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The World Is Still Getting Better—Even Under Trump

Putting New Threats in Perspective

Donald Trump at a tank manufacturing plant in Lima, Ohio, March 2019 Carlos Barria / Reuters

Seven years ago, we argued in this magazine that U.S. foreign policy thinking was dominated by pervasive threat inflation—a tendency among U.S. leaders to exaggerate the dangers the country faces and in so doing distort foreign policy decision-making. This chronic embellishment and exaggeration occurred despite the fact that                

the world that the United States inhabits today is a remarkably safe and secure place. It is a world with fewer violent conflicts and greater political freedom than at virtually any other point in human history. All over the world, people enjoy longer life expectancy and greater economic opportunity than ever before. The United States faces no plausible existential threats, no great-power rival, and no near-term competition for the role of global hegemon. . . . Although the United States faces a host of international challenges, they pose little risk to the overwhelming majority of American citizens.

Our arguments have certainly been tested in the interim. Events such as Brexit, the Syrian civil war, and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, alongside such negative trends as the global retreat of democracy and the growing threat of climate change, have created an impression that the world is indeed getting more dangerous. Does our thesis hold up? Is the world really getting safer, freer, wealthier, healthier, and better educated, and are the dangers to the United States still vastly overstated? As we argue in our new book, Clear and Present Safety: The World Has Never Been Better and Why That Matters to Americans, the case for optimism remains strong.

Global poverty rates are still falling, and global life expectancy continues to increase. Despite conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, the level of violence in the world today is historically low. Diseases and parasites that once ravaged poor countries, such as polio and guinea worm, are nearing eradication. Substantial progress has been made in fighting HIV/AIDS and malaria.  Maternal and infant mortality rates are falling. Today, a greater percentage of girls go to

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