The United States is not just another democracy on the map. Plenty of countries have elections to choose their heads of state, but given the unique role the U.S. has as a global superpower, and the effects of our policies on the international stage, a global audience keeps an eye on our presidential elections with scrutiny other countries don’t receive.
After all, we’re choosing the “Leader of the Free World.”
But just as the U.S. is not just another democracy, 2016 is not just another election. While international observers tend to watch American presidential elections with a degree of curiosity, this year, the world is experiencing a very different kind of sentiment.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham tried to reassure foreign leaders that Donald Trump is nothing to worry about during a trip to the Middle East last week. “Everybody asked me about Trump in terms of policy changes. I said he is an outlier, don’t look at him,” Graham told reporters Thursday about his overseas trip.The most serious concerns Graham said leaders from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt expressed raised were regarding Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban most Muslims from entering the United States.
The South Carolina Republican, hardly a liberal, added that many of the leaders he spoke to were “dumbfounded that somebody running for president of the United States would suggest that the United States ban everybody in their faith.” Officials abroad, he added, are “bewildered.”
There’s a lot of this going around. At a White House briefing this week, a reporter asked President Obama whether Trump’s foreign-policy proposals are “already doing damage” to America’s reputation. “The answer … is yes,” Obama responded. “I think that I’ve been very clear earlier that I am getting questions constantly from foreign leaders about some of the wackier suggestions that are being made.”
Last week, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) returned from a trip abroad and said officials in Israel and Turkey specifically pressed him on the anti-Muslim rhetoric in the Republican presidential race.
All of this dovetails with reporting from a month ago about international “alarm” over Trump from officials in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia.
A senior NATO official, speaking before the Republican frontrunner talked publicly about abandoning the treaty organization, was quoted telling Reuters, “European diplomats are constantly asking about Trump’s rise with disbelief and, now, growing panic.”
As we talked about at the time, there’s ample speculation about the message the United States would send to the world if Trump was elected president. But there’s probably not enough speculation about the damage the success of Trump’s campaign is already doing to the nation’s reputation.