As research polls go, it was pretty remarkable. The Pew Research Centre poll released recently tells of a more frightening and insecure world with American in it. That’s revealing, since the United States has been central to the economic, military, trade and intellectual global frameworks since the Second World War.
A look at the numbers reveals just how much things have changed. When asked whether U.S. power and influence formed a major threat to their respective nations, the responses were troubling. The same question was asked in an earlier poll from 2013 and reveals an interesting comparison.
DO YOU SEE U.S. POWER AND INFLUENCE AS A THREAT TO YOUR COUNTRY?
- Germany (2013) – 19% (2018) – 49%
- France (2013) – 20% (2018) – 49%
- Japan (2013) – 49% (2018) – 66%
- Britain (2013) – 22% (2018) – 37%
- Israel (2013) – 9% (2018) – 15%
- South Africa (2013) – 24% (2018) – 42%
- Russia (2013) – 37% (2018) – 43%
And Canada? Five years ago, some 23% of respondents worried about American influence; by 2018 that number had risen to 46%.
It’s easy to blame the Trump presidency for the steep rise in these numbers, but the climb was even apparent during the Obama years. Either way, the world is now keeping a cautious distance from the waning influence of the United States and actions are already underway by many of these same countries to plan a post-American world order.
Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12, 1809). For millions he is perhaps best known for what many believe to be the greatest speech in American history – the Gettysburg Address. It couldn’t be classified as political, militant or social, because it was greater than all that and transcended the urgency of the age. Abraham Lincoln uttered it on perhaps the greatest battlefield of the Civil War even as bodies from that carnage were still being identified and buried. He wasn’t even the key speaker. That task was left to Edward Everett, president ofvHarvard University who spoke for two hours – an eloquent effort. Lincoln, however, spoke for two minutes – 241 words – and when it was all over, Everett informed him, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
Lincoln’s address was full of remarkable insight, scope and logic. Reading it again, Lincoln’s grasp of America’s universal importance is extraordinary.
That was likely a good thing, since the broader world was in tumult and keenly watching the American experiment in democracy – much as is happening now. Battles were taking place for the very soul of Poland, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain and France. Even in China, with its own cultural problems, people were hearing and reading of Lincoln. It seemed as though everywhere in the world average citizens wanted significant new political reform that would permit them greater input and access.
Abraham Lincoln understood just how important his words were to be. With a restive world in a collective state of doubt as to whether America’s great experiment at democracy due to its civil war and divided citizenry would succeed, the American president knew he had to offer a perspective that would go past his country’s shores. With almost the entirety of Europe skeptical of the American scene, Lincoln had to remind them of his nation’s importance to the hope and future of the world. That’s why his brief speech involved sentences addressed to the global doubters.
“The world will little note nor long remember what we say here; but it can never forget what they did here … That the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
It’s hard to imagine words and reasonings like these originating from the White House today. America is in retreat, out of fear, protectionism and ideology. When its top political leader talks more about walls, segregation, America First, tariffs, as opposed to allies, global collaboration, defending the vulnerable through military alliances, or peace, then it is inevitable that the world will grow more cautious of its influence.
Lincoln knew on that day, 156 years ago in Gettysburg, that if America couldn’t live up to its own ideals of freedom, prosperity and happiness, its remarkable promise and leadership would dim and wane, leaving the rest of the world to turn away – just as it is doing now.
As America’s historic neighbour, sharing the longest peaceful border in the world, Canada is feeling the inclination to move on in search of other suitors. There is sense in this, but our neighbour’s self-inflicting course of action in recent years might yet turn around, as the spirit of Lincoln is once again discovered. We must do all that we can to assist in that reformation by waiting patiently, enduring insults and keeping doors open. There is too much to lose by walking away from a friend of great capacity and compassion who yet yearns to create a new birth of freedom.