“President Trump claims he “made America great again.” The facts show just the opposite. The United States has lost credibility since 2017. The president’s looseness with the truth has debased the currency of trust that is needed in a crisis, and his continual disdain for our allies means we have fewer friends.
There is clear evidence that Mr. Trump’s presidency has eroded America’s soft power — the power to attract rather than command. According to a new Pew poll, only 29 percent of people surveyed in 33 countries trust Trump. He ranks as low as President Xi Jinping of China. A year ago, Gallup polled 134 countries and similarly found that only 30 percent of the people held a favorable view of the United States under Mr. Trump’s leadership. That was a drop of almost 20 points since Barack Obama’s presidency. And an annual British index, the Soft Power 30, showed America slipping from first place in 2016 to fifth place in 2019.
Our power comes not only from our military and economic might. Most previous presidents have understood that power also comes from being able to attract others. If we can get you to want what we want, then we do not have to force others to do what we want. If the United States represents values that others want to follow, we can economize on sticks and carrots. Added to hard power, the soft power of attraction is what the military calls a force multiplier. And that makes our values a source of American power.
Indeed, our absence of government cultural policies like those China promotes can itself be a source of attraction. Hollywood movies that showcase independent women and a free society in action can attract people in countries that lack those opportunities. So, too, does the charitable work of American foundations and the benefits of freedom of inquiry at American universities. On the other hand, when our policies appear hypocritical, arrogant and indifferent to others’ views, the government can undermine our nation’s soft power. When Donald Trump interprets “America First” in a narrow way, he makes everyone else feel second class.”