Donald Trump says he has accomplished more in just under four years than any other president in history. Quite a statement, isn’t it? Most people, on hearing his boast, rolled their eyes and muttered, “Yeah, right.” But in one sense, he is right. He has accomplished more to destroy our alliances and our image in the rest of the world than any other president to date.
According to a recent PEW Research survey, Donald Trump is less trusted than the leaders of Germany, France, UK, and even Russia & China.
In Western Europe, here is how the current administration ranks compared to the past two …
And I could go on with further studies and charts, but you get the picture … Donald Trump, and by extension the United States, is less trusted today than it was four years ago. The important thing, I think, is to understand two things: Why this is the case, and why it matters.
Of course it goes without saying that Trump’s bungling of the coronavirus pandemic is a large part of the reason our allies … or those who once were allies … have lost confidence in our ‘leadership’, but that isn’t the only area in which there are concerns.
We let our allies down in a major way by pulling out of both the Paris Climate Accords and the Iran nuclear deal … on the latter, we left them scrambling trying to salvage a deal that could very well save the world from a nuclear war. Just yesterday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on Trump’s orders, announced that we are imposing new sanctions on Iran’s financial sector in defiance of European allies who warned that the move could have devastating humanitarian consequences on a country reeling from the novel coronavirus and a currency crisis. The sanctions will have a significant impact on Iran’s ability to import food, medicine, and other humanitarian needs.
Our withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords was simply unconscionable, but to add insult to injury, Trump reversed nearly every single regulation that had been put into place by the Obama administration to attempt to reverse the damage to the environment. It’s important for us to realize that this not only affects the air we breathe and the quality of our water, but that of every country on the globe! The United States is the single biggest per capita emitter of CO2 on the globe, and yet we are doing the least of any industrialized nation to attempt to stop the destruction of the planet. Is it any wonder we are not trusted?
In recent months, the killing of George Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of police has led to massive protests both in the U.S. and around the world. Yet, the ‘leader’ of our country, rather than using this as an opportunity to improve race relations, to provide training to law enforcement, to meet with Black leaders and work toward peaceful solutions, has taken a negative approach to the mostly peaceful Black Lives Matter protests. He has refused on more than one occasion to denounce white supremacist groups, and as recently as last week, publicly told one of the most volatile white supremacist groups, the Proud Boys, to “stand down and stand by”, as if their gun-toting presence might be required.
When Trump sent troops to Portland, Oregon, to wantonly arrest citizens … those who were engaged in peaceful protests, those who were suspected of violence, as well as citizens simply going about their business … it did not sit well with the people of the U.S., but it also sent shock waves through the rest of the world. According to Ana María Careaga, an Argentinian psychologist who suffered through the military dictatorship of Jorge Rafael Videla in the 1970s …
“What’s happening is very dangerous in a way similar to the dictatorships we had to endure in South America. Trump is shielding himself behind religious symbols while trying to seduce people to vote for him in the name of freedom, when it is precisely their freedom that leaders like him plan to abolish.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. For years, part of the daily work of the US state department was to issue denunciations of police brutality, suppression of dissent, and instability in far-flung corners of the globe. And now, under Donald Trump, we have become the ones we once fought against. As one journalist in Beijing wrote …
“Trump is tearing apart America. He doesn’t need to send the troops. This will hurt the US’s international image. All of this is about the fight for justice, rights and equality. Whether it is Hong Kong or the US, people need to differentiate between violence and the fight for justice.”
So, even before the pandemic, other countries had reason to lose confidence in the leadership of Donald Trump, and thus in the nation. Countries that were once staunch allies no longer trust us, and there is a very real danger in that. From an article in Foreign Affairs magazine titled “The United States Is Not Entitled to Lead the World” …
The self-proclaimed “greatest democracy in the world” has been an erratic one since the late 1990s: in just more than two decades, the country has seen two presidents impeached, an election ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, an internationally controversial war in Iraq, and a financial crisis that sent shock waves around the world. In 2008, the country elected a globally popular Black senator to the presidency—only to lurch in a very different direction eight years later by electing a racist reality TV host who blames American allies for the country’s ills.
