Are we witnessing the death of American soft power?
The United States has been pushed out of the top spot for its soft power prowess as Germany takes the top spot in 2021. We look at the reasons for America’s decline.
Before answering this question, we must first put our definitions in order. What exactly is soft power?
Unlike hard power, which involves coercion and even brute force, soft power involves persuasion, attraction and emulation. The term was coined by Joseph S. Nye, one of the most respected names in the field of international relations.
According to Dr. Nye, soft power is “associated with intangible power resources” such as ideology and institutions. In an essay, aptly titled “Squandering the US Soft Power Edge,” Nye said it was “the ability to affect others to get the results you want. Nations need power because without it they struggle to achieve their goals.
Forget intimidation and threats; instead, he advised focusing on attracting followers through strong “values and culture”.
Historically, he noted, “The United States has been good at wielding soft power, which is based on culture, political ideals, and policies. Think of the young people behind the Iron Curtain listening to American music.
But those heady days, when the United States wielded soft power with considerable ease, seem over. On the latest Global Soft Power Index, the United States is in sixth position. Germany now occupies first place.
Is the American dream, closely linked to the idea of soft power, withering away?
Nathan Schneider, an author and scholar who covers social movements in the United States, said World TRT:
“[The] The country has always had an ambivalent culture, with so much liberating dynamism, suppression of minorities and devastating colonialism.”
According to Jeffrey Tucker, a leading social commentator and founder of the Brownstone Institute, for a century or more, the United States “has owned the most important cultural/political idea in the world: freedom. This idea reshaped the world. ”
“That idea is no longer in vogue in American culture,” he said.
“Over the past two decades, this idea has waned as flavors of left and right have taken it over. Every sector you look at – academia, media, politics and big business – you discover an extreme belittlement of the idea of It is replaced by a culture of harassment, conformity, ideological bigotry and nihilism.
Tucker said the Covid-19 lockdowns “cemented this trend, proving it’s a harsh reality that freedom in the United States is no longer the theme.”
“Many countries around the world have followed the United States in their containment policies and this decision has proven disastrous. It has been devastating to the reputation of the United States worldwide. It has also shattered idealism of a whole generation,” he added.
Now, of course, some readers will disagree with Tucker. This is to be expected. Lockdowns were, and still are, a contentious issue. Although many professionals have argued that the lockdowns were worth it, others, like Tucker, have argued and continue to argue that the lockdowns were an incredibly costly mistake, both financially and psychologically.
The truth, according to some academics, is simple but far from satisfying: we will never know whether they were worth it or not. But for those who think they weren’t worth it and that the lockdowns (aka “the cure”) were worse than the actual disease, their rage is palpable.
In the United States, these people, millions and millions of them, have lost faith in government institutions. In many ways they have lost faith in the United States. If ordinary Americans are losing faith in the American system, it’s no wonder the world sees the United States as a shadow of itself.
Lose some of your loot
Jeremi Suri, American historian and Mack Brown Distinguished Professor of Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, said World TRT that the reasons for the country’s demise date back to “the end of the Cold War”, when the United States began to underinvest “in the State Department, aid agencies and international affairs education in general”.
Suri said many Americans came to believe that diplomacy mattered less because the United States had “won” the Cold War and had the strongest military in the world. In other words, the United States has become complacent. He became obsessed with what he had already accomplished and less concerned with the dynamics of an ever-changing world.
For Suri, the United States has retained its dominance of soft power over the past decades because of its wealth and strong democracy. But over the past two decades, with growing income inequality, the country has become less attractive. The fall has been exacerbated by issues such as armed violence, social divisions and poor governance.
“We won the Cold War because we looked better as a society than our adversaries. Many today doubt that,” Dr Suri said.
Dr. Suri mentioned the word attraction. If domestic politics and international diplomacy play a role in the attractiveness of a country, the notion of “coolness” also plays a role.
The United States, once synonymous with the word “cool”, seems to have lost some of its swag, to use a favorite term among cool kids. This brings us to the country’s music scene.
The United States was once synonymous with music that excited the masses; it has produced artists who have inspired generations around the world. Again, those days seem to be over. In a recent article for The Atlantic, Ted Gioia, a music historian of considerable renown, spoke about the decline of the country’s music scene.
“Consider the recent reaction when the Grammy Awards were postponed,” he wrote.
“Perhaps I should say the lack of reaction because the cultural response was little more than a yawn. I follow thousands of music professionals on social media, and I haven’t come across a single an expression of annoyance or regret that the biggest annual new music event has been suspended.
This boded ill for some. Less than ten years ago, 40 million people watched the Grammy Awards. Last year, that number was 8.8 million. Ten years from now, will anyone even watch the Grammys? More importantly, if the rewards were to disappear, would anyone really care?
Besides music, education also plays a role in the attractiveness of a country. American education, once seen in an altogether positive light, has come under quite severe criticism lately. Such criticism seems to have had some effect. To be precise, a very negative. And a global at that.
In 2020, as authors Karin Fischer and Sasha Aslanian noted: “The U.S. government reported an 18% decline in total student visa holders and a 72% decline in new enrollments in 2020 – is unprecedented.”
Although Covid restrictions played a role, the authors point out that “America’s light was already flickering” long before the pandemic brought the world to a screeching halt. The authors argue, quite rightly, that today’s students “have more options than ever before, around the world and at home. Like their American classmates, they wonder about the cost of college and the yield of an American degree.They worry about whether they’d be safe in this country.
The security point is interesting, not to mention a very relevant point. In cities like Los Angeles and New York, the cultural capitals of the United States, crime now reigns supreme. In LA, looting has become a recreational activity for hundreds, if not thousands, of citizens; in New York, meanwhile, violent crime is on the rise.
Can the United States regain its “mojo”? Can she regain some respectability on the world stage?
According to the aforementioned Tucker, yes, “but it won’t be easy.” Why ? Because it “means a huge confrontation with the media, academia and big business. Recovering what we used to call liberalism will require Herculean efforts to reconstruct and restore freedom as a theme.
For the United States to regain its “mojo,” the United States must do three things, according to Suri: “One. Get our democracy in order — show the world that we can govern effectively and peacefully as a democracy . Of them. Tackling wealth inequality at home – showing the world that we can create a society where everyone wants to live and everyone wants to learn. Three. Back to our role as inspirational alliance leader – bring together other democracies to put pressure (economically and politically) on autocracies (especially Russia and China) to reform.
Nye, the aforementioned father of soft power, said World TRT that if he “had to choose two things” that would help the United States regain some credibility on the world stage, they would be the following:
“One. On the outside, do more to lead the fight against the pandemic in poor countries and don’t leave it to China’s ‘vaccine diplomacy’. Two. Domestically, reduce the rhetoric and reality of extreme political polarization where possible.(It may not be an election year.) And remember that much of our soft power does not come from government but from our civil society.
Source: World TRT