American / Western Superiority (?)

Discussion of current events
User avatar
Sertorio
Posts: 4605
Joined: Fri Dec 16, 2016 3:12 am

American / Western Superiority (?)

Post by Sertorio » Fri Feb 05, 2021 3:47 am

The West Is Losing Its Soft Power
by Patrick Armstrong - February 4, 2021
https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/ ... oft-power/

“Soft power” is a useful concept whose invention is attributed to Joseph Nye in the 1980s. “Hard power” is easy enough to understand: it’s the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay or Marshal Zhukov in Berlin. But soft power is more subtle: in Nye’s words: “many values like democracy, human rights, and individual opportunities are deeply seductive.” There are two commonly used ranking lists: Portland – Soft Power 30 – and Brand – Global Soft Power Index. Portland’s top ten in 2019 were France, UK, Germany, Sweden, USA, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Australia and Netherlands. Brand’s in 2020 were USA, Germany, UK, Japan, China, France, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden and Russia. The first rating is very Eurocentric, the other includes Russia and China. Another difference is the position of the United States, but that doesn’t really make much difference to the point of my essay which is about soft power then, now and in the near future.

The Second World War brought the true flowering of the USA’s soft power; from the cargo cults of Melanesia to the cargo cults of Europe, GIs brought the dream to everyone. The USA won the war in a way that no other power did – it emerged immensely stronger and richer into a world in which its natural competitors had been impoverished. At Bretton Woods and San Francisco it shaped the new world to a degree that no other power could. And, understandably, it shaped it to its own benefit, quite convinced that it had every right to do so as the victor and exemplar of the better future. Only the USSR and its sphere grumpily disagreed.

These were the glory times of American soft power. I often think of the movie Roman Holiday in which the American reporter is civilised, polite, doesn’t take advantage of her but gives her confined life a moment of fun and freedom. The best kind of propaganda. (And, interestingly, one of the screenwriters had been blacklisted. Which gives another layer to this intensely pro-American movie, doesn’t it?)

To a friend who grew up in England before and during the Second World War, everything about the USA was exciting. That was soft power in action: bright new future. I would argue that American soft power stood on four pillars: the attractiveness and excitement of its popular culture, its reputation for efficiency, rule of law and the “American Dream”. Every American could expect that his children would be better off – better off in every respect: healthier, longer-lived, better educated, happier, richer – than he was. Some of this was image and propaganda but enough of it was true to make people believe. The wrappings of freedom, wealth and excitement made the package almost irresistible.

The USA owed a great deal of its pre-eminence to sheer luck. Sitting on immense natural resources far from enemies, almost all of its wars were wars of choice and usually wars against greatly inferior forces. But, as Stephen Walt argues, its long run of luck may be ending. “The result was a brief unipolar moment when the United States faced no serious rivals and both politicians and pundits convinced themselves that America had found the magic formula for success in an increasingly globalized world”. Walt is also dispirited about the American reputation for competence which he believes to have been severely damaged by COVID-19. One man’s opinion, to be sure, but he’s not alone. COVID-19 has greatly injured the USA’s and the West’s reputation for efficiency: no better illustration can be given than comparing the confident expectation of October 2019 that the USA and the UK could best handle a pandemic with what actually happened. A big blow to the soft power assumption that the USA and the West were the places where things functioned properly.

One of the biggest casualties has been the promise of the “American Dream”. One graph alone blows this pillar to bits.

Image

Until about 1972 wages and productivity were linked – everybody was getting richer together. Since then, the curves have diverged: productivity keeps rising, wages are flat. That’s not what was supposed to happen: the rising tide was supposed to float all boats, not just a few super yachts. The richest one percent owned six times as much as the bottom fifty percent in 1989, now it’s 15 times as much. More significantly, the 50%-90% have seen their share drop seven and a half percentage points. No, your children won’t be better off than you are; and probably not healthier or longer-lived either.

