Worse Than Bush: Global Approval of U.S. Leadership Plunges, Humiliating Trump
In December 2017, President Donald J. Trump unveiled his “America First” strategy. A transcript of his speech formally announcing the policy changes can be found here. The policy was not a significant departure from Trump’s rhetoric during the 2016 campaign. That did not stop Fox News from using “unveil” to describe the policy announcement. Trump had summed up his policy intentions at his inauguration a year ago. Just listen to his words then:
On Wednesday, January 18, 2018 President Trump gave a speech in Coraopolis, PA, outside Pittsburgh. Of course, he spent plenty of time congratulating himself on winning Pennsylvania in 2016. But he repeated many of the same refrains from last January, including:
“So, as many of you know, that’s what I talked about — make America great again. America First — we put America first now. We’re doing trade deals. We’re doing a lot of things that I said we were going to be doing. It’s not easy. These other countries have become very, very spoiled with taking advantage of us. But take advantage of us no longer. Because now we want their country — for them, it should be their country first; but for us, it’s America first. That’s the way it is.”
The first tweet referencing “Trump” and “America First” came in 2014, so the world had plenty of time to know what they were in store for should Donald Trump get elected.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 29, 2014
Now, after Trump has been in office for a year, the world has rendered their verdict. Despite Trump’s protestations, America is no longer first.
Germany and China surged ahead of the United States in a new Gallup World Poll, Rating World Leaders: 2018. Their surge, however, can be directly linked to America’s plunge. Just look at this graphic below. World approval of German and Chinese leadership remains largely unchanged since 2016. America’s approval rating fell from 48% in 2016 (near the end of President Obama’s second term) to 30% in 2017 under President Trump.
Think back to the final days of the George W. Bush presidency. Wars were raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, predicated on an American lie. This largely erased any goodwill the world community felt after the 9/11 attacks. By Bush’s second term, as the wars raged on, much of the world began to question America’s motives.
By the end of 2007, the global economy was in tatters, largely owing to the financial crisis and the burst housing bubble in the United States. The Great Recession had begun. Today, the world economy has largely recovered from the financial crisis and is enjoying the continuing expansion which began in 2009. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have largely been wound-down, though troops remain in both. These days, there are providing support and fighting ISIS instead. The approval rating of American leadership in the same Gallup poll at the end of 2007 was 34%, four points HIGHER than America’s approval rating today.
This is not about the rest of the world being unsure, or ambivalent, waiting to see what America’s next moves will be before weighing-in. Per the survey, only 23% of respondents were undecided, which is similar to the 25% who were undecided in 2016.
The declines reported in the poll are staggering. There were 134 countries participating in the survey. In 65 of them (nearly half), approval of American leadership declined by at least 10 points. In four countries (Portugal, Belgium, Norway, and Canada), the opinion of American leadership fell by more than 40 points.
Truly disturbing though is when these countries are displayed on a map. The countries in red are ones where opinions of American leadership declined. The countries in green are ones where opinions of American leadership improved. There sure is a whole lot of green areas where Russia has the greatest influence.
Opinions of American leadership also increased in Israel. The survey notes that the approval rating of Israelis has returned to the levels (67%) last seen during the George W. Bush administration. The survey was completed before President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Notably, interviewing in Israel took place before Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, meaning it likely the approval ratings there could be even higher.
Writing in Politico in the days following Trump’s “America First” speech, Zachary Karabell wrote:
The tone of this administration certainly echoes the hard line of the Cold War more than the liberal internationalism of the past few years of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. It also echoes some of the stern starkness of the first term of George W. Bush. Because it is the hyperbolic Trump, there is the inevitable tendency to react hyperbolically, but in substance, the strategy laid out departs less from the past than its tone suggests. Yes, Trump’s rhetoric is more explicitly bellicose and confrontational than Obama’s. But he has changed less than his chest-beating tweets would seem to indicate.
The argument Karabell makes is that Trump is almost all talk, very little action. Trump panders to his base, particularly with domestic policy. But Trump carries the same tone into foreign policy that the Paul Ryan wing of the Republican Party carries into domestic policy. I would sum that opinion up this way:
People are poor because they are lazy. People live in “shitholes” because they do not respect things and do not seek to better themselves. America is tired of giving handouts to those who do not appreciate it, nor deserve it. Time for the “makers” to keep as much as possible for themselves, and the “takers” will have to find another way to get by.
These are NOT just words from Trump. And even if they were, words have weight too. President Trump says he wants to build a wall on the Mexican border. But what he really wants is to build a wall around America. Trump wants to keep foreigners out, but he also wants to keep America in, drastically diminish American influence around the world. President Teddy Roosevelt’s foreign policy was to “speak softly, and carry a big stick.” President Trump’s foreign policy is to speak loudly, and hope any allies we still have can hear us from behind our wall. Where Roosevelt laid the groundwork for the “American Century, ” Trump just keeps yelling, “America First.”
First, the world stopped listening. Now they have turned their backs. America better stop them before they walk away.
Featured image composite by Reverb Press, using photos by Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images, internet meme, public domain.