American reputation in decline
Most Americans care little and know less about the rest of the world.
But the ‘Make America Great Again’ mythology they bought into two years ago – despite the better judgment of a slight majority – included the promise of an international winning-streak that its proponent-in-chief said would stop the world from laughing at them.
As we now know, in the “alternative facts” universe of U.S. President Donald Trump, it doesn’t matter no one was laughing at America back then. Nor is it particularly relevant that much mirth - albeit largely gallows humour – has been generated since by the absurdities of the president himself.
Whether the Trump presidency is an aberration, or a reflection of the American character will become clearer in 2020, when Americans decide whether to end it or double-down on their dark side. But that it occurred at all forced much of the world to reassess the global order America largely created and certainly perpetuated post the Second World War.
As European Parliament member and US-relations delegate Christian Ehler put it: President Trump “is rather a gravedigger for the postwar order which the United States itself has founded.”
That former world order had America as the undisputed leader of liberal democracies and their related ilk, as those nations generally worked together to advance the welfare of people where ever they could.
Trump’s America is a self-obsessed place that asks only what the rest of the world will do for it.
“Europe should be grateful [to] President Trump, because thanks to him, we have got rid of old illusions. He has made us realize that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm,” European Council President Donald Tusk said, summing up the new international reality.
The opinions of their leaders are broadly shared by Europeans in general. Trump’s election resulted in a precipitous decline in America’s reputation in Europe, and a recent Pew Research Centre survey shows the sentiment has hardened.
Not only do Europeans no longer view the United States as the global leader it was, but for the first time Pew found a majority in France, Germany, Poland, Spain and the UK don’t believe the U.S. is the land of the free.
This year, on average, only about 40 per cent of citizens surveyed in those nations responded in the affirmative to the question: Do you think the government of the United States respects the personal freedoms of its people?
Just five years ago, 76 per cent of respondents in those five nations answered “yes” to that same question.
Meanwhile, back home, a new study from the Angus Reid Institute finds, for the first time in four decades, less than half of Canadians look favourably on their southern neighbour.
The Reid research shows Canadians are almost evenly split, with 49 per cent reporting a favourable opinion of the United States and 47 per cent unfavourable. That’s 10 points lower than the previous low-mark – 59 per cent favourable – recorded during the second term of George W. Bush’s presidency.
Canadians hold a number of nations in higher esteem than the United States, including the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Japan and Mexico.
The unfavourable opinion of the U.S. is most pronounced among younger Canadians. The Reid survey found that only 41 per cent of Canadians ages 18 to 34 have a favourable view of America.
While it was Donald Trump’s election, policies and pronouncements that dragged America’s international reputation into the gutter, it’s too easy to lay the blame on him and conclude the world order will return to what it was after he’s gone.
Americans elected Trump and in so doing endorsed his protectionism, isolationism and his selfproclaimed nationalism.
They can change presidents in 2020, but it will take the world much longer to forget the hard lessons about America it learned in 2016.