James DeLong discusses the erosion of another soft power pillar with his analysis of Amazon’s decision to deplatform Parler. His conclusion is:

a friend in the investment community likes to remind me that America has a big competitive advantage in the form of the rule of law, or “the insiders aren’t allowed to rob you blind!”. Amazon has decided to prove him wrong.

In the U.S., and the West in general, you are supposed to know where you are – you’re not subject to the ephemeral whims of a tyrant, as in less lawful regimes: transactions are grounded in law and transparent procedure. Perhaps DeLong is making too much out of something small here, but I don’t think he is. We’ve already seen the boasted principle of innocent until proven guilty disappear the moment Navalniy decides to accuse Putin of something; in the revenge of the present U.S. Administration we will see more arbitrary tyranny justified by exaggerated exigencies. If 6 January was a new Pearl Harbor, extraordinary reactions will be said to be justified. But this is becoming the Western norm: where exactly is the rule of law with Meng in Canada, Sacoulis and Assange in the UK, or Butina in the USA? Will more lawfare against Trump strengthen the image of stability and rule of law?

Neither will the 2020 U.S. election and its consequences advance the American reputation of democratic leadership. Some cheerleaders of “American leadership” like Richard N Haass are quite despondent:

No one in the world is likely to see, respect, fear, or depend on us in the same way again. If the post-American era has a start date, it is almost certainly today [6 January].

Consider the image that Biden’s inauguration sent. Rather than using the COVID excuse to plan a modest ceremony, the full panoply was undertaken. But with no supporters and with soldiers everywhere: note the motorcade pompously passing only people paid to or ordered to attend. It looked like the enthronement of a dictator after a coup. Especially now that the opposition is being censored (deplatformed, as they call it); re-labelled as “domestic terrorists“, possibly under the direction of the arch-enemy Putin; “extremists” must be removed from the U.S. military; the Enemy is already inside Congress. Fence-in the Capitol. The soft power claim of the USA to be the citadel of freedom has taken a hit and will take more.

American movies were one of the vehicles of soft power. Consider, for example, 1939’s Mr Smith Goes to Washington in which a straightforward American, James Stewart, successfully overcomes a corrupt Washington with decency and determination. Many Americans, especially Senators, didn’t get it and railed against the movie – but Spain, Italy, Germany and the USSR understood that it was a powerfully pro-American movie and banned it. Its message was that, even corrupt, the USA is better. Frank Capra made a number of movies about ordinary Americans prevailing with their Everyman decency. A very important part of soft power broadcasting decency and freedom against a background of, to much of the rest of the world, an inconceivable prosperity enjoyed by the ordinary citizen. But in today’s Hollywood’s movies there are no more decent Americans showing the way, just comic book automatons blowing each other up. No message there and no soft power either. If, as this piece wonders, China is Hollywood’s future – it’s already the largest market – then why would you need Hollywood at all? There’s no American soft power in Godzilla vs Kong.

Popular culture, competence, justice and values and the dream of betterment may have been the pillars on which the USA’s soft power was based, but the ground upon which those stood was success. Success made the others attractive; success is the most powerful attraction. The West is losing its aura of success – endless wars, divisive politics, COVID failure, financial crises, debt. And ever more desperate attempts to hold power against ever bolder dissent. It’s just beginning. And not just the USA, the West doesn’t present well any more: protests in Amsterdam, London, Berlin; a year of gillets jaunes in France. The world is watching. Not efficient, not attractive, not law-based. Not successful.

As for success, I recommend this enumeration of China’s achievements https://eurasia-news-online.com/2020/10 ... and-facts/. One after another of first or second in numerous categories. And it’s all happened in the last two or three decades. What will we see in the next two or three? That is success. That is what used to happen in the USA. But it doesn’t any more. According to numbers provided by the World Bank, the levels of extreme poverty declined significantly in the world (2000-2017), quite dramatically in China (2010-2016), significantly in Russia (2000-2010) but actually increased in the USA from 2000-2016. “Deaths of despair” are not success. Soft power will inevitable follow as other countries – probably not the West, it’s true – try to imitate China’s stunning success. To a large extent, the West is living on its capital while China is increasing its.

