Jan 8, 2021 - World

Global doubts about U.S. strength and stability will outlast Trump

Cleaning up after the riot. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call via Getty

While Americans lament the cracks in American democracy and President Trump's disastrous COVID-19 response, world leaders observe something of global consequence: the growing instability of a weakening superpower. There will be a price to pay.

What they're saying: "What we saw in the United States yesterday evening and today shows above all how fragile and vulnerable Western democracy is," gloated Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

  • “America no longer charts the course and so has lost all right to set it — and, even more so, to impose it on others," said Konstantin Kosachyov, chair of the foreign affairs committee in Russia's upper house.

Why it matters: While some Americans might see a silver lining in this week's events — a Republican establishment deserting Trump, himself now tainted with a violent attempt to obstruct the orderly transition of power — in most countries the story is painted with a broader brush.

  • America is seen as weak, failing in its COVID-19 response, unable to protect its own Congress and awash with political charlatans and militia violence.

Whether or not this is an accurate description is not important.

  • Four years of Trump have cast an existential doubt on America's strength, which will breed miscalculations, tension and conflict.
  • The Biden administration will need to work long and hard to restore U.S. deterrence and prestige.
  • The Trump administration has not only alienated American allies and encouraged China and Russia, it has signaled to many that the liberal order is beyond repair.

The big picture: The world is witnessing a global revolt, targeting power structures seen as hollow, corrupt or unrepresentative. That revolt is more about destroying current power structures than the fine details of building new ones. Democracies are especially vulnerable.

Describing what happened on Capitol Hill as a "mob," "populism" or even "terrorism" simply doesn't cut it.

  • It disregards global context, from Brexit to the rise of Hindu nationalism.
  • It fails to see that the growing resistance to the current world order is not a passing problem, a bump in the road, but a new status quo.
  • It fantasizes about erasing the Trump years, instead of seeing them for what they are: the omens of a new age.

Go deeper: America's global image is in tatters

Nadav Eyal is an Israeli journalist and the author of "REVOLT: The Worldwide Uprising Against Globalization," published January 2021 by Ecco (HarperCollins).

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