Trump's disinfectant comments lead to 'stifled giggles' abroad

Trump assured Americans, "We don't want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won't be." Unfortunately, he got this backwards.
Image: U.S. President Trump participates in coronavirus relief bill signing ceremony at the White House in Washington
President Donald Trump speaks during a signing ceremony for the "Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act" in the Oval Office at the White House on April 24, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

The Irish Times' Fintan O'Toole had a rather brutal column over the weekend on Donald 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 that it's easy to "feel sorry for Americans" because we're struggling during crisis conditions "with a malignant narcissist who, instead of protecting his people from Covid-19, has amplified its lethality. The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful."

O'Toole's indictment of the American president came the day after the Australian Broadcasting Corporation ran this similarly unfortunate report.

Usually straitlaced and solemn in his delivery of up-to-the-minute health advice, Australia's Chief Medical Officer stifled giggles when asked about US President Donald Trump's latest suggested treatments for coronavirus.

The video of the exchange is online, and it was hard not to cringe while watching it. A journalist quite fairly summarized Donald Trump's comments about possible research into treating the virus with ultraviolet light on disinfectant injections, and asked, "Given that this is coming from the president of the United States -- an influential person -- is there any scientific basis to either of these propositions?"

Brendan Murphy, Australia's chief medical officer, seemed to struggle to avoid laughing. Grinning and apparently amused, said he would "caution against" the injection of disinfectants because they can be "quite toxic to people."

Broadly speaking, I think there are two angles of note to developments like these. The first is Trump is reportedly outraged by the very idea of people laughing at him, but on the international stage, it's not an unusual occurrence.

As recently as late last year, for example, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were recorded at a Buckingham Palace reception, apparently mocking their American counterpart.

It was not an isolated incident. Trump has reportedly been preoccupied for years with concerns about being the subject of ridicule, but the list of instances in which world leaders have laughed at him is not short.

The Republican assured Americans a few years ago, "We don't want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won't be. They won't be." It's painful to realize the degree to which he got this backwards.

The other, related angle of note is a point we discussed last week: for all of Trump's obsessive focus on improving the United States' global reputation, he's obviously done the opposite.

As a New York Times report put it last week, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is "perhaps the first global crisis in more than a century where no one is even looking for Washington to lead."

The world is, however, looking to Washington for comic relief.