Donald Trump: The New Ugly American?

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“The Ugly American” – a phrase made famous by the 1958 political novel about U.S. policy in Southeast Asia by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer.

– can no longer refer just to the prototypical loud, ignorant American. Today the title has taken on a real human face, and that is the face of Donald Trump.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center shows that worldwide confidence in the U.S. president is at some of the lowest levels since the Pew Research Center began assessing the U.S. image abroad 15 years ago.

In terms of personal characteristics, the survey found, Trump is seen by most publics around the world as “arrogant, intolerant and even dangerous.”

The survey, carried out before Trump announced the US pullout from the Paris climate accords and published just two weeks before Michael Wolf’s tell-all book about the Trump White House, surveyed people in 37 countries in 2017.

A Vote Of No Confidence?

The survey found that whopping three-quarters (74%) of those surveyed said they have little to no confidence in the new U.S. leader; a median of only 22% say they have “confidence in Trump to do the right thing regarding world affairs.” This is in stark 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.” Prior to this report, a similarly large shift in attitudes toward the U.S. occurred with the change from George W. Bush’s administration to Obama’s – this time the shift was positive. Views of the U.S. improved in Europe and other regions, as did trust in how the new president would handle world affairs.

Trump’s greatest support in the current poll comes from Filipinos, 69% of whom say they have confidence in the U.S. president. Other publics in which more than half of those surveyed offer a positive opinion of him include Nigeria (58%), Vietnam (58%), Israel (56%) and Russia (53%) – countries whose leadership does not stand out as a shining example of participatory democracy.

In contrast, only 5% in Mexico and 7% in Spain have confidence in Trump. In Latin America and Europe, medians of only 14% and 18% respectively have confidence in him.

None of his most prominent policy proposals – such as building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, withdrawing from trade and climate agreements, and restricting people from some Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. – have support worldwide, and all are deeply unpopular. Worldwide opposition to the United States’ possible withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement is less intense, however.

Country Follows White House

In countries where confidence in the U.S. president fell most, America’s overall image has also tended to suffer more. Germany’s leaders from Angela Merkel on down have said publicly they can no longer rely on America in world affairs. French President Emanuel Macron stepped in to fill the vacancy left in global environmental affairs when Trump exited the Paris accords.

“While Trump is US president and unless he changes course radically towards a more multilateral foreign policy in which the US is willing to cooperate with other countries to manage international issues, it is unlikely that international perceptions of his administration will change significantly for the better,” INSEAD Professor of Political Science Douglas Webber told me in an mail exchange for this blog. “A little might be able to be gained if the administration did not spread such pervasive uncertainty as to the direction of its future policies – for example on NAFTA and the WTO.”

And despite concerted and united action against climate by European nations, Webber fears it is “much less likely that such action will be effective unless the US sets a good example to the developing world/emerging markets (China, India, Brazil, etc.).”

In the short term, Webber says the most important issue in restoring some confidence in the US is American participation in preserving international security (for example, combating nuclear weapons proliferation). “It’s important because (1) this is the area where there are fewer or no other states or international organizations that can fill the void left by US withdrawal and (2) it is in this issue-area that the potentially most damaging conflicts can explode if they are not handled wisely, such as North Korea or Iran.”

Americans vs America

But while the U.S. leadership maybe disliked and mistrusted, the Pew research shows that Americans are seen more positively than the U.S. as a country. A median of 58% of nations polled say they have a favorable impression of the American people. Positive views of Americans are especially common in Asia and Europe; less common in the Middle East.

America’s popular culture is often well regarded abroad. Roughly two-thirds of the countries surveyed in the Pew research said they like American music, movies and television. Europeans and Asians are particularly likely to find U.S. pop culture appealing; not surprisingly, Muslims less so.

But…even though many people say they personally like American popular culture, a global median of 54% worry that the influx of U.S. customs and ideas into their country is a bad thing.

In many countries, a majority of those surveyed believes relations with the U.S. will remain about the same; however, in most regions of the world, the share of the public that believes things will worsen outweighs the share that thinks relations will improve any time soon.

So, what will it take to restore confidence in the U.S.? Webber had a succinct, frank answer: ‘Trump’s resignation.’

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