America's soft power isn't the problem
Our culture is dominant, it's hard power we should worry about
Everyone and his mother already dunked on this Twitter thread from Portuguese public intellectual Bruno Maçães last week. Today I’m going to dunk again because it’s really wrong.
What I think is particularly bad about this take is that there really is cause to be concerned about America’s standing in the world.
It’s easy to dismiss Maçães’ rant as a haters gonna hate situation, but the fact is, a lot of things are not going that well for American power at the moment, and we’re facing some really troubling trends. Under the circumstances, though, it’s perverse to pick at what I think is pretty clearly America’s great strength: We are the preeminent cultural superpower in a way that is probably unprecedented in all of human history. In cultural terms, we’re close to achieving the status of a kind of universal empire that only the People’s Republic of China stands largely outside of.
But our hard power — in terms of our super-literal ability to manufacture military gear — is flagging, our alliance systems seem dysfunctional, and our domestic political institutions are ossified.
Perhaps most alarmingly of all, precisely because American culture is so universal and so dominant, it’s become comically easy for foreign actors to pick at the scabs of our culture wars for their own purposes. It’s not necessarily that we are a more divided society than any other, but our divisions are so clear and legible to outsiders — and our internal debates so open to them — that we’re subject to a kind of asymmetrical culture jamming.