Harvard’s estimable Joe Nye has argued for decades that an important component of America’s ability to influence world affairs is soft power -- a culture and values that coopt other nations and makes them want to follow our lead. A notion beloved of liberals who forget that Nye also mentioned the need for hard power. Never mind. It seems that for all that ails our country as the world spins out of control, we are winning the soft power battle, with the possible exception of a couple of million folks who spend a lot of time praying for the second coming of the Caliphate, and slaughtering unbelievers just in case prayer alone won’t do the trick. “American comedy”, says Gary Silverman in the Financial Times, “is becoming global.… It is evidence of the triumph of American soft power…. The U.S. still enjoys a natural comparative advantage when it comes to the production of laughs.” Proof: the decision of HBO to give Britain’s John Oliver his own show, and of Comedy Central to fill the departing Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show to a South African comic, one Trevor Noah. All’s well, then. Never mind that this month Toyota outsold all American car manufacturers, that Walmart is a display case for the output of subsidized Chinese factories, that Vladimir Putin has escalated provocative flights by his war planes and is musing about using nuclear weapons, which will soon be part of Iran’s arsenal. Or that Noah has a fondness for jokes that have great appeal to the rising number of anti-Semites in the world, or that our “production of laughs” includes the snickering our overseas adversaries permit themselves when our President proclaims victory in Yemen. Our soft power conquers all.
To be fair, soft power -- creating a desire by other countries to emulate us -- has it triumphs. Boris Johnson, the tousled, popular mayor of London is stepping down to run for Parliament and position himself to knock David Cameron off his Tory leadership perch at the earliest opportunity. Talk in London is that an ideal successor would be none other than Mike Bloomberg, fresh from three terms as mayor of New York City. Bloomberg’s former wife and children are British citizens, Mayor Mike holds an honorary knighthood granted by Her Majesty for his “prodigious entrepreneurial and philanthropic endeavours” in Britain, serves on several charitable UK boards and, says the Sunday Times (London), “regards Britain as his second home” -- of which he owns one, a £20 million mansion abutting Harrods. Alas, the legal residency requirement only allows British subjects and citizens from EU countries to run for London mayor -- France’s president, Francois Hollande, soon to be out of work after helping to wreck his country’s economy with a 75% tax on the rich, many of whom fled to Britain along with 400,000 young French men and women disparate for jobs, would be eligible for a shot at the Boris’ old post: after all, London is France’s sixth largest city. But not Mike. Enter soft power, which presumably explains Londoners’ desire to emulate New Yorkers. Talk is that the Home Secretary will decide that the £500 million Bloomberg has invested in Britain, plus the skyscraper being built to house the European headquarters of Bloomberg LP, warrant waiving meddlesome rules. Which she might well do in a bow to the soft power of, well, billions of pounds of investment unencumbered by Russian and Arab owners.