Pew Research recently released the results of a survey spanning 37 countries regarding their views of Donald Trump and America in general. The results were not favorable to the President and, as a result, their views towards the United States have shown declines. In fact, they now stand at where they stood in 2008 at the end of the Bush Administration.
At first glance, one would say, “So what? Who cares what people in other countries think about the United States or its President?” Trump’s entire campaign and appeal to many was predicated upon that very thought. America was to come first even if that meant disturbing some long-standing agreements, alliances and friendships. For example, building a wall along the Southern border continues to rankle the Mexican people with 94% opposed in the most recent Pew survey. NATO allies still look with apprehension at Trump and perhaps the only thing alleviating those apprehensions is the presence of Secretary Mattis at Defense.
Surveys are one thing, but realism is another thing. In a global economy such that exists today it is all but impossible to ignore the United States whoever occupies the White House. And for better or for worse, the United States still represents the world’s greatest military power and has the greatest ability to respond to threats around the world. World leaders know that if there is to be a “world policeman,” the United States is the obvious best choice.
Hence, although they may voice their reservations in public and private, and media in foreign countries beat the drums of Trump’s dangerous policies, world leaders are not going to run for the exits away from the United States.
But there is a problem. Our most staunch allies are democracies whose leaders are elected by their people in free and fair elections for the most part. Sometimes, we may not like their choices and they may not like our choices, but the alliances prevail out of realism.
The problem is that there may come a time when population’s view of America because of Trump lead to, in effect, the anti-Trump leader of a foreign country which can then damage long-standing friendships or alliances. Thus far, a realistic assessment of what Trump has done, rather than what he has said, really hasn’t upset the international status quo. For example, the United States is still a member of NATO, we continue joint exercises in Europe and the Baltic Sea, we have not withdrawn our navy from the Black Sea, we continue joint military exercises with South Korea and just recently the State Department certified Iranian compliance with the unpopular nuclear accords. Trump’s decision to launch a torrent of Tomahawk cruise missiles in Syria over a chemical attack by Assad’s forces was generally met with international praise- finally a red line was enforced, not redrawn.
As concerns the Israeli-Palestinian issue, although some may question the messenger (Jared Kushner), the administration has not thrown its hands up in frustration as some expected. Kushner’s recent attempts and visits received applause from none other than George Mitchell. Yes, he withdrew from the Paris Climate Change accords (good new in this writer’s opinion), but the remainder of the signers continue on. The world has not come to a screeching halt because Trump is now the President.
That is the realism today. However, the fear is that one day popular opinion in foreign countries may so change that voters will reject the United States by ousting leaders they feel are too close or accepting of a “dangerous” or “arrogant” Donald Trump. Perhaps, although there were other dynamics at play, we saw a little of that in the recent French elections where the voters rejected the candidate portrayed, by some, as the “French Donald Trump-” Marine Le Pen.
This writer does find it ironic that the Pew survey discovered that as bad as Trump is perceived on the world stage by people, not another single foreign leader breaks the 50% favorability rating with Angela Merkel of Germany coming the closest at 42%. Thus, the anti-Trump consensus world leader has not emerged.
What does not help Trump here in the United States or on the international stage is his words, particularly his use of Twitter. In the Pew survey, 75% said Trump was arrogant. Another 65% agreed he was intolerant. His most recent Twitter rant against certain MSNBC talking heads confirms these perceptions. It also confirms a perception among foreign populations that Trump is not qualified to be President as only 26% agreed he was in the Pew survey.
No US President is ever going to be viewed in a favorable light by foreign populations across the world in all instances. Nor, does a President have to bow before Saudi kings, go on apology tours in Muslim countries, use reset in relations props, create fake pivots, or sign bogus climate change accords.
However, a President should act and behave presidential. Many here may have correctly disapproved of what jokingly passed as a foreign policy under Barack Obama. Many here may have been critical of George W. Bush’s foreign policy. But at least they acted and behaved presidential. Neither took to late night/early morning Twitter rants against political commentators. Neither did they insult the looks of opponents, publicly lecture foreign leaders (at a monument to 9/11 no less), or embarrass the office by picking silly and distracting public fights with the media.
In some respects, Trump represents in the Oval Office the breakdown of civil discourse that has been germinating in this country for years- some from the Right (Ann Coulter comes to mind), but mainly from the Left. It is not the Right violently clashing with police or opponents. No one on the Right depicted themselves with the severed head of Barack Obama or mused on the possibility of assassination.
However, one would hope that a President would rise above the level of the gutter, not get in the gutter. As the world views it and as some here see it, that is the unfortunate reality now.