This lyric from the German hard-rock band, Rammstein, sums up the United States’ level of influence over the rest of the world pretty well. It hammers down its point by using images of Americana found across the globe. Since World War II, the U.S. has been the primary global superpower and the world’s biggest trendsetter. Over one billion people speak English as a second language. It is the de facto language of business for a great deal of the world. American movies and television are almost universally known. Many people outside the U.S. grow up watching their native language dubs of American-made media. For a long time, American cultural norms and our socio-economic hegemony have been a dominating force on Earth, causing American fashion, food, and culture to be adopted and assimilated to varying degrees worldwide.
However, America's soft power and influence over the world is declining. For those who may not be familiar with the word, soft power is essentially a country’s powers of persuasion or, in other words, their clout. In February, consultancy Brand Finance published the results of a survey showing that in areas like reputation, ethical standards, diplomacy, climate action and trustworthiness, America was faltering. On that list, the U.S. doesn’t make the top ten for any of those categories, ranked as low as 44th in relations, and 23rd in trustworthiness. Whether we come first in soft power or not is up for question, with some sources now placing us fourth. The gap between our nation and others is getting smaller, and many countries are beginning to look less to the U.S. for leadership. Volker Perthes, director of Germany’s Institute for International and Security Affairs, has recently brought up the question, “Can you trust the American leadership? Isn’t China possibly more reliable than the United States?”
Other nations were always bound to catch up gradually over time. But poor leadership and a disregard for foreign policy in recent years seem to have jump-started this process. The decision to drop out of the Paris-climate agreement, the abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal and U.S. failures in dealing with COVID-19 have left poor impressions of us on the world stage. The latter issue is a particularly significant point of stress for some nations. One example, Governor Yasuhiro Tamaki, aka Dennis Tamaki, is Japan’s first Amerasian congressmen and a self-described embodiment of Okinawa’s predicament as a host for American military personnel. He has been fighting to reduce and eventually remove U.S. military presence on the island since he was elected in 2018. With recent reports that American personnel have been found responsible for the spread of COVID-19 in Okinawa, Governor Tamaki described the situation as "regrettable at a time when the people of Okinawa are doing everything possible to avoid further contamination." E.U. countries have recently placed bans on American travel due to a fear of reinfection at a time when many of these countries have mostly gotten the disease under control.
One central point of contention between the U.S. and our vital ally, Germany, has been our recent trade war with China. The U.S.-China trade war created a ripple-effect, stifling the German economy and job growth to the extent Germany feared it would lead to a recession. Unfortunately for everyone, with COVID-19 came a global slowdown. Combined with the damage caused by the trade war, Germany’s future as Europe’s largest economy is now uncertain. Understandably sowing a great deal of mistrust and resentment toward our country. These hard feelings may have also been a factor in the decision to remain open to implementing Chinese company Huawei into their 5G network, despite U.S. and U.K. bans on their technology. As U.S. soft power decreases, it begs whether this gap will be taken over by another superpower, like China.
Like Rammstein, my position is no love song, lament for the loss of American global dominance nor a call to action to return to the “good ol’ days.” But replacing the U.S.’ position in the world with China would restart the cycle of global uniformity and stagnation that has been brought about by our long reign.
As an idealist and optimist, I’d like to believe our decline in soft power may mean a world without as much interference and influence from superpowers. In this world, we may see a greater diversity of ideas and how countries tackle issues specific to them from within their context. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, modern global politics has been a standard feature. Like in many of the countless cheesy American teen movies, our role as the most popular kid in school may be nearing its end. But as reality has taken us down a peg, the rest of the cast now has the opportunity to find themselves, let their freak flags fly, and create a better environment for everyone in it.