In an apparent, though perhaps unintended, attempt to drive the U.S.A.’s reputation downwards, the Donald Trump administration is doing spectacularly well. A few weeks ago, this column identified the rapid decline of this country’s international reputation viz-a-viz the recent Pew International Survey. This week, another reliable international study, continued reporting on that trend.
In “The Soft Power 30” 2017 survey, which is an annual comparison of the diplomatic influence and leverage of current nation-states, the U.S.A. has just fallen from number one (2010—2016) to number three, behind France and Great Britain. The dominant reason for that fall? The chaotic Trump administration’s lack of diplomatic clarity, coordination and respectability. Much of the world no longer trusts the U.S.A.
The Soft Power Index is compiled by Jonathan McClory of Portland Public Relations, which is a “strategic communications consultancy” which works with governments and non-governmental organizations. The Index was also produced in association with the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy. The Portland branch out of which the annual report is compiled is in Singapore, and it uses not only digital data but public surveys to accumulate the raw material for its report.
The USC Center, established in 2003, is noted as being the “world’s first academic institution dedicated to the study of international public diplomacy.” It combined its School of International Relations with its Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism into a solid partnership to study the modern phenomenon of “soft power.”
The Portland surveys came from 25 different countries in every section of the globe, and asked questions on a country’s food, friendliness, digital engagement, perceived foreign policy objectives, liveability, tech products, luxury goods, etc.
Soft power here is defined as, intergovernmental and organizational influence gained through policy, diplomacy, and cultural strength. This is opposed to “hard power,” which traditionally has meant military strength, economic might and general coercive capability from one nation-state to another. Hard power meant the ability to impose one’s will onto another. The modern world has changed the definitiveness of the iron hand to the murkier strength of influence in the digital and interactive world. In the current world, non-state actors can be as influential—or even more influential—than organized state governments. It is an acknowledgement that “it is the ability to encourage collaboration and build networks and relationships which is the new currency in the world. Power with others can be more effective than power over others.” That was the foreign policy game mastered by former president Barack Obama, but still poorly understood by others in the U.S.
Behind the U.S. in the Soft Power rankings, but gaining rapidly, as Asia is on the rise and the U.S. seems to be in decline, are (4) Germany, (5) Canada, (6) Japan, (7) Switzerland, (8) Australia, (9) Sweden, and (10) the Netherlands. China is not yet in the top tier of the rankings, but we all know it is coming. China already ranks as Africa’s number one trade and diplomatic partner and is gaining influence and traction worldwide.
Donald Trump may well be on track to self-destruct as the U.S. president. The issue is, how much irreparable damage will his administration have done to this country’s reputation and international standing by the time he is no longer in charge?
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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