The American Century ended in the early hours of November 9, 2016.
In London last week, I met a Nigerian man who succinctly expressed the reaction of much of the world to America these days. “Your country has gone crazy,” he said, with a mixture of outrage and amusement. “I’m from Africa. I know crazy, but I didn’t ever think I would see this in America.”
The world has gone through bouts of anti-Americanism before, but this one feels very different. First, there is the sheer shock at what is going on. The bizarre candidacy of Donald Trump, which has been followed by utterly chaotic presidency.
The chaos is at such a fever pitch that one stalwart Republican, Karl Rove, described the president this week as vindictive, impulsive and shortsighted and his public shaming of the attorney general as unfair, unjustified, unseemly and stupid.
Another Republican, Kenneth Starr, the one-time grand inquisitor of Bill Clinton, went further, calling Trump’s treatment of Jeff Sessions one of the most outrageous and profoundly misguided courses of presidential conduct I have witnessed in five decades in and around the nation’s capital.
But there’s a larger aspect of the fall in respect for America. According to a recent Pew Research Center study of 37 countries, people around the world increasingly believe that they can make do without America.
Trump’s presidency has made the US something worse than we feared or derided. It is becoming irrelevant. The most fascinating finding of the Pew Survey was not that Trump is deeply unpopular, 22 percent approval compared to Obama’s 64 percent at the end of his presidency. That was to be expected, but that there are now alternatives.
On the question of confidence in various leaders to do the right thing regarding world affairs, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin got slightly higher marks than Trump, but Angela Merkel got almost twice as much support as Trump.
Even in the United States, more respondents expressed confidence in the German Chancellor than Trump. This says a lot about Trump, but it says as much about Merkel’s reputation and how far Germany has come since 1945.
Trump has managed to do something that fear of Putin could not. He has unified Europe. Facing the challenges of Trump, Brexit, populism, a funny thing has happened on the continent. Support for Europe among its residents has risen and plans for deeper European integration are underway.
If the Trump administration perceives as it has promised and initiates protectionist measures against Europe, the continent’s resolve will only strengthen.
Under the combined leadership of Merkel and the new French President Emmanuel Macron, Europe will adopt a more activist foreign policy. Its economy has rebounded and is now growing as fast as that of the United States.
Countries from Canada to China have in various ways announced that since Washington cannot be relied on to shape the global agenda anymore, others will step in its place.
The most dismaying aspect of Pew’s findings is that the drop in regard for America goes well beyond Trump. Sixty-four percent of the people surveyed expressed a favorable view of America at the end of the Obama presidency. That has now fallen to 49 percent. Even when American foreign policy was unpopular, people around the world still believed in America, the place, the idea. This is less true today.
In 2008, I wrote a book about the emerging post-American world, which was – I noted at the start – not about the decline of America, but rather about the rise of the rest.
Amidst the parochialism, ineptitude and sheer disarray of the Trump presidency, the post-American world is coming to fruition much faster than I ever expected.
There’s no reason, of course, why our country has to lead the world — other than that it comes with huge advantages to us (like being able to print money out of thin air that the rest of the world accepts in return for its hard work and resources) . . . and that the world needs strong, principled, democratic, progressive, compassionate, progressive, rational leadership (which in the Clinton and Obama years, I would argue, we came as close to providing as any nation ever has).
And it’s not impossible that if and when we regain our footing, we will be looked to once again. That’s certainly the hope.
But if one chose to mark America’s 1917 entry into World War I as the beginning of “The American Century” . . . well, do the math.