America’s Role in the World

Alan Zendell, November 3, 2020

I grew up in New York City in the years following World War 2. In many ways New York seemed to be the center of the universe back then, because it represented the financial and cultural heart of the United States, which emerged from the war as the world’s first superpower. It was heady to be a child in those years. Our parents and teachers, our government and radio news commentators painted a picture of a devastated world in which only Americans managed to maintain our values and our standard of living.

I grew up thinking we were the best at everything. We were told we were rebuilding Germany and Japan and feeding the world. We hosted the United Nations. We were very proud of ourselves and most of the world seemed to look to us as a model of democracy.

I know now that a lot of that was illusion. Much of America was illiterate, we hadn’t begun to tackle our racial problems, and the majority of Americans couldn’t afford medical care. Democracy? Voter suppression was so deeply ingrained in our society, we didn’t even notice it back then. Yet, as victors go, we really behaved admirably. An entire generation of children had every reason to believe the propaganda that we were the best country in the world, and then, the leader of the so-called Free World during the Cold War. NATO was strong, and we began to build alliances in Asia and South America. We even landed on the Moon.

Given all that, it’s quite a shock to know that billions of people outside the United States are watching our election almost as breathlessly as we are. They watch CNN all over the world. When my son lived in Australia, he was astounded by the degree to which people focused on what happened here. His wife, who grew up in the Philippines told me her family and friends followed American news and financial markets as closely as their own. And anyone who has traveled internationally runs into the same thing. The rest of the world watches what happens here, sometimes with more urgency than we do.

I am stunned by the way our role in the world has been reversed. Today, when people in other countries watch us, they cross their fingers and themselves, praying that we can right our ship before it sinks. Because if our grand experiment goes down in flames, the entire world will be in chaos. Trump is right about one thing. We have been supporting our Allies for decades. NATO might well have collapsed if we hadn’t accepted the financial burden of propping it up. Europe cannot possibly withstand an expansionist Russia militarily, nor can it trade on an equal footing with China on its own. If we turn inward and isolationist as Trump advocates, if America goes it alone, every other country is on its own too.

Our allies understand that that does not bode well for them. There will be more incursions like Ukraine’s and more terrorist activity. Eastern Europe will be at Russia’s mercy if we’re not actively in the game. That’s what they believe is at stake for them if Trump is re-elected. We, as Americans, are rightly concerned about how long we can sustain ourselves with our partisan dysfunction. If we don’t find a way to fix it, our “Democracy” will be in great peril. But in some ways, it’s worse for our allies, who have depended on us to be there for support for seventy-five years.

Watching the America they have always looked up to succumb to Trumpian darkness must horrify them, much like the break-up of a large extended family. As Americans we are concerned with our standing in the world, with whether other countries respect us more than fear us. With the problems of the pandemic and the divisiveness Trump has energized at home, it’s easy to lose sight of how that affects the rest of the world.

That shouldn’t be the determining factor when another sixty million Americans cast their votes today, but it’s a reality we’ll have to live with if Trump pulls out a victory while losing big in the popular vote. Being a mockery in the eyes of the world won’t be pleasant. But having to live with the mockery we make of ourselves will be worse.

Joe Biden may not be able fix everything that’s wrong and reverse the damage Trump has done. But the entire world knows he will do his level best because that’s who he is. I’m actually pretty optimistic. I think there will be a blue wave that puts our country back on the right path.

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2 Responses to America’s Role in the World

  1. William Kiehl says:

    The US has had troops on the ground in Germany and Japan for 75 years. I was one of them back in the 1970’s (Japan was preferable to Vietnam). How long can we do this? 100 years? 200 years? I think at some point, UStroops will be a token presence to serve as a tripwire rodeter the Chinese and Russians from overt aggression. That being said, in the case of China, I think that given their size, wealth and technical sophistication, they will dominate East Asia to some degree. The question is how much?

    Perhaps the way forward is for the US to be the lead nation in a European Alliance and an Asian Alliance. The member nations would supply the bulk of the troops, aircraft, etc, with the US providing a token presence of troops and of course our nuclear umbrella. Lots of questions but not many answers.

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