America’s position as a world leader is clearly fading. During my travels, I’ve seen the reaction to U.S. policy and performance, and we are not making friends. In fact, our relationships with other countries is tattered, perhaps even shredded. After the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, we have real work to do to repair international partnerships, and it won’t be easy, especially because other nations are facing some uncertainty of their own. At the same time, we have urgent needs at home simply because our country is deeply divided and, in many cases, people refuse to listen and go so far as to demean and delegitimatize. It’s imperative that we put these problems In Focus so we can truly understand this worrisome situation and figure out how to fix it.
I know that most of the focus of these conversations, reports, are about domestic American politics, but I thought that being here in Verona, Italy, it would be a great opportunity to focus on where America stands globally.
And I hate to tell you this, but the situation for the U.S. is pretty stark and pretty dark across the globe.
Three reasons. Number one, the impact of Afghanistan.
I was in the U.K. when that happened and the reaction of the British government, the conservative British government, was significant, immediate, and very hostile.
And the US will have a lot of rebuilding to do if it’s to link the relationship, the special relationship that we have with the British.
The French were angry with us. The Germans were angry with us, the way that we departed, how quickly we did and the fact that we did not inform our allies is going to be problematic for the U.S., not just for the coming months, the coming years.
Second is the issue of China. I hear it here in Verona. I heard it in Paris. I hear it in London.
The feeling is that there is no coordinated effort on China, that there hasn’t been a strategy or a set of tactics to deal with the aggression and to deal with the challenges economically.
The number one priority for Americans and the British is to bring the supply chain back to Europe and to America. But I don’t see that policy at all.
And then the third issue is this overall concept of global cooperation.
The idea that the western nations will work together, will compromise together to get things done.
In my time in politics in the last 35 years, I don’t remember a situation when we were more divided, not just internally in America, but more divided in terms of the global communication, the global community and the fact that each nation has its own set of priorities, and it is not willing to compromise.
In these travels that I’ve taken over the last 90 days, it’s been very depressing for me to see how the U.S. has lost its leadership level. And I, you cannot just blame it on Joe Biden. This has been happening over the last few years. The sense that this America first policy had really alienated other countries.
But the combination of Trump’s go it alone policy, and Joe Biden is doing exactly the same thing just from a different perspective, has made the rest of the world wonder whether America really is fit to lead.
In Britain, they always use the phrase “fit for purpose”. And I don’t know, as someone who studies public opinion and understands politics as it works, I don’t know what America’s purpose is right now. And the rest of the world clearly doesn’t either.
(Frank standing in front of a chained-up building.)
This is the way Italy used to be. And one wonders what’s going to happen to the west.
Part of my job as a pollster is to be following elections, not just in the U.S., but across the globe. So if I can share with you, it’s particularly appropriate in a place like this. In Italy, the government seems to be stable, which is important because they suffered the most from COVID. They were given an additional, a $15 billion bailout, Euro, actually 15 Euro bailout. And if they can demonstrate that they can spend it wisely, it’ll send a message to the rest of Europe. If they fail at that, I don’t know what happens to the governments.
You’ve got the imminent elections in Germany where Angela Merkel, who has been a fixture for the last decade disappears and what is likely to happen in her wake is instability and insecurity that right now, the left and the right in Germany are split dead even just as it is in the U.S. And that is very problematic. The outcome – Germany plays the lead role in the European economy, and it is people that are wondering whether or not it will be able to continue that in the post-Merkel era.
In France, they are now within a year of that election. And Macron, one of the reasons why I believe he’s been, he has taken center stage in the global discussion about national security is because he’s having trouble in his own country, coalescing support from the right of center, center, and left of center. And so he’s using his frustration with the U.S. and with Australia as a way to galvanize his own popularity in Paris.
And third is Great Britain, which has pulled out of Europe and has done so successfully. But the challenge there, quite frankly, is what happens to the economy there in the post-Brexit period?
Now that’s all in the backdrop of America being more polarized today. We are at all-time levels of left and right, and against each other, that the percentage of people who identify themselves as moderates is an all-time low, that people are moving to the extremes of the political spectrum, and the intensity of dislike and de-legitimization of people towards the other side is also at all-time records.
I am afraid that we will end up like this if we don’t figure out a way to talk to each other, to communicate with each other, this is not a political message. This is a message about society and the conditions of where things are in America today. It is genuinely frightening.
I’ve been doing this work now since 1987. We can’t talk to each other. We can’t communicate to each other. In focus groups I do in the United Kingdom, they all want to hear each other’s points of view. And they’re all respectful. The problem in the U.S. is not only do they not want to hear each other’s points of view, they reject them.
They dehumanize people. And so I leave you with this one thought: this was a great building. I don’t know if you can see it on the video, but there are actually holes in the walls. This thing was built 300 years ago, and now there’s netting up there.
And this is what happens when a great society rots from within. I don’t want to see that in the U.S. and the public opinion and the focus groups and what we have done over the last few months scares the hell out of me because I can see the rot. And more importantly, I can hear it.
And let’s hope that over the coming weeks and months, we can find some way to address it because I don’t want America to end up like this.