratic constraint. This domestic political logic, Buckley demonstrates, influenced foreign policy decisions and reshaped bureaucratic offices in the State Department and USAID. Populism also promoted international religious ties in a surprising range of settings, from Poland to India, Brazil to Russia. Buckley shows that the possibility of curbing these changes was limited by conditions in American democracy that predated the 2016 election, including norms of nonpartisanship among career officials, malleable legal institutions, and polarization in public opinion. A groundbreaking examination of Trump’s State Department, blending insider experience with original quantitative and qualitative data analysis, Blessing America First draws broader lessons for understanding the relationship between religion and democracy under populist rule.