During the fifth Republican debate on Tuesday night, Donald Trump went on a familiar tirade about all of the qualities that America has, in his mind, lost over the years, and how respect from other countries around the world has declined since Obama became president.
“We need toughness... we need tough people,” Trump clamored. “We need intelligence and we need tough...we need strength, we’re not respected as a nation anymore. We don’t have that level of respect that we need. And if we don’t get it back fast, we’re just gonna go weaker, weaker, and just disintegrate. We can’t allow that to happen.”
Though inarticulate as always (he sounds increasingly like a drunken relative who gets all his news from Hannity and Limbaugh), this message is quite familiar in Republican circles, where seven years of a Barack Obama presidency has apparently made America the laughingstock of the world. In the Fox News bubble, global respect for the United States has steadily declined over the past seven years, as has our strength (selling weaponry to the enemy in exchange for hostages and using the profit to fund terrorists, on the other hand, is considered true strength in the GOP universe).
The fact that the Obama administration has not “carpet bombed” the Middle East (i.e., wiped out entire civilian-filled cities) appears as a sign of weakness to the likes of Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. The fact that Obama -- professorial fellow that he is -- tends to think out America’s tactical maneuvers, instead of making off-the-cuff decisions based on fear, as Trump would surely do (e.g., banning all Muslims), seems to be another sign of “lacking toughness.”
Of course, Trump and his ilk tend to mistakenly identify contemplation as weakness and unthinking aggressiveness as toughness (this is largely a result of anti-intellectualism, which has long played a part in American politics). Trump believes that America’s lack of toughness has lost it respect from around the globe, but when one actually looks at the data, it becomes rather clear that global respect has not collapsed under Obama (as it did under the last Republican president), but grown -- as the latest Pew polls on America’s global image reveal.
“America’s overall image around the world remains largely positive,” write the Pew researchers. “Across the nations surveyed (excluding the U.S.), a median of 69% hold a favorable opinion of the U.S., while just 24% express an unfavorable view.” To name a few, in the United Kingdom, 65 percent have a favorable view of America, in France, 73 percent, and in Spain, 65 percent. Compare this to 2008, during Bush’s final year in office, when the numbers were, in the same order, 53 percent, 42 percent, and 33 percent (favorability ratings truly did crumble under the Bush administration from the highs that Clinton left him). Throughout much of the world, the United State’s favorability ratings have generally recovered under the Obama administration.
And then there is the personal image of the president himself. When you look at the levels of confidence that countries have in President Obama today compared to President Bush in his final year, it’s not even close. Bush left in 2008 with truly dismal numbers (which should not surprise anyone, as he left two disastrous wars and the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression). The U.K. had 16 percent confidence in Bush, Germany 14 percent, Mexico 16 percent, and Japan 25 percent, compared to, in the same order, 76 percent, 73 percent, 49 percent, and 66 percent for Obama. (One major country where confidence has decreased further is Russia, which is not too surprising.)
Clearly, this lack of respect that Trump and his cohorts go on and on about is not all that it’s cracked up to be. As a matter of fact, if any one figure is a true embarrassment for the United States, who would almost guarantee a decline in respect, it is Donald Trump. A New Zealand writer, Paul Thomas, summed it up nicely back in July:
“Trump personifies everything the rest of the world despises about America: casual racism, crass materialism, relentless self-aggrandizement, vulgarity on an epic scale. He is the Ugly American in excelsis.”
Trump, who is so blinded by his ego, could never grasp the reality that he is the epitome of the ugly American; the kind of person non-Americans (and other Americans alike) roll their eyes at and mock as a vile and buffoonish clown. His recent call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, for example, has earned widespread condemnation from around the world. Another example of how a Trump presidency would quickly diminish world respect is his brash approval of torture. According to the 2015 Pew polls on global respect, America’s use of torture under the Bush administration is almost universally condemned, yet Trump has said that he would approve torture in a “heartbeat,” and that even “if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway” (he presumably does not care about whether the victim is innocent, as some of Bush’s torture victims were).
Ultimately, Trump and other Republicans believe that you can bully the world into respecting you, which is not how real life works. Offending entire nationalities and religions, as Trump has done over the past few months, is a great way to destroy your reputation and any respect that people once had for you. President Obama is generally admired around the world because he has a calm and contemplative demeanor, and he does not play off of the fears and anxieties of the American people. Trump is the complete opposite. He is a demagogue through and through, and has spent the past six months fear mongering about foreigners and immigrants, while insulting anyone who is critical of his rhetoric. For many, Trump has done a wonderful job of destroying any kind of positive reputation that he once possessed, and if he manages to get elected president, he would surely do the same for America’s fragile image.