At a campaign event last summer, Donald Trump turned his attention to one of 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."
As regular readers know, it has long been foundational to the Republican's worldview: the United States was an international laughingstock for decades, Trump believes, but thanks to how awesome his awesomeness is, he singlehandedly restored the nation's global stature. It was a ridiculous idea he brought up constantly, seeing it as one of his most important accomplishments.
Even in his strange farewell address, Trump found it necessary, one last time, to boast to Americans, "The world respects us again." In an apparent message for Joe Biden, the outgoing president added, "Please don't lose that respect."
It was a bizarre challenge from a failed leader who'd done extraordinary harm to the United States' international reputation. Six months later, a new report from the Pew Research Center suggests President Biden is succeeding in undoing much of the damage.
The election of Joe Biden as president has led to a dramatic shift in America's international image. Throughout Donald Trump's presidency, publics around the world held the United States in low regard, with most opposed to his foreign policies. This was especially true among key American allies and partners. Now, a new Pew Research Center survey of 16 publics finds a significant uptick in ratings for the U.S., with strong support for Biden and several of his major policy initiatives.
The findings are extraordinary. At the end of Trump's term, 83% of international respondents did not have confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing regarding world affairs, while 17% did. Now, under Biden, 75% of international respondents do have confidence, while 22% do not.
Similarly, at the end of Trump's term, 63% of international respondents had an unfavorable view of the United States, while 34% had a favorable view. Under Biden, the results have been flipped: 62% have a favorable view, while 36% do not.
To be sure, the full report is worth reading in detail, because there are relevant nuances, some of which suggest the stain of the Trump era has not been fully erased. For example, whereas the United States has traditionally held itself out as a model for others to emulate, the Pew Research Center's findings found few abroad who see American democracy as a worthwhile model for other nations to follow.
But the topline takeaways are clearly reassuring: confidence in the U.S. presidency have soared now that Biden has replaced Trump; the United States is now more respected and seen as a reliable international partner; people abroad have greater confidence that the United States can be counted on to do the right thing; and most abroad expect U.S. relations with their respective countries to improve in the near future.
Or put another way, everything Trump said about his successes in improving the United States' standing was wrong, and it's Biden who's actually accomplishing what his predecessor felt compelled to lie about.
What's especially jarring is the familiarity of the circumstances. As regular readers know, Barack Obama's GOP detractors were absolutely convinced that the Democratic president had done real damage to the United States' international reputation. The opposite was true, but Republicans nevertheless argued, with unnerving vigor, that America had forfeited the admiration of the world -- and it was Obama's fault.
During the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, for example, Jeb Bush insisted that during the Obama era, "We have lost the trust and confidence of our friends." Around the same time, Scott Walker and Trump had a chat about "how poorly" the United States was "perceived throughout the world." (In 2014, Trump also tweeted, "We need a President who isn't a laughing stock to the entire World. We need a truly great leader, a genius at strategy and winning. Respect!")
Mitt Romney added, "It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office."
In reality, the United States' reputation soared under Obama, repairing the damage done during the Bush/Cheney era. Now, it's déjà vu all over again, as Biden restores confidence in the wake of Trump.
All of this matters in ways that go well beyond bragging rights. As Rachel explained on last night's show, Biden is determined to show the world that the United States is back, it's ready to lead responsibly, and it's eager to prove that liberal democracy is the superior model that should endure against its authoritarian critics.
The latest evidence suggests the world is listening anew.