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In the six months or so since President Trump entered the White House, we've spent a lot of time in this space puzzling over the way he sees and deals with the world. The Trump Doctrine, such as it is, still seems rather muddled. At times, it follows the predictable contours of hawkish Republican foreign policy, tough on America's perceived adversaries and animated by the primacy of American military might. At other times, it has expressed itself through a radical rejection of existing American commitments and a potential gutting of the State Department, much to the alarm of the U.S.'s traditional allies.

Increasingly, though, it seems that the president's "America First" agenda — and thinking — simply stops at his nation's borders.

Consider two major items of recent news: the White House's proposal to drastically cut legal immigration and the leaked transcripts of Trump's conversations with two foreign leaders. Running through both stories is one theme: the administration's crude view of a world that must be kept out.

After months of legislative setbacks, the White House rolled out a proposed Senate bill on Wednesday that would seek to cut legal immigration to the United States by half. The move was something of a surprise, suddenly coming to the fore in place of much-discussed initiatives on infrastructure and tax reform. Given that the bill likely won't get congressional approval, it should be viewed mostly as red meat for Trump's base, a naked expression of ideology.

Trump adviser Stephen Miller — a hard-liner admired by the alt-right, a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state — championed the measure as a "pro-American immigration reform that the American people want, that the American people deserve and that puts the needs of the working class ahead of the investor class" — the supposition being that "low-skilled" immigrants are both a burden to the economy and unfair competition to "low-skilled," low-income American citizens seeking jobs. He did so during a cringe-worthy news conference in which he sneered at a confrontational journalist's "cosmopolitan bias" and seemed to deny that the Statue of Liberty is a symbol for welcoming immigrants.

The Statue of Liberty is surrounded by fog on Liberty Island in New York in 2014. (Santiago Lyon/Associated Press)

The problem for the Trump administration is that its arguments about immigration are built on emotive appeals to nativism — and flimsy analysis of the data. As The Post's Fact Checker noted earlier this year, Trump cherry-picked one line in a 500-page study to suggest immigrants cost taxpayers billions of dollars a year. But that, as the report's authors argued themselves, wasn't the point they were making.

"The main point made in this report is that immigrants, particularly the first generation, incur costs to the government that are later balanced out by their descendants," my colleague Michelle Ye Hee Lee wrote. "Second-generation immigrants end up being a net positive to the government compared with the first generation, as they assimilate and obtain higher levels of education and wages."

Economists elsewhere pointed to data that show there's no correlation between low-skilled immigrants and a rise in American unemployment (which, at least at the moment, is pretty low). Others observed that the majority of immigrants entering or gaining residency in the United States in recent years have bachelor's degrees or higher-level qualifications. "This means that slashing overall immigration numbers will simply reduce the total number of high-skilled immigrants coming to boost the U.S. economy," wrote Bloomberg View columnist Noah Smith. "It’s counterproductive and pointless to increase the percentage of skilled immigrants while reducing the overall number."

Beyond statistics, the legislation illustrated a bewildering disregard for the centrality of the immigrant experience to American history. As various journalists and commentators noted, if the White House's new English-language criteria for immigration were met, both Trump and Miller's ancestors may never have been able to build a future in America.

Then, on Thursday, The Post published leaked transcripts of Trump's phone conversations with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, which took place a week after Trump's inauguration. The transcripts, produced by White House staff and annotated and fact-checked by my colleagues, make for absolutely surreal reading.

In his conversation with Peña Nieto, Trump states flatly that his posturing over a border wall that Mexico must pay for was just that — political posturing for his base that is, in policy terms, "the least important thing we are talking about." With Turnbull, Trump grew enraged by having to abide by the terms of an Obama-era deal regarding the possible resettlement of 1,250 refugees housed by Australia in controversial island camps.

"In both phone calls, Trump seems singularly focused on bad people getting into the U.S. and how bad it will make him look," my colleagues at The Fix noted bluntly.

What's particularly striking about the phone call with Turnbull is Trump's inability to understand the refugee dilemma with any hint of nuance, despite the Australian premier's patient explanation. These aren't criminals or "bad" people, as Trump puts it, but migrants who would be subject to existing, rigorous vetting procedures that Trump has consistently pretended don't exist. When Trump suggests that one of these people could be the next "Boston bomber," Turnbull politely corrects him, reminding him that those attackers were from Russia, not the countries where this particular batch of asylum seekers come from.

Trump's reply: "They were from wherever they were."

The indifference is telling. In public, the president is consumed by threats lurking abroad and insisting he will set them right — and that the rest of the world will benefit. In private, however, he makes utterly clear that what matters in his foreign policy is — at best — what happens inside rather than outside the United States. More often, though, the only thing that truly counts is his own personal political campaign, which he hasn't stopped running since coming to power.

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