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America’s still standing in the world
A year after the insurrection, America’s position in the world is battered but still unrivaled for now
When President Biden speaks to the nation a year after a violent insurrection tried to overturn the 2020 election results, the focus will be on the home front, with continued concerns about America’s extreme internal political division and dysfunction and even talk of another civil war.
Pessimism about America’s democracy at home
Nearly seven in ten Americans (68 percent) see the January 6th attacks as a “harbinger of increasing political violence, not an isolated incident, according to a new CBS/YouGov poll. In that same poll, two thirds of Americans say U.S. democracy today is threatened, versus 33 percent who say it is secure.
That glum outlook about America’s democratic system is reflected in views about America around the world – the illiberal trends and political dysfunction inside of America have left a mark.
Negative views about America’s democracy echoed abroad
In a Pew Global Attitudes Survey conducted in America and 16 advanced economies last year offered this assessment from more than 18,000 people surveyed in other countries
57 percent: U.S. democracy used to be a good example to follow, but has not in recent years
23 percent: U.S. democracy has never been a good example for other countries to follow
19 percent: U.S. democracy is a good example for other countries to follow.
This poll offers a snapshot among a handful of important countries, most of them in Europe and Asia, but it’s a sign of some shifts in how America is viewed.
It’s not all negative for America in the world
There were two silver linings in views about America around the world – first, the country’s image and confidence in the U.S. president improved substantially in the transition from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.
Second, America’s technology, entertainment, military and universities are held in high regard, with majorities saying that America is either the best or above average in those areas and institutions. (The one glaring exception is on America’s health care system, an understandable result given the country’s performance on COVID-19).
These are important assets for America – add to it the fact that America’s booming economy and the huge rebound in 2021 has had ripple effects all over the world. Many of the fundamental metrics of America’s hard and soft power remain strong and without peer in the world.
Combine the two factors – the objective strengths in America’s economy, technology, and military with weaknesses represented America’s political rot and truth decay – and it is easy to understand why many countries around the world are now engaging in rational strategic hedging between America and China. The international system has been in flux for many years, as geopolitics and global economic systems have been rearranging for much of the past decade in ways still under-analyzed.
America’s ideological tribes and media culture hold itself back at home and abroad
The biggest factor holding America back in the world is itself, its unforced errors, and the narrow field of vision of too many politicians and ideologues who dominate discourse in both the Republican and Democratic parties, as John Halpin describes.
America’s political sectarianism has also had an effect on U.S. foreign policy debates. America’s friends around the world have noticed and worry about the country’s strategic reliability, as America’s adversaries and competitors seek to exploit these divisions.
But even with all of this political dysfunction and legitimate worries about America’s democracy, 2021 saw some important gains for the country – a spring stimulus that helped jumpstart the country’s economy followed by a significant infrastructure bill in the fall, a major investment that will help America compete in the world.
President Biden is correct to raise red flags about America’s democratic system. There’s probably as much trouble ahead as there is behind. But in the bigger picture, America’s political and economic system has proven to remain quite resilient, so far, and the rest of the world knows it.
America’s still standing in the world. One of the few things that will make America stand still and stop moving forward is its own politics.