Here in the United States, we have a short memory and even shorter foresight when it comes to international politics. We can’t seem to find it in ourselves to view the world through anything other than our own partisan lenses, qualifying our nation’s behavior, as well as the responses it garners, from the rest of the world only in terms of how it relates directly to our sitting president. We’re either “pro-Trump” or we’re “the resistance,” and we filter news about Chinese expansion, Russian aggression, Iranian nuclear weapons, combat operations in Africa and the like through the presidency.
The supposition that the world is standing by to respond to America’s lead is based, to some extent, on reality. After World War II, America assumed the role of global leader, using its booming economy to bolster European allies in the rebuilding process and then using the resulting leverage to establish a world order that placed the United States at the center of all global trade and diplomacy. It wasn’t American isolationism, nor was it a rallying cry of “America first” that made America the dominant super power that it is. It was quite the opposite: America made it the nation’s business to meddle in the affairs of foreign states, stacking the deck in our favor whenever possible, and expanding our sphere of influence until it came to include military alliances with 55 of the world’s 195 nations, veto authority in the United Nations we helped to establish, and an economy that could support the largest and most powerful military ever seen on this planet.
Today, however, there’s a growing sentiment within America that being a member of the global community somehow weakens America’s position within the hierarchy we helped to build. Somewhere along the way, we began to chafe against our role as not just a world leader, but as the world leader any large initiative needs the support of in order to prove viable. We grew frustrated with European nations relying on our defense. We started romanticizing leaders like Vladimir Putin, who remains popular among many within the United States because of his air of superiority and unapologetic approach to international relations. Americans are tired of watching diplomats be diplomatic, and despite nearly two straight decades of continuous war, your average voter remains so far removed from the horrors of combat that even the possibility of a bloody conflict with a nation like North Korea isn’t enough to deter the drumbeat of those who have come to loathe the apparent inaction of diplomatic discourse.
Love or hate Donald Trump, you can’t ignore the way his presidency is negatively effecting perceptions of the United States around the world. You may be inclined to say that you don’t care what the world thinks of the U.S. — and that’s your prerogative — but if you think America’s position as the most powerful nation on the planet came about without the support of anyone else on the planet, you’re likely going to be in for some tough realizations in the decades to come.