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Under Trump, global respect for United States reaches new depths

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: German Chancellor Merkel speaks to U.S. President Trump during the second day of the G7 meeting in Charlevoix city of La Malbaie, Quebec
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to President Donald Trump during the second day of the G7 meeting in Charlevoix city of La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada on June 9, 2018.Jesco Denzel / Reuters file

At a campaign event in Ohio last month, 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."

It is foundational to the president's worldview: the United States was an international laughingstock for decades, Trump believes, and thanks to how awesome his awesomeness is, our global stature has finally been restored. He brings this up constantly, seeing it as one of his most important accomplishments.

It's also a demonstrable lie. A Washington Post analysis noted yesterday:

New data from Pew Research Center shows that many of the countries that have traditionally been the United States' closest allies are now far less likely to view the country with approval. In 11 countries for which there are more than five years of data, the percentage of people viewing the United States with approval is at a recorded low in nine. The median percentage expressing favorable views of the United States across each of the countries surveyed is also at a record low, with about a third of respondents holding a favorable view.

To be sure, some of this may seem familiar. Regular readers know that before 2020, international surveys on our international standing 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 what makes the new data from the Pew Research Center so notable is the fact that conditions have gone from bad to worse. The Center's analysis added, "In several countries, the share of the public with a favorable view of the U.S. is as low as it has been at any point since the Center began polling on this topic nearly two decades ago."

Much of this has to do with the Republican in the White House. Pew reported, "Ratings for U.S. President Donald Trump have been low in these nations throughout his presidency, and that trend continues this year.... Attitudes toward Trump have consistently been much more negative than those toward his predecessor.... The publics surveyed also see Trump more negatively than other world leaders."

But our global reputation deteriorated to new depths not just because of our highly controversial president, but also because the world has taken note of the United States' failed response to the coronavirus pandemic:

Part of the decline over the past year is linked to how the U.S. had handled the coronavirus pandemic. Across the 13 nations surveyed, a median of just 15% say the U.S. has done a good job of dealing with the outbreak. In contrast, most say the World Health Organization (WHO) and European Union have done a good job, and in nearly all nations people give their own country positive marks for dealing with the crisis (the U.S. and UK are notable exceptions).

The data is consistent with months of related reporting. The New York Times reported in April, for example, 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."

During a brief Q&A with reporters in May, Trump boasted not only about his administration's failed response to the coronavirus pandemic, but also about what he sees as international admiration for the White House's efforts. "I'll tell you, the whole world is excited watching us because we're leading the world," the president said with a straight face.

At a White House event soon after, the Republican added that "many" heads of state from around the world view the United States "as the world leader" on combating COVID-19, and "they're following us."

In hindsight, it was among the most insulting of Trump's coronavirus lies.

For all of the Republican'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.