Senator Elizabeth Warren in Iowa, June 2019. CREDIT: <a href="">Lorie Shaull</a> <a href'=""(CC)</a>
Senator Elizabeth Warren in Iowa, June 2019. CREDIT: Lorie Shaull

Crafting Narratives and the 2020 Elections

Oct 30, 2019

This article first appeared on the Ethics & International Affairs blog.

The project on U.S. Global Engagement has released its report, The Search for a New Narrative: Recasting American Involvement in the International System. The report lays out different and competitive narratives for the role the U.S. should be playing in the world, but notes that, for the first time since 1952, there is no one dominant narrative. As we move into the elections, the choice is framed not simply between candidates but between perspectives. As the report concludes:

U.S. policy emerges from coalitions, so charting the emergence of competing narratives becomes important for understanding the balances that will drive policymaking and the limits to any policy proposal. Given that several of the narratives charted above co-exist within both major political parties, and are reflected in sectional and regional divisions within the United States, it is unlikely that one narrative will emerge as the dominant one in the near future. Americans may largely concur with the statement: "Our country's commitment to taking a leading role in shaping security and economic affairs around the world after World War II led to safer and more prosperous lives for Americans." But they may disagree over whether that conclusion still applies in the mid-21st century, what a "leading role" entails and what constitutes "shaping," and the degree of involvement “around the world” from region to region.

This is something that is beginning to manifest itself on the campaign trail. Uri Friedman made the following observation in a recent piece in The Atlantic:

The 2020 presidential election could prove pivotal, because the Democratic candidates appear torn between great-power competition and a more Obamian conception of international interdependence. During their most recent debate, Tim Ryan argued that Trump is "onto something" with China and spoke of the need to "out-compete them," while John Hickenlooper advocated "building bridges" to China to address climate change.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has noted that a foreign policy narrative, to be successful, must speak to three main constituencies: the humanitarians, the utilitarians, and those seeking protection. As we move into the campaign, candidates will need to articulate a narrative that speaks to values, demonstrates benefits, and reinforces safety.

You may also like

President Donald Trump at the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 2019. CREDIT: <a href=>The White House (CC)</a>.

OCT 25, 2019 Article

The Search for a New Narrative: Recasting American Involvement in the International System

This project on U.S. Global Engagement was launched in 2018. An initial report, released in December 2018, diagnosed the causes and symptoms of the narrative collapse ...

U.S. servicemembers load humanitarian relief supplies for victims of Cyclone Nargis. Yokota Air Base, Japan, 2008. CREDIT: <a href=>U.S. Air Force (CC)</a>.

SEP 20, 2019 Article

Need for a New Consensus

Foreign policy experts are having difficulty linking the negative implications of a shift towards trasactionalism for U.S. foreign aid to voters. This begs the ...

Protest against U.S. military attacks in Syria, Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 2017. CREDIT: <a href=>Fibonacci Blue (CC)</a>.

SEP 17, 2019 Article

The Narrative IS Changing . . .

The narrative about America's role in the world is changing--and more evidence is accumulating that suggests that no matter how the 2020 presidential and congressional elections ...

President Trump at the 2017 UN General Assembly. CREDIT: <a href=>UN Photo/Ariana Lindquist (CC)</a>.

SEP 9, 2019 Article

Transactionalism and U.S. Foreign Aid

A draft of a new presidential directive on American foreign aid suggests that transactionalism will shift from being a rhetorical device to an actual defining ...

JUN 3, 2019 Article

Emerging Narratives for U.S. Foreign Policy

As we continue to move into the 21st century, the "post-Cold War" designation loses relevance. Yet a new construct and narrative has not emerged to ...

(L to R) Former Uzbeki President Islam Karimov, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, June 2016. CREDIT: <a href=> (CC)</a>

AUG 23, 2019 Article

The Ethics of Trade with China and Authoritarian Upgrading

Increased foreign investment and engagement is producing, not democratization, but "authoritarian upgrading," where selected reforms are designed to legitimize a softer authoritarianism. This presents an ...

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) at the 2019 Women's March in New York City, January 2019. CREDIT: <a href="">Dimitri Rodriguez </a><a href="">(CC)</a>

MAY 7, 2019 Article

The Generational Divide?

As Millennials and "Generation Z" begin to enter the ranks of both American politics as well as the expert community, it is uncertain if they ...

Senator Elizabeth Warren in Las Vegas, April, 2019. CREDIT: <a href="">Gage Skidmore (CC)</a>

JUL 31, 2019 Article

Democratic Candidates and Foreign Policy

Which foreign policy narratives have emerged from the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates? Will it be restorationist, democratic community, America First, retrenchment/redefinition, reindustrialization/regeneration, or climate ...