The End of the America Era?
Updated: Apr 19
Since 1945, the President of the United States has been casually known as ‘the leader of the free world.’ President Truman, supported heavily by George Marshall, made the decision to implement Marshal Aid in Europe following the Second World War, thus paving the way for America to take charge, taking the lead through most global disasters in the twentieth century. It is the only era that most people today can remember, growing up in the glow of ‘Americanism.’ However, now seems the time to ask the question, is this an era that is coming to an end?
Ever since Donald Trump took office in 2017, American foreign policy has been changing. Reminiscent to the era before World War Two, it has slowly began to become more isolationist and inward looking. Everything down to Trumps famous slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ and his promise of a wall at the Mexican border have made one thing clear, America’s interests come before anything else. Arguably this is a change that has been happening over some time, Obama’s administration preferred a ‘lead from behind’ approach, but Trump came in as a hurricane, determined to escalate the process. It was the right time for the American people as well, many of whom felt frightened and marginalised, fearful that their culture was being damaged from the perceived threat of immigration. Trump took advantage of this and used it to create a tidal wave, on top of which rode the words ‘America First.’
In the last year, we have seen the acceleration of the decline of US power in the Middle East, somewhere that has been a stronghold for American influence in recent history. At the end of 2019, Trump announced the removal of American troops in Syria, abandoning not just its bases but also its Kurdish allies. The immense cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has made Trump’s administration wary of further military involvement and appear unfazed by the decline in influence this undoubtably brings. While this administration has remained fairly obsessed with defeating Islamic State, it has sharply reduced the support given to areas that have been devastated by the terrorist group, thus increasing the chances of them being recaptured. Making grand sweeping statements appears to be a prominent aspect of Trump’s leadership style, but the lack of action behind these words means that we are seeing a substantial decline in American international influence.
2020 has seen the world staggeringly hit by the coronavirus, a disease which has proven that no border is impenetrable. Far from being the nation leading the world through this tragedy, President Trump seems even incapable of adequately leading the US response. Criticism has been mounting against him about a lack of testing, inconsistent policies and the accusation that he has not acted fast enough. Even today, many states do not have lockdowns in place, leading some to wonder if the entire country is headed for the same fate as New York. In a fit to divert attention, Trump has begun lashing out at the World Health Organisation, accusing it of being ‘China-centric’ and arguing that it made a huge mistake with its policies in the early days of the crisis. Trump has also offered to give to help other nations, such as the United Kingdom after their Prime Minister was admitted to intensive care. In the meantime, the Governor of New York has been begging the government to provide ventilators and financial aid to the badly-hit state. Only a few days ago, Trump was claiming he could have the US economy reopen by the Easter weekend, when in reality America now has the most cases recorded around the world and is most likely heading for its most devastating few weeks.
This botched response to such a brutal crisis has left many wondering if we are seeing the end of the ‘era of America.’ This is not a new question, indeed since Trump took office in 2017 this process has rapidly accelerated, however it could be that the coronavirus is the final straw for the ‘leader of the free world.’ Not only does Trump’s administration want to be more isolationist, this crisis has proven that they are no longer capable of leading the world through disasters, in fact perhaps they cannot even lead their own nation through it. Perhaps it is time to say goodbye to the era of America and pave the way for a new world order.
At the time of writing, Ellie is a fourth year student at the University of Cape Town. She is studying Justice and Transformation. Areas that interest her are human rights, conflict resolution and migration.