In retrospect, the recent Davos Forum may turn out to be an inflection moment: Putin’s speech was a blunt statement that what he foresaw at Munich in 2007 has come to pass – the patent failure of the “Washington Consensus” and unilateralism. Xi Jinping echoed it. Even Merkel promised neutrality between China and the USA.

Soft power is packing up and getting ready to move house: success attracts, failure repels.
Rather than closing their eyes to this reality, the US and the West should recognize it and stop trying to stop an unstoppable China. Peaceful coexistence with China may allow the US and the West to continue thriving, even if only as a number 2 in the world. But what's wrong with being number 2? Isn't that better than being economically and militarily crushed by China? Are we really willing to risk a military disaster to keep the fiction of US exceptionalism? By giving up confrontation and going back to diplomacy, the West may save everything which is important.

User avatar
lzzrdgrrl
Posts: 796
Joined: Fri Dec 16, 2016 8:18 pm
Location: Okie Doke

Re: American / Western Superiority (?)

Post by lzzrdgrrl » Fri Feb 05, 2021 9:47 am

Sertorio wrote:
Fri Feb 05, 2021 3:47 am
Rather than closing their eyes to this reality, the US and the West should recognize it and stop trying to stop an unstoppable China. Peaceful coexistence with China may allow the US and the West to continue thriving, even if only as a number 2 in the world. But what's wrong with being number 2? Isn't that better than being economically and militarily crushed by China? Are we really willing to risk a military disaster to keep the fiction of US exceptionalism? By giving up confrontation and going back to diplomacy, the West may save everything which is important.
It may take a few weeks or months to verify if indeed the U.S.A. is going through a psycho-emotional implosion in which the military and economic standing of China let alone the rest of the world, will have only secondary impact. I'm not so much envisioning the PRC achieving dominance over the USA, so much as arbitrating the fracturing and dissolution of the American union with the scope of preserving the economic viability of the western hemisphere and minimising the adverse global impact which that would ensure.......

My guess is that the Red States will reach out to the PRC in an alliance to arbitrate and maintain some semblance of a functional society, while the Blue States will simply go ??????......'>.......

In choosing bad over worse, even though China is a harsh authoritarian society, they do recognise and generally allow the small joys and privileges of the little people, where under the current all-encompassing Elite, there's no redemption, forgiveness, even rest. Just a continual harrowing down into the pits of hell.......
I have a certain notoriety among the lesser gods........

Ellen
Posts: 144
Joined: Tue Sep 08, 2020 10:02 pm

Re: American / Western Superiority (?)

Post by Ellen » Mon Feb 08, 2021 10:45 pm

"My guess is that the Red States will reach out to the PRC in an alliance to arbitrate and maintain some semblance of a functional society, while the Blue States will simply go ??????......'>......."


I tend to agree with you Izz. The cultural differences between Red and Blue states are becoming more like the differences between different countries, rather than regional differences within a country.

However, I don't think the Chinese will treat Red States better than the way they treat all people whom they believe to be inferior to them. They may respect Red Staters more because they value tradition, family life etc more like the Chinese and less like the Blue States. But, remember, there are traditional people in the Blue States too. Are they going to be stuck with the social disintegration that the Blue elites dictate? They can't all pack up and move to Red States.

Maybe there will be Red Zones within otherwise Blue States. South Brooklyn and Staten Island are already Red Zones within a Blue City, but does that matter?

I agree with your thinking patterns, though. I think you are heading in the right direction.

neverfail
Posts: 6406
Joined: Sun Dec 18, 2016 3:47 am
Location: Singapore

Re: American / Western Superiority (?)

