A country’s soft power comes primarily from three sources

A country’s soft power comes primarily from three sources: its culture (when it is attractive to others), its political values such as democracy and human rights (when it lives up to them), and its policies (when they are seen as legitimate because they are framed with some humility and awareness of others’ interests. That is all the more reason for governments to make sure that their own actions and policies create and reinforce rather than undercut and squander their soft power. Skeptics might still argue that the rise and fall of American soft power does not matter much because countries cooperate out of self-interest. In all of these areas, Trump has reversed attractive American policies. It is true that firms, universities, foundations, churches, and other non-governmental groups develop soft power of their own which may reinforce or be at odds with official foreign policy goals. Unlike hard-power assets (such as armed forces), many soft-power resources are separate from the government and are only partly responsive to its purposes. Even when mistaken policies reduce its attractiveness, America’s ability to criticize and correct its mistakes makes it attractive to others at a deeper level. Soft power rests on attraction rather than coercion or payment. Donald Trump’s presidency has eroded America’s soft power. Trump’s defenders reply that soft power does not matter.