Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Hal Brands

America’s Soft-Power Outage Can Be Fixed

The U.S. has lost its ability to lead through attraction before, and has always regained it.

Greatly exaggerated.

Greatly exaggerated.

Photographer: Seth Herald/AFP/Getty Images

Under President Donald Trump, the collapse of American soft power — the ability of a nation to influence others through attraction rather than coercion — is real, and it's spectacular. A survey released last month by the Pew Research Center reveals that Covid-19 has accentuated a four-year slide since Trump took office: Confidence in the U.S. and its leadership has plummeted among the friends and allies that should admire the U.S. most.

It is easy to despair about whether the U.S. can regain the power of inspiration it has used to such unique strategic advantage in the past. Fortunately, history provides some consolation: American soft power has traditionally been easy to wound but remarkably hard to kill.