Post by neverfail » Tue Feb 09, 2021 2:59 am

Ellen wrote:
Mon Feb 08, 2021 10:45 pm
However, I don't think the Chinese will treat Red States better than the way they treat all people whom they believe to be inferior to them. They may respect Red Staters more because they value tradition, family life etc more like the Chinese and less like the Blue States.
Chinese tradition and that of the (so called) red states have little in common. Very unlikely any bonds of empathy will form.
Maybe there will be Red Zones within otherwise Blue States. South Brooklyn and Staten Island are already Red Zones within a Blue City, but does that matter?
There are certainly blue zones in red states Ellen. In recent memory the state of Georgia delivered the two additional Democrats Senators needed to give Joe Biden the Democrats bare majority he needed to ensure the passage of the legislation he needs to govern properly. So that his administration's legislation will not be unduly disrupted by Republican Senators manipulated in the background by Donald Trump (who could probably cause disruption even from within a jail cell.)

How did this come about? Well, virtually all of Georgia votes Republican except for one terrestial small but demographically large spot on the map - the primate big city and commercial centre of Atlanta. The fact that those two Senators got elected represents the triumph of the city of Atlanta outvoting its rural and small town hinterland.

That seems to set the pattern for the USA as a whole. With the sole exception of Miami - in the hands of the Miami Cubans; unforgiving of Castro - all of America's states with big population centres: New York, Illinois; California etc are Democrats strongholds. These, not the backblocks states, are the economic powerhouses of the USA. I do not believe that this juxtaposition of urbanisation and Democratic Party voter support is coincidental. Urban Americans comprehend on which side their bread is buttered.

Were these "blue" states to acquire a seperate national soverignty from the "red" states due to their fiscal and economic preeminence they would easily overshadow the latter in terms of international importance - to the point where even the PRC would seek common cause with them. As for the red states, the likes of organisations like the Ku Klux Klan and the Proud Boys can have them and probably will end up doing so.

Ellen
Posts: 144
Joined: Tue Sep 08, 2020 10:02 pm

Re: American / Western Superiority (?)

Post by Ellen » Tue Feb 09, 2021 4:41 am

NF,

I know that the interpretation you have offered is popular among Blue State snobs. And there is a superficial logic to it. You are also right about Red States with Blue urban cores that now vote Democratic. Yes, internal migration of liberals from North to South has created this historic anomaly.

However, at second glance and with deeper thought, these Blue State snobs shouldn't be so gleeful and smug. Their own urban/bicoastal dystopias will become socially unviable and will be the scenes of riots - as we just recently saw in Portland, Seattle and New York. The identity groups that make up the DP all hate each other and for good reason. They are mutually incompatible as bedfellows. The only thing, and I emphasize the world ONLY, that holds them together is hatred of Trump and the GOP.

In case one has been sleeping too much recently, the old GOP is disappearing, and Trumpism will live on with new leaders and modifications along the way. The Red States will out-survive the Blue States as a new country because they enjoy social cohesion and shared values and a predominant cultural heritage. This is the key to national success, not white collar industries that produce many things of very limited value. Example: how many people can live without Facebook, if they must? How many people can live without corn, wheat, red meat, chicken's meat, minerals and oil? Really, who will outlast whom, do you think? California is already in steep decline, and that is only the beginning...

User avatar
lzzrdgrrl
Posts: 796
Joined: Fri Dec 16, 2016 8:18 pm
Location: Okie Doke

Re: American / Western Superiority (?)

Post by lzzrdgrrl » Tue Feb 09, 2021 1:23 pm

Ellen wrote:
Mon Feb 08, 2021 10:45 pm
"My guess is that the Red States will reach out to the PRC in an alliance to arbitrate and maintain some semblance of a functional society, while the Blue States will simply go ??????......'>......."


I tend to agree with you Izz. The cultural differences between Red and Blue states are becoming more like the differences between different countries, rather than regional differences within a country.

However, I don't think the Chinese will treat Red States better than the way they treat all people whom they believe to be inferior to them. They may respect Red Staters more because they value tradition, family life etc more like the Chinese and less like the Blue States. But, remember, there are traditional people in the Blue States too. Are they going to be stuck with the social disintegration that the Blue elites dictate? They can't all pack up and move to Red States.

