Paul Andersen: Joe Nye’s ‘Soft Power’ will trump Trump

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

A New York Times op-ed piece by Joseph Nye took me back to my cherished years as a rapporteur for the Aspen Institute. Rapporteur was a glamorous title for reporting on policy discussions between global luminaries, among whom Joseph Nye stood out.

In 1989, Nye introduced me — and the world — to the notion of Soft Power. I heard him describe it in Aspen with his fluent authority, and I knew that I was listening to a learned man who knew what he was talking about.

Nye is an American political scientist. He is the co-founder, along with Robert Keohane, of the international relations theory of neoliberalism, developed in their 1977 book, “Power and Interdependence.” He is a university distinguished service professor, emeritus, and former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Nye’s nuanced understanding of the world contrasts dramatically with the “Lawlessness and Disorder” reign that will be the Donald Trump legacy when he is removed from office in November. Once the voters say, “You’re fired!” the national wrecking ball and his sycophants will fade into the deep, dark recesses of history.

“President Trump claims he ‘made America great again,’” wrote Nye in his February op-ed. “The facts show just the opposite. The United States has lost credibility since 2017. The president’s looseness with the truth has debased the currency of trust that is needed in a crisis, and his continual disdain for our allies means we have fewer friends.”

When Trump declared on an international stage earlier this year, “This is not the time of globalists, it’s the time of patriots,” the writing was on the wall. According to Nye: “When Donald Trump interprets ‘America First’ in a narrow way, he makes everyone else feel second class. … When our policies appear hypocritical, arrogant and indifferent to others’ views, the government can undermine our nation’s soft power.”

Nye explains, “America’s soft power is the power to attract rather than command.” This simple yet profound message should serve as an admonition to all American leaders who earn the power and trust to govern wisely. Meanwhile, the rampant nationalism underscored by Trump & Co. has led to undermining wise governance and long-term international stability.

“Our power,” Nye writes, “comes not only from our military and economic might. Most previous presidents have understood that power also comes from being able to attract others. If we can get you to want what we want, then we do not have to force others to do what we want.”

Trump’s doctrine of force is the complete opposite of Nye’s enlightened Soft Power strategy. Presidential bluster has rarely been more on display than it is today with the chief executive who wears a perpetual scowl while advocating violent vigilantism.

“If the United States represents values that others want to follow,” intones Nye, “we can economize on sticks and carrots. Added to hard power, the soft power of attraction is what the military calls a force multiplier. And that makes our values a source of American power.”

Nye employs a common metaphor in the raising of children, speaking in terms even Trump might understand were he ever to consider a viewpoint that differs from his intractable and egocentric dogmas.

“Wise parents know that their power will be greater and will last longer if they exemplify sound ethical values for their children,” Nye observes, “rather than relying only on spankings, allowances or taking away the car keys.”

Sound ethical values are sorely lacking in the Trump administration as seen by the jail sentences and pardons of Trump allies. The errant president will no doubt be issuing more pardons in the future — including for himself.

America’s soft power, states Nye, derives from living up to American values as seen through legitimate policies, in the way our government behaves at home, and with international relationships through smart foreign policy.

“In all of these areas, Mr. Trump has reversed attractive American policies and made America weaker rather than greater,” Nye concludes.

Nye’s recent book, “Do Morals Matter? Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump,” should be required reading for all political leaders, and especially for Trump.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at


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