The hardest thing for a hegemonic power is to see its dominance wane. US President Donald Trump’s angry unilateralism, whether his trade war against China or sanctions against Cuba, is supposed to be proof of power. Another way of looking at the president’s belligerent tweet storms is as a cry of pain for a mythologised past. When Franklin Roosevelt prepared to meet Winston Churchill during the closing stages of World War 2, the US president received some cautionary advice from his secretary of state on handling the British prime minister. Churchill, Edward Stettinius told Roosevelt, would struggle to accept a new, postwar, international order. Having been a leader for so long, the Brits were not accustomed to a secondary role. Stettinius was right. Britain had been bankrupted by the war. The US was booming. The peace marked the formal transfer of western leadership to the US. Washington’s ally found the psychological adjustment long and painful. Even after the humiliation of the Su...

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