The United States officially entered World War I on April 6th, 1917. For countries not named “Spain”, this marked the beginning of a long stretch of time where the stances and actions of the USA mattered a lot.
It turns out that long stretch of time may have just come to a close. An op-ed by Scott Gilmore makes the case that the conclusion of the Donald Trump overseas tour also marks “the end of the American century”, as world leaders have assessed our president and found him… ignorable.
At one point, Trump used a commemorative address to instead complain that NATO allies were being unfair to “American taxpayers”. The other leaders standing nearby exchanged wry looks; a few even seemed to roll their eyes. By all accounts, there was no scramble to appease the president, no panic among delegations about how to “defuse” the American anger. No one really cared that much. Likewise, when the president refused to endorse the Paris Climate Agreement, or NATO’s policy of mutual defence, no one was willing to bend even a little to mollify the Americans. They shrugged.
We as a nation selected this path, to retreat from a world with bewildering options and interplaying interests, and to concentrate on making our country like some misremembered golden age for the sole benefit of those sharing that false memory. The lack of reaction on the part of some world leaders, and apparent exploitation on the part of others, indicates that the message has been received quite clearly. It seems no coincidence that the “deconstruction” of our government has as its endpoint not merely the rolling up of the New Deal, but an outright bid to re-establish the great age of unfettered, unregulated capitalism and labor exploitation that was prevalent at the end of the 19th century, complete with occasional hints like legislators toying with the notion of bringing back child labor as a thing and rescinding the minimum wage altogether as opposed to keeping it locked at levels that haven’t been relevant to making a living in decades. Oh, and getting rid of pesky non-productive time, like “weekends”.
Certainly, the USA still matters to the rest of the world. Our economy is too large to simply ignore, for one, at least for the moment. But without having consistent leadership with an unwavering strategic vision of making a place for the USA in world affairs, we simply become an object of passive economic interaction.