By Robert Mann
PRAGUE — “People over here ask me about the difference between America and the UK. I tell them, ‘The UK is crazy; America is stupid.'” So observed a 60-something Louisiana man I met the other day in a Strasbourg, France, train station. What he meant was the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (EU) is foolhardy, while America, under Donald Trump has dangerously abdicated world leadership.
This Denham Springs resident sporting an LSU jersey was succinct in capturing the widespread view that my students and I encountered everywhere we traveled during June. From London to Paris to Strasbourg to Berlin to Prague, the observations we gathered in dozens of conversations are supported by a new survey by the Pew Research Center.
According to Pew, “a median of just 22% [in 37 countries] has confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. This stands in contrast to the final years of Barack Obama’s presidency, when a median of 64% expressed confidence in Trump’s predecessor to direct America’s role in the world.”
In Germany last year, Obama enjoyed the confidence of 86 percent of the public. Only 11 percent now expresses confidence in Trump. The numbers are similar across Europe: In France, 84 percent were confident in Obama compared to 14 percent who say the same about Trump; in the U.K., 79 percent confidence in Obama compared to 22 percent for Trump; in Turkey, 45 percent had confidence in Obama’s leadership, while only 11 percent feel the same about Trump.
In only two countries — Israel and Russia — does Trump enjoy higher public confidence than did Obama.
This widespread distaste for Trump is probably a result of his disdain for the EU, NATO and the Paris Climate Accords, his racism and sexism and his predilection for strongmen and autocrats like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte. It also is a byproduct of his theme, “America First,” which is not only an echo of the American pro-Nazi “America First” movement of the 1930s but also connotes a harsh, dismissive attitude toward the world.
The Pew survey, however, does have some good news. “While the new U.S. president is viewed with doubt and apprehension in many countries, America’s overall image benefits from a substantial reservoir of goodwill,” Pew said. “The American people, for instance, continue to be well-regarded — across the 37 nations polled, a median of 58% say they have a favorable opinion of Americans.”
Trump’s successor will need this goodwill to assert American leadership after he is gone.
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