Maybe there will be Red Zones within otherwise Blue States. South Brooklyn and Staten Island are already Red Zones within a Blue City, but does that matter?

I agree with your thinking patterns, though. I think you are heading in the right direction.
Thank you for your kind words, Ellen.....^^......

For all those concerned, I'm thinking of a pre-emptive Marshall Plan between the Red States and the PRC, minus the massive number of deaths and total devastation. As the chief global economy of the post-American world, the health and well being of the Chinese Republic will be influenced by the health and well being of the rest of the world and China holds a lion's share of the total U.S. debt. So it would be in their best interest not to let that all go *poof* and the best way to do that is to keep at least many of the people engaged in a productive and viable national project instead of figuring out a way to make the rest of the world burn....'>......

Another thing, the Chinese people and culture are still a reservoir of human wisdom and truth that attained to the West from antiquity through the high middle ages, amenable from Plato and Aristotle through St. Aquinas. I recommend this channel. In achieving Enlightenment, the West, including both Anglo and Continental traditions, seemed to have discarded basic humanity along with the divine. We cling to abstract ideals of freedom and wellbeing, while ignoring or disparaging the human qualities which make them meaningful and real - calling them 'nationalism' or 'Christianity' or 'tribalism' or 'patriarchy' or capitalism', which only mean some form of oppression, the misuse of power. Countered by the proper use of power when the only metric available is power........

In the end, history will show how the fall of the American Experiment proceeded and it will be less on the turning away from the principles of the Founding so much as smashing down on the people's will and desire to just be happy.......
I have a certain notoriety among the lesser gods........

neverfail
Posts: 6406
Joined: Sun Dec 18, 2016 3:47 am
Location: Singapore

Re: American / Western Superiority (?)

Post by neverfail » Tue Feb 09, 2021 1:26 pm

Ellen wrote:
Tue Feb 09, 2021 4:41 am
NF,

Yes, internal migration of liberals from North to South has created this historic anomaly.


:lol: A likely story!
The identity groups that make up the DP all hate each other and for good reason. They are mutually incompatible as bedfellows. The only thing, and I emphasize the world ONLY, that holds them together is hatred of Trump and the GOP.



Hatred
? What I am aware of is that over the past 5 years it is Donald Trump who has been the hate monger pointing the accusing finger; stoking up emnity between the ethnic groups. - By comparison the Democrats in public discourse seem to have been innocent of wrongdoing in that regard.
In case one has been sleeping too much recently, the old GOP is disappearing, and Trumpism will live on with new leaders and modifications along the way. The Red States will out-survive the Blue States as a new country because they enjoy social cohesion and shared values and a predominant cultural heritage.
A "cultural heritage" steeped in hatred of others? May God spare the USA.
How many people can live without corn, wheat, red meat, chicken's meat, minerals and oil?
How many farmers, mining enterprises or oil producers can survive bankruptcy for long without a market for their products? It works both ways.

Further, the US big population centres if seperated into another soverignty would not even need to buy from the soverign red states since they would by virtue of their seperate soverignty have the option of importing these items from abroad. Chicago (for instance) could be fed from Canada (lake transit); New York from Europe; Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay area from Australia and New Zealand.

User avatar
Doc
Posts: 5105
Joined: Thu Dec 15, 2016 7:09 pm
Location: Cradle To Grave

Re: American / Western Superiority (?)

Post by Doc » Tue Feb 09, 2021 1:44 pm

Ellen wrote:
Tue Feb 09, 2021 4:41 am
NF,

I know that the interpretation you have offered is popular among Blue State snobs. And there is a superficial logic to it. You are also right about Red States with Blue urban cores that now vote Democratic. Yes, internal migration of liberals from North to South has created this historic anomaly.

However, at second glance and with deeper thought, these Blue State snobs shouldn't be so gleeful and smug. Their own urban/bicoastal dystopias will become socially unviable and will be the scenes of riots - as we just recently saw in Portland, Seattle and New York. The identity groups that make up the DP all hate each other and for good reason. They are mutually incompatible as bedfellows. The only thing, and I emphasize the world ONLY, that holds them together is hatred of Trump and the GOP.

