Up to this point, however, they and other have relied on a U.S. political system over which they had no control. The fact that the old arrangement endured for decades didn’t mean that it was permanent or popular here in the United States. But now the bills are coming due.
The U.S. military, the largest and most powerful in the world by a wide margin, is allegedly starved for cash. President Trump wants to fix that.
How to pay for it? For American hegemony to persist, its defenders must tell the American people to accept cuts in popular domestic programs, higher taxes, more government debt, or all three of these things, all so that our allies don’t feel the need to defend themselves.
It seems unlikely that Americans will buy into that arrangement—and Trump seems disinclined to ask them to do so. Americans have never been strongly supportive of the idea of being the world’s policeman, but the issue has rarely had political salience. American elections are not won or lost on a candidate’s commitment to preserving American hegemony. Thus, policymakers tended to ignore the public’s views. On Friday, Donald Trump made a solemn pledge that he wouldn’t.
To be sure, Americans are sensitive to the perception of relative decline, strategic weakness, or increased vulnerability to threats. But Trump’s signature slogan is “Make America Great Again.” Not “Make American Hegemony Great Again.” We already have a better sense of what that actually means.
Looking ahead, even those who don’t welcome the end of American hegemony should recognize that they may be powerless to stop that from happening. They were, after all, unable to stop Trump.
That means that we Americans—and the entire world—must get serious about what comes next. If Donald Trump follows through on his inaugural promises, the United States is likely to step back from its role as the world’s umpire. He will focus instead on rebuilding its strength here at home. I believe that we should do that, though I doubt that the president’s protectionist agenda will make America stronger.
But if the Trump administration does change course, away from American hegemony, we should do so in a well thought‐out and deliberate way. Rather than merely reacting to presidential pronouncements issued 140 characters at a time, we should move deliberately to construct a new, more resilient international order, one based on timeless principles of self‐determination, self‐reliance and self‐defense, and that is no longer dependent upon the military power of a single nation and its people.