Donald Trump Has Made America a Back-Row Kid
"How will America help fix this?" During our time in the Obama administration, this was a common refrain, one we heard over and over from our foreign counterparts about global problems. They saw the United States as the leader on a broad range of issues — from combating terrorism to combating climate change — not just because of its tremendous economic and military strength (though that certainly helped). They believed in American “soft power” — the ability to set the agenda, bring others to the table, draw up a game plan, and take the lead in implementing that plan. In a world of unrelenting challenges, this expectation can be exhausting, and it can often seem like a burden. But the fact that so many countries look to the United States to provide the answers should be viewed as a blessing — it is what makes America exceptional.
Many things contribute to America’s global influence: its history of forming global coalitions, its government policies that set the tone, its “can-do” spirit, the power of U.S. example on issues like human rights, and, yes, its raw military and economic might. But America’s sway in the world also hinges on the culture of U.S. foreign policy that is propagated — and embodied — by the sitting president.
Most presidents understand this intuitively. “A platoon leader doesn’t get his platoon to go that way by getting up and saying, ‘I am smarter, I am bigger, I am stronger, I am the leader,’” President Dwight Eisenhower said in 1954. “He gets men to go with him because they want to do it for him, because they believe in him.”
For decades, American presidents of both parties have sought to enhance this pull of attraction by the policies they promote as well as how they act in office. They have understood that this is much more than being charitable or well liked. It is about commanding respect, maintaining other countries’ faith in U.S. institutions and values, and inspiring others to take action. It is also about coming to the table with ideas and getting things done.