The Women's March 'Power to the Polls' Sam Morris/Getty Images

Donald Trump and the Decline of US Soft Power

How a government behaves at home, in international institutions, and in foreign policy can affect others by the influence of its example. In all of these areas, Trump has reversed attractive American policies.

CAMBRIDGE – The evidence is clear. Donald Trump’s presidency has eroded America’s soft power. Only 30% of people recently polled by Gallup in 134 countries held a favorable view of the United States under Trump’s leadership, a drop of almost 20 points since Barack Obama’s presidency. The Pew Research Center found that China, with 30% approval ratings, had reached near-parity with the US. And a British index, The Soft Power 30, showed America slipping from first place in 2016 to third place last year.

Trump’s defenders reply that soft power does not matter. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, proclaimed a “hard power budget” as he slashed funds for the State Department and the US Agency for International Development by 30%. For promoters of “America First,” what the rest of the world thinks ranks second. Are they right?

Soft power rests on attraction rather than coercion or payment. It co-opts people rather than coerces them. At the personal level, wise parents know that their power will be greater and will last longer if they model sound ethical values for their children, rather than relying only on spankings, allowances, or taking away the car keys.

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