I am China skeptic in that I don’t think China will displace the U.S. as hegemon primarily because China has serious internal problems, America still has a lot of power, and China has no followership nor capacity to get it. However, one thing I wonder – is Trump damaging America’s reputation so much that multipolarity is becoming more likely? I am just starting to read Exit From Hegemony which argues that American hegemony is unraveling and the process began before Trump and will continue after him although his Presidency is accelerating these trends. Simon Reich and Richard Ned Lebow in Goodbye, Hegemony make an even stronger claim that American hegemony has already eroded and did so by the 1970s. Both of these books offer a lot of food for thought and I hope to come back to them in a future post. For now I want to take the notion that American hegemony does exist and to what extent the Trump administration is undermining the social basis (or legitimacy) of American hegemony
My lodestar when thinking about America’s hegemonic legitimacy is the Pew Global Attitudes project. They have been asking a people around the world their opinions about American leadership consistently since 2002. The graph below contains the percentage of people who responded that they have a favorable opinion of the U.S. and the percentage of people who responded that they have confidence in the U.S. President to do the right thing. It’s interesting that during the Presidency of George W. Bush and the Presidency of Trump the gap between confidence in the U.S. President and favorability of the U.S. increases but during the Obama years that gap closes. The Iraq war did great damage to America’s reputation and the Trump years have also. The bounce back seen during the Obama years however indicates that with better leadership U.S. reputation can recover. One wonders if Joe Biden wins the Presidency in November will the thousands of op-eds arguing that we are entering a post-American world suddenly cease?
Nevertheless, I am wondering how much long term damage can Trump do to America’s reputation? Even if he is shown the door in November is Trump forever sullying America in the eyes of the world?