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The United States has never had a president like Donald Trump.Would structural forces have brought about the same era of U.S. global leadership under different presidents?Woodrow Wilson broke with America's hemispheric traditions by sending U.S. forces to fight in Europe; but where Wilson made a bigger difference was in the moral tone of American exceptionalism in his justification of – and, counterproductively, his stubborn insistence on – all-or-nothing involvement in the League of Nations.Is there a plausible story in which, owing to different presidential leadership, America would not have achieved global primacy by the end of the 20th century?Perhaps if Eisenhower or Bush had not been president and a different leader had been less successful in avoiding war, the American ascendency would have been driven off track (as it was for a time by U.S. intervention in Vietnam).As Robert Frost once put it, when two roads diverge in a wood, taking the one less traveled can sometimes make all the difference.Finally, the risks created by the personality of a leader may not be symmetrical; they may make more of a difference for a mature power than for a rising power. If Trump avoids a major war, and if he is not re-elected, future scholars may look back at his presidency as a curious blip on the curve of American history.
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