“AMERICA IS WINNING ON THE WORLD STAGE,” claims a document released by the White House today, entitled “President Donald J. Trump’s 500 Days of American Greatness.” It goes on to say that “President Trump has re-asserted American leadership on the world stage and is achieving results for the American people.”
And how is Trump reasserting this leadership? One place to start is with a new diplomatic controversy involving Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany. He gave an interview to Breitbart in which he said this:
“I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders. I think there is a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left.”
This is what happens when you take a Fox News troll and try to turn him into a diplomat. As Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said today, “When I raised concerns to Grenell about politicizing this post, he personally assured me that once he became Ambassador he would stay out of politics.” But I guess he couldn’t help himself.
Grenell slightly modified his comments today, saying on Twitter that “The idea that I’d endorse candidates/parties is ridiculous. I stand by my comments that we are experiencing an awakening from the silent majority — those who reject the elites & their bubble. Led by Trump.”
There are good ambassadors and bad ones, ones that got their job because they gave the president money and ones that worked their way up through the diplomatic corps. But they’re all supposed to share the idea that when you represent the United States of America, you represent the United States of America. Not your ideology, not a particular faction within American politics (or anybody else’s politics), but the entire country.
Grenell obviously doesn’t understand that. But to be honest, who in this administration does?
While the German government is certainly appalled by Grenell’s comments — and not for the first time — I doubt that will dent the president’s conviction that he has indeed made America stand tall. “America is respected again,” Trump often says, painting a picture of a world that used to look on us with scorn but now admires everything about us. He probably thinks only a few haters in Germany disagree with what Grenell said.
There are times when it’s obvious Trump knows he’s lying, but when Trump says America is respected again, I don’t think it’s one of them. I suspect that, on this subject, he actually believes his own baloney. How could it not be so, when we were a country of losers before, and now there’s so much winning we’re almost tired of winning?
The truth, however, is that when Trump became president, America’s image in the world went in the toilet.
Maybe it was the fact he ran a campaign based on xenophobia and racism. Maybe it was the “America First” idea, which explicitly tells the rest of the world to shove it. Maybe it was the way he tried to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Maybe it was the wall he wants to build. Maybe it was the way he pulled out of carefully negotiated international agreements such as the Paris climate accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Iran nuclear deal. Maybe it’s that he has an obvious zero-sum view of the world, in which there’s no such thing as cooperation and if anyone else is gaining it means America is losing. Or maybe it’s that around the world they look at him and see an ignorant buffoon with the impulse control of a toddler. It could be all of the above.
But there’s simply no question that America’s image in the world has suffered. As the Pew Research Center reported last year:
Across 37 countries we surveyed in spring 2017, a median of just 22% said they have confidence in Trump to do the right thing in world affairs. In contrast, 64% expressed confidence in President Barack Obama in these same 37 nations during the final years of his presidency.
But it varied from place to place. In only two of those 37 countries — Israel and Russia — did the public have more confidence in Trump than Obama. The worst declines, further, came among some of our closest allies. In Germany, 86 percent had confidence in Obama, but only 11 percent said the same of Trump. For Canada it was 83 percent and 22 percent. For Great Britain it was 79 and 22. For Japan it was 78 and 24.
A Gallup report earlier this year found something similar:
One year into Donald Trump’s presidency, the image of U.S. leadership is weaker worldwide than it was under his two predecessors. Median approval of U.S. leadership across 134 countries and areas stands at a new low of 30%.
Again, the biggest drops happened among America’s allies.
There has even been a decline in international tourism to the United States, what some are calling a “Trump slump.” So as hard as it may be for Trump to understand, he’s loathed all over the globe, while Obama was hugely admired.
No one understands better than Trump the power the president can have to shape America’s image in the world. Which is actually good news, because it means that whenever he leaves office, we can be respected again. For real this time.