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“A moment of reckoning for the United States at home and abroad”

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Between the ongoing George Floyd protests, the coronavirus pandemic and the related recession, the United States is experiencing an unprecedented historical moment. Torrey Taussig, research director at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School, talked to Kai Ryssdal about what this moment looks like for the U.S in terms of its global relationships and the country’s voice on the world stage.

The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Ryssdal: Let’s start big picture here. What do you make of this moment in this country with all this going on and the idea of American influence abroad?

Taussig: This is certainly a moment of reckoning for the United States at home and abroad. Let’s take a step back even before the protests started to talk about how the United States was dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. And I think that there are two important issues to focus on. The first is that the pandemic has reprioritized and energized efforts in the United States and elsewhere to nationalize supply chains. And the second issue I wanted to focus on is the United States and other countries may take protectionist measures in order to boost domestic industries. And I think, this will, of course, have a negative effect on global trade routes. We’re likely to see a turn toward protectionism moving forward.

Ryssdal: So let’s take it from the foreign point of view here for a minute. And if you’re a traditional American ally, let’s say you are Angela Merkel in Germany, or let’s say you’re Japan and you’re looking at how this country is handling the coronavirus pandemic, the protests and its general attitude toward international affairs from the Trump administration. What is your gut telling you?

Taussig: There’s been a general sadness and dismay, I think, among American allies that they’ve lost their traditional partner in solving big global issues, whether they be on pandemics or economic crises. And it’s clear that the Trump administration and our government is distracted by major economic and health crises here at home, and now protests that are inhibiting our ability to be a stronger voice for these values overseas.

Ryssdal: Is there anything at risk in this moment for America’s position as a globally economically dominant player? What’s on the line?

Taussig: There are many ways that the U.S. carries out influence abroad, economic and otherwise. I worry that this is a time where we’re seeing our convening power, our coalition-building power severely reduced, whether that be because of distraction at home or the Trump administration’s lack of interest in working with European allies. I mean, we saw early on in this pandemic the United States block consensus statements coming out at the G-7 and the G-20 because allies weren’t getting on board with blaming or punishing China enough. European Union, it carried out a series of fundraising efforts last month to raise money for coronavirus vaccine research. The United States voice was absent; they didn’t contribute to the funding. These are just two examples of how the U.S. voice has been reduced on the world stage where allies have traditionally looked for the U.S. to play a bigger leadership role and convening role.

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