Even among our closest allies, including Spain, Germany, Sweden and Australia, the U.S. wins first place as the greatest danger. No doubt this has a lot to do with the ignominious foreign policy legacy of the George W. Bush administration. But the 2014 Gallup poll was conducted during the tenure of Obama, who, let’s not forget, was once awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. If the world saw us as this dangerous two years ago, how might it perceive the leading superpower if Donald Trump were voted into the Oval Office?
Fortunately, there are some hard data available to help us answer this question. And the answer doesn’t bode well for our future standing as a member of the international community. While Trump has repeatedly claimed that “the world does not respect us” because “we’re being run incompetently,” there’s overwhelming evidence that a Trump presidency would result in a catastrophic deterioration of our already compromised moral authority in the world.
Let’s begin with Trump’s favorite rhetorical punching bag when it comes to all things trade-related: China. While the Chinese government initially referred to Trump’s rise as a mere “disturbance,” a recent op-ed in the state-owned newspaper Global Times doesn’t hold back in criticizing Trump as a demagogue whose “remarks are abusively racist and extremist.” Titled “Trump opens Pandora’s box in U.S.,” the article suggests that the violence at Trump’s rallies is reminiscent of a developing country, not “one of the most developed and mature democratic” states, as the U.S. “boasts.”
It claims that Trump, “a rich, narcissist and inflammatory candidate,” was initially supposed to “act as a clown to attract more voters’ attention to the GOP,” but “the clown is now the biggest dark horse.” The article proceeds to assert that the rise of a “big-mouthed, anti-traditional, abusively forthright … racist in the U.S. political arena worries the whole world.” Both Mussolini and Hitler gained political power through elections, it notes, so “the U.S. had better watch itself for not being a source of destructive forces against world peace.”
(It doesn’t help, by the way, that Trump has "used a broken-English accent … to mock the negotiating style of Chinese businessmen.” How ironic that Trump would knock the professionalism of Chinese businessmen in such an extraordinarily unprofessional manner.)
But Trump has not only received a brutal response from Chinese media, he’s also managed to upset pro-democracy Chinese activists. For example, during one of the Republican debates, Trump described the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 as a “riot” that was “kept down” by a “strong, powerful” response from the Chinese government. (The term “riot” is, incidentally, the same word that the Chinese Communist Party uses to describe the massacre.)
In response, one of the 1989 student protestors, Wang Dan, who now holds a PhD from Harvard, wrote in a Time magazine article that he’s “disappointed by and angry at Mr. Trump’s words. If a bloody repression can be praised as a ‘strong, powerful’ action, what does this mean about American values, especially when this blatant mischaracterization comes from a presidential candidate.” Wang adds, “As a long-time resident of the United States, I am deeply worried about a great country’s future.”
Similarly, another leading Tiananmen dissident named Wu’er Kaixi took to Facebook, writing that Trump is “an enemy of the values that America deeply defines itself by — the same values that have long provided hope to the victims of oppressive power worldwide.” He concludes with the ominous warning that “Those of us who have fought for freedom anywhere in the world worry that something is about to change in America. Let us hope that is not so.”
Trump’s comments about the “riots” in Tiananmen Square 27 years ago are consistent with his praise of authoritarian world leaders, such as the Russian president Vladimir Putin. During a Republican debate, Trump described Putin as a “strong leader for Russia.” In fact, Trump is currently the only presidential candidate on either side of the political spectrum who approves of Russia's military action in Syria, which has largely targeted “legitimate opposition groups” fighting against the Bashar al-Assad regime, rather than the Islamic State. As Trump put it, “Let [Putin] bomb them [meaning ISIS]. I think we probably work together much more so than right now.” In return, the Russian leader has showered praise on Trump, calling him “a really brilliant and talented person, without any doubt,” and “the absolute leader in the presidential race.”
As for Putin’s history of assassinating journalists and political adversaries, Trump has repeatedly asserted that “it’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody,” despite the fact that the Committee to Protect Journalists catalogues some “56 journalists of various nationalities [who] have been killed in the country” since 1992. As it happens, Trump himself has actually joked about killing journalists, who he refers to as “lying, disgusting people,” and he's even declared that, “We’re going to open up those libel laws so when the New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they're totally protected.”
What exactly counts as a “hit piece”? Of course, this could end up being quite subjective, especially when it’s being decided by an insecure, narcissistic, authoritarian leader. As Trump added, “We’re going to open up libel laws and we’re going to have people sue you like you've never got sued before.”
Moving now to the Middle East, Trump has repeatedly said that he would “bomb the shit out of them,” meaning the Islamic State. Perhaps this sounds like a good plan to the predominantly uneducated white people who support Trump, but to scholars who actually study the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism, bombing in the group would have catastrophically negative consequences for U.S. national security. As one of the leading scholars of Islamic militancy, Will McCants, recently stated in an interview I conducted with him, “Jihadism thrives in chaos,” and dropping explosives on Syria and Iraq would only foment more chaos, thereby fueling more apocalyptic extremism.
