Amer­i­can rep­u­ta­tion in de­cline

The Amherst News - - OP-ED - Jim Vib­ert Jim Vib­ert, a jour­nal­ist and writer for longer than he cares to ad­mit, con­sulted or worked for five Nova Sco­tia gov­ern­ments. He now keeps a close and crit­i­cal eye on pro­vin­cial and re­gional powers.

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.

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