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A nation loses its ardour

For better or worse, the US has led the world. Trump threatens to change that

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt outlined his vision of the future in 1944, shortly before winning his fourth presidential term, he committed the United States to “a long and arduous task, which will challenge our patience, our intelligence, [and] our imagination.” His listeners at the Foreign Policy Association meeting in the Waldorf Hotel in New York that wet and windy October day heard him call for “the building of a world fellowship,” which would require the sustained attention of “a seasoned and mature people.”

He returned to the theme in his inauguration speech in January 1945: America’s own best interests could only be pursued by the creation of a stable world order. The global and the national were not opposed: they were intertwined. Roosevelt’s conscious aim, as Joseph Lelyveld’s new book on the president’s last months, His Final Battle, shows, was to bring into being an international body which would succeed where the League of Nations had failed. He died on his way to attend the founding meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco. The UN would prove to be less effective than he had hoped. But he had nevertheless set the template within which America, and the world, have functioned ever since, by his consolidation of an American tradition of international engagement.

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In Prospect’s December issue: Sam Tanenhaus argues that Donald Trump was born to be a campaigning demagogue, but will he be too bored to rule? Ed Miliband and Michael Gove debate whether parliament should have a binding vote on the terms of Brexit and Christian Wolmar examines the driverless car delusion. Also in this issue: James Harkin examines the situation in Syria, focussing on Raqqa Ruth Dudley Edwards explores the battle in Ireland since the UK’s decision to leave the EU—will the border become a division? And Michael White looks at the life of Alan Johnson, the Labour MP and former postie.