In case one has been sleeping too much recently, the old GOP is disappearing, and Trumpism will live on with new leaders and modifications along the way. The Red States will out-survive the Blue States as a new country because they enjoy social cohesion and shared values and a predominant cultural heritage. This is the key to national success, not white collar industries that produce many things of very limited value. Example: how many people can live without Facebook, if they must? How many people can live without corn, wheat, red meat, chicken's meat, minerals and oil? Really, who will outlast whom, do you think? California is already in steep decline, and that is only the beginning...
I think you are referring to Baizuos Ellen
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baizuo

Wealth is created in three ways Mining minerals, Manufacturing, and Farming. What exactly is Mined, Manufactured, or Grown in the social media industry? It more like theft than anything else.
“"I fancied myself as some kind of god....It is a sort of disease when you consider yourself some kind of god, the creator of everything, but I feel comfortable about it now since I began to live it out.” -- George Soros

User avatar
Milo
Posts: 3073
Joined: Thu Dec 15, 2016 10:14 pm

Re: American / Western Superiority (?)

Post by Milo » Tue Feb 09, 2021 1:59 pm

Oh no, people around the world might not like America so much!

In response, they might… not be able to do anything.

I… couldn’t care less!

User avatar
Sertorio
Posts: 4605
Joined: Fri Dec 16, 2016 3:12 am

Re: American / Western Superiority (?)

Post by Sertorio » Tue Feb 09, 2021 3:52 pm

lzzrdgrrl wrote:
Tue Feb 09, 2021 1:23 pm
Ellen wrote:
Mon Feb 08, 2021 10:45 pm
"My guess is that the Red States will reach out to the PRC in an alliance to arbitrate and maintain some semblance of a functional society, while the Blue States will simply go ??????......'>......."


I tend to agree with you Izz. The cultural differences between Red and Blue states are becoming more like the differences between different countries, rather than regional differences within a country.

However, I don't think the Chinese will treat Red States better than the way they treat all people whom they believe to be inferior to them. They may respect Red Staters more because they value tradition, family life etc more like the Chinese and less like the Blue States. But, remember, there are traditional people in the Blue States too. Are they going to be stuck with the social disintegration that the Blue elites dictate? They can't all pack up and move to Red States.

Maybe there will be Red Zones within otherwise Blue States. South Brooklyn and Staten Island are already Red Zones within a Blue City, but does that matter?

I agree with your thinking patterns, though. I think you are heading in the right direction.
Thank you for your kind words, Ellen.....^^......

For all those concerned, I'm thinking of a pre-emptive Marshall Plan between the Red States and the PRC, minus the massive number of deaths and total devastation. As the chief global economy of the post-American world, the health and well being of the Chinese Republic will be influenced by the health and well being of the rest of the world and China holds a lion's share of the total U.S. debt. So it would be in their best interest not to let that all go *poof* and the best way to do that is to keep at least many of the people engaged in a productive and viable national project instead of figuring out a way to make the rest of the world burn....'>......

Another thing, the Chinese people and culture are still a reservoir of human wisdom and truth that attained to the West from antiquity through the high middle ages, amenable from Plato and Aristotle through St. Aquinas. I recommend this channel. In achieving Enlightenment, the West, including both Anglo and Continental traditions, seemed to have discarded basic humanity along with the divine. We cling to abstract ideals of freedom and wellbeing, while ignoring or disparaging the human qualities which make them meaningful and real - calling them 'nationalism' or 'Christianity' or 'tribalism' or 'patriarchy' or capitalism', which only mean some form of oppression, the misuse of power. Countered by the proper use of power when the only metric available is power........

In the end, history will show how the fall of the American Experiment proceeded and it will be less on the turning away from the principles of the Founding so much as smashing down on the people's will and desire to just be happy.......
Izz,

Thank you for one of your most interesting posts here. I agree with most of what you say, and what you said was necessary to be said. Very good.

Post Reply