During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump told a powerful story about the United States’ role in global affairs. It was a dramatic narrative full of free-riding allies, unchecked globalization, and nuclear brinkmanship. Refugees and immigrants were cast as villains, repressive regimes like Russia and China were regarded with admiration, and human rights and democratic freedoms were pushed to the sidelines. As a candidate, Trump painted a gloomy portrait of American weakness and decline, trends that he promised to reverse.
To the surprise of some and the fears of many, Trump’s dark vision resonated and continues to resonate over a year into his presidency. A quarter century as the world’s sole superpower has numbed much of the country to the role of global affairs in daily life. A July 2017 Pew survey found that nearly half of Americans agreed with the statement that the United States needs to “pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems here at home.”
It’s an understandable feeling. American families are strapped. They’re focused on their jobs, their homes, their kids, and their savings. They’re anxious about the health care bills they have to pay today, not the troubles of tomorrow happening thousands of miles away.
Add to that the perception that global engagement has left many Americans worse off, and the disdain for foreign policy compounds. For them, globalization represents a complex system of influence, wealth, and power that buoys the rich and well connected at the expense of everyone else. Working-class sons and daughters are sacrificed for wars with misguided motives and uncertain ends. Their jobs are sent overseas, their family businesses are surrendered to some greater good they can’t take part in, and their communities become economic afterthoughts. On top of that, Americans feel less safe. Terrorism has struck at home. The Islamic State (ISIS) and other extremists seem too powerful. Victory in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere remains elusive despite years of sacrifice. It is easy to
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