America’s falling global standing is no cause for glee

Daniel Wagner says the world had better brace itself for the unknown risks of a new international order in which the US, reeling from a divided presidential campaign, will play a less useful role

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 October, 2016, 12:23pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 October, 2016, 7:08pm

The damage that has been done to the American psyche as a result of this circus of a presidential election is disastrous and will have lingering consequences. The American political process has been reduced to sound bites filled with idiocy, insults, superficiality and non sequiturs. It does not say much good about America’s people, government or media that they have allowed their electoral process to descend to such depths.

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Does a person’s looks, race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation really matter more to the majority of Americans than a person’s life story, ambitions, values, work ethic or knowledge about the world? A great many people in the US and around the world must be asking this very question, and rightly so.

America’s founding fathers would surely be spinning in their graves if they were able to witness the depravity and vacuous rhetoric of this presidential campaign. America has gone from the era of Abraham Lincoln and fireside chats to reality TV and soap operas. How sad that America’s political process is no longer one that other countries may wish to aspire to, and that so many Americans appear to have embraced this descent into the mundane and the profane. If the US can no longer be the guiding light that represents the aspirations of billions of people around that world, what country may take its place? Can another country take its place?

Although it now looks as though Hillary Clinton will indeed ascend to the presidency in January, and many people around the world will be genuinely relieved, there is also reason to be greatly concerned. She will preside over a terribly broken political system and greater divisiveness than America has seen in many decades. There is serious doubt about whether she has the inclination or ability to be the type of change agent that propelled Donald Trump to the Republication nomination – which America very much needs.

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That is America’s problem, but if America cannot fix it – and soon – not only does its ability to help solve the plethora of issues that plague the world stand to be severely impaired, the US may no longer necessarily be sought out to help do so. It is already the case that the geopolitical sands are shifting well beyond the Middle East. Russia and China are flexing their muscles with success far beyond their borders, and unforeseen alliances are taking shape (such as between China and the Philippines and between Russia and Turkey), with unknown consequences for Washington and the rest of the world. As a result of this, and America’s current orientation toward isolationism, the US stands the risk of becoming even less relevant on the global stage.

America has gone from the era of Abraham Lincoln and fireside chats to reality TV and soap operas

The US is being challenged economically, politically and militarily as some emerging countries and former superpowers seek to establish or re-establish their place in the world, and other countries continue to march to their own tune. The Chinese renminbi has recently been added as a reserve currency in the International Monetary Fund – the first time a new currency has been added since 1999. Many countries no longer use the US dollar as the currency of choice for cross-border trade. America’s military “pivot to Asia” is ringing increasingly hollow as the Philippines slowly drifts away from the US orbit, North Korea marches towards having full nuclear military capability, and the South China Sea controversy continues to swirl. And America’s previous supremacy in multilateral institutions is regularly and successfully superseded.

The US has plenty of challenges at home, and an equal number of challenges abroad. While Americans continue to be mesmerised and sickened by the course of this presidential election, many appear to have lost sight of the bigger picture, which is that, as the world continues to convulse, the US is becoming less able to meaningfully influence it. While many around the world may think that is a good thing, it has not been the case for more than a century. There are a great many risks involved in transitioning away from a world dominated by the US. There are too many unknown unknowns, and America is becoming too ill-prepared to lend a hand. That has implications for everyone.

Daniel Wagner is managing director of Risk Cooperative and co-author of the new book Global Risk Agility and Decision Making