When Obama was elected, the United States was not terribly well-liked in the world. By the time he was sworn in, a growing share of the world’s population — including Americans — believed that American power and influence were on the wane. Nearly eight years later, the United States is looked upon more favorably in most (although not all) parts of the globe, and perceptions of American economic power have returned to pre-2008 levels. Americans themselves have greater confidence in the relative power of the U.S. economy than at any time in the post-2008 era.None of these outcomes — particularly perceptions of economic influence — was preordained after the 2008 financial crisis. I have no doubt that a lot of readers believe that Obama has squandered the public goodwill given to him by the rest of the world. But credit where it’s due: If perception itself is a form of power, then Obama has made the United States great again.
Mr. Obama’s long view of history and the optimism (combined with a stirring reminder of the hard work required by democracy) that he articulated in his farewell speech last week are part of a hard-won faith, grounded in his reading, in his knowledge of history (and its unexpected zigs and zags), and his embrace of artists like Shakespeare who saw the human situation entire: its follies, cruelties and mad blunders, but also its resilience, decencies and acts of grace. The playwright’s tragedies, he says, have been “foundational for me in understanding how certain patterns repeat themselves and play themselves out between human beings.”
There’s a huge amount of fault. He hasn’t paid attention to the people around him. He’s only looked at the big picture this season. His major fault is a bit like Ned [Stark]’s in that when trying to do the right thing he wasn’t observing the people around him. He had blinders on. All he could really see is this impending doom by the White Walkers and doing things for the greater good, and what he was missing was Olly and [Ser Alliser] Thorne and some of the men around him. He wasn’t seeing their discontent and dealing with the smaller issues. And because of that, he’s served justice. Olly puts the last dagger in him. In that moment I think he realizes that he didn’t look after his kin, this young man, and let him down.
Even if we manage to endure the next four years and then oust him in the next election, from this point forward we will always be the country that elected Donald Trump as President. And as Albert Finney knew all too well in Under the Volcano, “some things, you just can’t apologize for.” This will be felt most acutely on the world stage. Keep in mind that in those areas where Trump departs from traditional Republican positions, such as those regarding trade and international security, congressional power is much weaker. Trump can start a trade war or provoke an international crisis just by tweeting executive orders from the White House. And that damage will prove irreversible. Because from now on, and for a very long time, countries around the world will have to calculate their interests, expectations, and behavior with the understanding that this is America, or, at the very least, that this is what the American political system can plausibly produce. And so the election of Trump will come to mark the end of the international order that was built to avoid repeating the catastrophes of the first half the twentieth century, and which did so successfully — horrors that we like to imagine we have outgrown. It will not serve us well.