Despite reality, Trump claims the US is 'respected again' abroad

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.
Image: President Donald Trump arrives at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan
President Donald Trump arrives at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
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By Steve Benen

At an event in Ohio yesterday, Donald Trump turned his attention to one his very favorite falsehoods:

"You know, we're respected again. You may not feel it, although I think you do. You may not see it. You don't read about it from the fake news, but this country is respected again."

I especially liked the way the president found it necessary to acknowledge the fact that most sensible people would immediately be skeptical of his absurd boast. Trump knows that Americans may not "see" or "feel" international esteem, but he wants voters to believe it exists anyway -- and we're just supposed to take his word for it.

Indeed, this has long been one of the president's highest priorities, to the point of unnerving fixation. 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.

But circling back to our coverage from a couple of months ago, reality in this area is stubborn.

Long before 2020, international surveys pointed in a discouraging direction. In many countries, including longtime U.S. allies, global support for the American president collapsed after Barack 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.

When social unrest unfolded in many American communities in the late spring and early summer, the nation's Trump-era international standing appears to have gone from bad to worse. The New York Times reported in June:

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, 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."

This followed a rather brutal column from the Irish Times' Fintan O'Toole 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.