Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked by a reporter yesterday to comment on Donald Trump's threat to use military force against American protesters. Trudeau, who's taken great care to avoid direct public criticisms of his U.S. counterpart, paused and stood silently for 21 seconds.
"We all watch in horror and consternation at what is going on in the United States," the prime minister eventually said, after lengthy consideration.
I long ago lost count of how many times Donald Trump, pointing to evidence that exists only in his imagination, boasted to his followers that the United States is finally "respected again" around the globe. As we've discussed, the Republican has convinced himself that we were an international laughingstock before he took office, but thanks to his awesomeness, the world once again reveres and celebrates our country.
Long before 2020, international surveys pointed in the opposite direction. In many countries, including longtime U.S. allies, global support for the American president collapsed after Obama left office, and opposition to Trump has soured our reputation overall.
But this year has changed the nature of the United States' standing in ways that would've been difficult to even imagine in the recent past.
The New York Times reported in April that many are looking at "the richest and most powerful nation in the world with disbelief" as the United States struggled with the coronavirus crisis. The report added that the pandemic is "perhaps the first global crisis in more than a century where no one is even looking for Washington to lead."
When Trump broached the subject of disinfectant injections, he became an immediate global punch-line to a disheartening joke.
And with social unrest unfolding in so many American communities, the nation's Trump-era international standing appears to have gone from bad to worse. The New York Times reported today:
With American cities burning and the coronavirus still raging, killing more people than in any other country, President Trump also has growing problems overseas. He has never before been so isolated and ignored, even mocked. In Europe, after years of snubs and American unilateralism, America's traditional allies have stopped looking to him for leadership, no longer trust that this president will offer them much, and are turning their backs on him.
NBC News had a related report today, which quoted Ziya Meral, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank. "With all of its shortcomings, the U.S. has stood for many ideals we dearly share," he said. "Now we are witnessing an America spiraling down into chaos, poor governance, social friction, poor policing and poor leadership."
He added, "The city on a hill no longer inspires or shines."
There appears, however, to be an important division on the global stage. On one side, there are traditional U.S. allies who are appalled by our crises. On the other side, however, we see U.S. detractors who seem eager to celebrate Americans struggling in the midst of hapless and dangerous leadership.
As the Washington Post's Max Boot wrote in his new column:
Our allies are mortified; our enemies are gleeful, because Trump has handed them a priceless gift. Every tinpot dictator can now savor a moment of unearned moral superiority over a country that has spent decades lecturing them on human rights.... It was only last week that Trump rightly condemned Beijing's move to take away Hong Kong's freedom. Now China has an unanswerable riposte. After State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus tweeted that "freedom loving people around the world must stand with the rule of law and hold to account the Chinese Communist Party," a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman replied: "I can't breathe." Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif took to Twitter to rewrite one of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's condemnations of Iranian abuses into a condemnation of U.S. abuses -- including the mistreatment of protesters.
In late April, the Irish Times' Fintan O'Toole had a rather brutal column on Trump's presidency and its impact on global perceptions of the United States. "Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger," O'Toole wrote. "But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity."
The award-winning columnist added, "The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful."
For all of Trump's obsessive focus on improving the United States' global reputation, it's staggering to see the extent to which he's done the opposite. Undoing the damage will take time, effort, and a dramatic change in leadership.