The most sagacious strategy for defeating the Islamic State is rather “to end the multiple civil wars raging in the Middle East” — not an easy task, McCants acknowledges. If this were accomplished, though, the decrease in societal entropy would significantly “hurt the jihadist cause.” While Trump likes to claim that the 2003 U.S.-led preemptive invasion of Iraq was a monumental foreign policy blunder, he apparently hasn’t learned a thing from our militaristic misadventures overseas.
Making matters worse, Trump has claimed that “torture works,” calling those who came up with international laws against torture “eggheads.” (Seriously.) Thus, Trump says that he would reinstate the use of waterboarding, a technique that is widely condemned by scholars, politicians and people around the world as morally indefensible. In fact, the U.S. executed several Japanese soldiers after World War II for using waterboarding against their enemies.
As Trump put it in a recent NBC interview, authorities “should be able to do whatever they have to do” to extract information from suspected terrorists, adding that, “Waterboarding would be fine. If they can expand the laws, I would do a lot more than waterboarding.” Consistent with this position, Trump has also declared that he would not shut down the “detention camp” inside the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base — the “world’s most notorious prison” — where so-called “detainees” are held in an existentially nightmarish state of indefinite detention without due process, and in fact he would “add more prisoners.” Yet, as one expert notes, the prison has only resulted in “angry foreign allies, a tarnishing of America’s image, and declining cooperation in the Global War on Terrorism.” It’s making the U.S. less, rather than more, secure. And expanding it would only amplify this undesirable effect.
As if this isn’t enough to provoke outrage throughout the international community, Trump has stood by his blanket assertion that “Islam hates us.” Consequently, he’s argued that the U.S. should implement a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” until we “figure out what the hell is going on.” The problem is that, as Jeb “can fix it” Bush has pointed out, implementing this idea would seriously alienate our Muslim allies in the Middle East, some of whom are crucial partners in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State.
Indeed, Trump’s ban-the-Muslims scheme resulted in global outrage, with adherents “all over the world” denouncing the front-runner as “a bigot who promote[s] violence.” In the words of a prominent human rights lawyer in Pakistan, Asma Jahangir, “This is the worst kind of bigotry mixed with ignorance. ... Although we are not as advanced as the U.S., we have never elected such people to power in Pakistan.” Similarly, the Dar al-Iftaa religious institute in Egypt claimed that Trump’s proposal “will lead to conflict … and increase hate, which will be a threat to social peace in the United States.”
Finally, turning to the centerpiece of Trump’s xenophobic platform: his proposed 1,000-mile concrete wall between our southern neighbors and the American homeland. Initially estimated to cost around $4 billion, Trump has gradually increased the likely expense to $10 or $12 billion, although conservative estimates from other sources put construction alone at about $25 billion. The purpose of this Great Wall? To keep out Mexican criminals, drug dealers, and “rapists.”
But the question at hand is how Mexico has reacted to Trump’s idea. Well, as the treasury secretary of Mexico, Luis Videgaray, recently put it, “I say it emphatically and categorically: Mexico, under no circumstance, is going to pay for the wall that Mr. Trump is proposing.” And two Mexican ex-presidents so far have “slammed the idea,” with Felipe Calderon angrily saying that “Mexican people, we are not going to pay any single cent for such a stupid wall, and they need to know that,” and Vicente Fox even more angrily exclaiming to Jorge Ramos, “I'm not going to pay for that fucking wall. He should pay for it.”
As it happens, Hispanic voters overwhelmingly dislike Trump, with current surveys showing that a whopping 70 percent hold a “very unfavorable” opinion of the likely Republican nominee. More generally, Trump leads all the current presidential candidates with a historic unfavorability rating of 57 percent and an overall score of -33, according to a recent CBS/New York Times poll. By comparison, John McCain’s score back in 2008 was +7.
The point is that years before Trump’s meteoric rise in the political arena, the U.S. was already ranked the number one threat to world peace. But come January 2017, our standing in the world could take a far more serious hit. As CNN recently learned in a series of interviews with people from numerous countries, “There’s a lot of fear” swirling around the idea of a Trump presidency. A Hong Kong woman, for example, told CNN, “I’m actually very, very worried” about Trump, and a student in Cairo said that the “melting pot we know America as is going to change a lot.” Similarly, a woman in Berlin declared that “Americans could go back in time with this president,” and an Iranian in Tehran opined that Trump “is not a good man. … There are some that are creating problems all over the world. And it doesn’t matter if it’s ISIS, Islamists — they are radicals. And [Trump] is a radical just like them.” Furthermore, a woman from Johannesburg, South Africa, simply exclaimed “Hell no!” when asked if Trump should become president.
As Trump told his supporters at a Las Vegas rally held earlier this year, “We’re not going to be the dummies anymore, folks. We’re going to be the smart ones.” The problem is that, to paraphrase the Monty Python comedian John Cleese, recognizing one’s own stupidity requires a certain degree of intelligence. Thus, I suspect that Trump and his followers will never know just how much his unprofessional, incendiary, uninformed approach to politics will compromise our wounded reputation and even-more-wounded moral authority in the world today.