Which brings us to the abominable response to the pandemic by Donald Trump. You all know the story, how he not only downplayed the virus, but outright lied to us, encouraged us to expose ourselves, discouraged the precautions the medical community was urging, and even suggested that we drink bleach or household disinfectants. Even today, he is minimizing the risk. As a result, the U.S. has, as of this writing, 7,845,739 cases and 217,972 deaths … the highest of any country on the globe, though we have just over 4% of the world’s population.
Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, a political scientist at Chile’s Diego Portales university and co-author of “Populism, a Very Short Introduction”, sees a Trump presidency in chilling terms …
“Trump is using the pandemic to position himself as a God-given saviour coming to avert an imminent catastrophe. His re-election, should it happen, will be considered – not least by him – as a clear indication that the time is right to push on with his radical, populist rightwing agenda. If that prediction is right, then Covid-19 will come to be seen as not just the bringer of death and recession in the US, but also as the forerunner that paved the way for the destruction of US democracy.”
The second part of the question is one that I have heard expressed in a number of different ways: Why does it matter what the rest of the world thinks?
I literally cringe every time I hear this, no matter how it is phrased. A few days ago someone said to me, “You know what? I don’t give a sh*t what the rest of the world thinks … I live here.”
Donald Trump ran in 2016 on an “America First” platform, saying that the rest of the world was taking advantage of the U.S. (they weren’t) and that from now on he would only engage in international relationships where he was the “winner”. Well, guess what, folks … there are no winners, but there are potentially a hell of a lot of losers, including the United States, once considered a leader of the free world.
You hear a lot of people condemning globalization, but folks … it’s a fact of life. And we created it with technology. Airplanes that can take us across the globe in just a few hours, computers and the Internet that give us instant access to what is happening around the world … the world has shrunk in this sense and it is a fool’s errand to attempt to separate one nation from all the rest. I have often compared our role in the greater world as that of a homeowner in a neighborhood. If you treat your neighbors crappy, don’t expect them to rush to your defense if you fall in your yard, your house catches fire, or some other disaster befalls you.
Take, for example, trade. We cannot possibly produce every single thing we need or want, so we rely heavily on imports from other nations, just as they rely on goods produced here in the U.S. Trade deals should be fair and equitable to all parties, but Trump is determined that such deals will benefit the U.S. more than the other nations involved. He makes no pretense of being fair. He has pulled out of the World Health Organization (WHO) during this time of a deadly pandemic, drastically reducing the funding for an organization whose scientists are working hard to find ways to stop transmission and prevent the spread of the coronavirus in order to save lives. Instead, Trump taunts and ridiculously name calls, referring to the coronavirus as the ‘China virus’ and claiming that he will “make China pay”.
A good neighbor helps his neighbors … helps rake leaves, shovel snow, takes in the mail when the neighbor is out of town. We have not been a good neighbor to our allies, though Trump panders to our adversaries. He refuses to hold Vladimir Putin responsible for interfering in both our 2016 election and our current year election, refuses to hold him responsible for the bounties put on the heads of our soldiers in Afghanistan. He refuses to hold Mohammed bin Salman responsible for ordering the brutal slaying of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi … and yet, he constantly criticizes our allies, particularly Angela Merkel, one of the most respected leaders of Western Europe.
Do you remember September 11, 2001? Of course you do, but do you remember how our neighbor to the north, Canada, came to our aid that day? Our airspace was closed, but Canadian Forces provided support for stranded aircrew and passengers from diverted commercial flights. Canadian citizens opened their homes to stranded passengers, providing food and shelter. They didn’t have to do that, but they did. Today, only 35% of Canadians view the U.S. positively. There comes a time when we all need help. If Russia or Saudi Arabia, Iran or North Korea were to attack the United States, who would come to our aid? Think long and hard about that one, folks, for we have not been a good friend for the past four years. Take a look at the second chart at the beginning of this post. President Barack Obama was respected and trusted, and as a result our nation was safer. Today, we are less safe than we were four years ago, contrary to what the team of Trump/Pence claim. We are persona non grata in many nations, largely for our ineptitude in dealing with the pandemic. Another four years and we will have no allies, no friends to count on, only an autocratic ruler with little or no concern for any but himself.
The way in which the world views us is important, and right now other industrialized nations do not look upon us as a trusted friend and ally. We need to restore that trust, but Donald Trump cannot … will not … do so, for in his mind it is always a win/lose proposition … there is no give-and-take, no compromise. We ask that you think about this one long and hard … our lives may depend on it.