‘America first’ is becoming America alone

Brian Klaas writes: Developing countries use global powers as blueprints to build their societies. Citizens pressure their governments to follow what works. At the end of the Cold War, most countries saw one viable blueprint: liberal democracy. Nearly two decades later, China’s version of authoritarian capitalism and Russia’s aggressive nationalism are countermodels. The more that the world looks down on the United States, the more alluring those alternatives become.

And yet, Trump has proven ruthlessly efficient at destroying the standing of the U.S. model. His personal behavior is not the only problem. Partisan tribalism, political polarization and endless gridlock are stains that will not be easily wiped away. The 2016 election and its aftermath was a flashing neon sign to the world, one stating that U.S. democracy is badly broken. Whoever is to blame, the bottom line is clear: Fewer and fewer countries want to emulate the United States.

That shift is happening at the worst possible time. Trump’s foreign policy not only is bad for America’s reputation, but it also actively undercuts the prospects of democracy around the world. He has articulated a vision of a selfish and shortsighted “America first” foreign policy, prompting smaller countries to seek out new sponsors. (Beijing and Moscow are waiting with open arms.) Simultaneously, Trump unapologetically acts as a cheerleader for despots — praising Putin, congratulating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for dismantling Turkish democracy and endorsing President Rodrigo Duterte’s death squads in the Philippines. And they’ve received the message loud and clear. It’s a free pass from Washington that allows would-be strongmen to indulge their darkest impulses without fear of consequences.

Trump always promised he’d be a president who would get things done quickly. He’s making good on that promise in one awful way: Trump has destroyed America’s standing in the world after just five months on the job. [Continue reading…]

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