The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump has turned America into a pitiful pariah

Protesters march in front of Trump Tower during a solidarity rally for George Floyd on May 30 in New York. (Wong Maye-E/AP)

Nearly two months ago, a headline in that venerable British newspaper the Guardian proclaimed: “US’s global reputation hits rock-bottom over Trump’s coronavirus response.” Now I’m wondering what’s lower than rock bottom? Because that’s where we are today after President Trump’s response to the demonstrations that have swept the United States.

Trump’s inability to fight a pandemic that has killed more people in the United States than in any other country revealed that our government is dysfunctional and incompetent. In the past, the United States would send disaster assistance to other countries; now other countries were sending disaster assistance here. “Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger,” columnist Fintan O’Toole wrote in the Irish Times. “But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.”

To have the rest of the world pity the United States — that’s a humiliation I never thought I would see. But pity doesn’t seem so bad compared with how the world feels about us now.

We have become an international pariah because of the way that our police forces mistreat people of color with the encouragement of our racist president. Trump is, as journalist Windsor Mann notes, “a weak man posing as a strongman.” The bone-spur commando cowered from protesters in the White House bunker on Friday night while unleashing salvo after salvo of blood-curdling threats to shoot looters and to unleash “the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons.”

Full coverage of the George Floyd protests

On Monday, Trump raged at governors that they would look “weak” if they don’t use force to “dominate” demonstrators. He pledged to put Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in charge of dealing with protests, while Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper spoke of the need to “dominate the battlespace” — i.e., American cities. Sure enough, troops streamed into the nation’s capital and military helicopters buzzed demonstrators as if they were insurgents in Iraq. On Monday night, Trump ventured out of his lair, employing security forces to tear-gas and bludgeon peaceful protesters so he could stage a bizarre photo op in front of a church, brandishing a Bible as if he had never seen one before. He is acting like a Central Asian autocrat rather than the leader of a constitutional republic.

The White House video of Trump's visit to St. John's Episcopal Church in D.C. erases the violent attack on protesters by authorities that preceded it. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP/The Washington Post)

The world is watching, and it is appalled by what it sees. Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung summed it up: “Trump declares war on America.” Our allies are mortified; our enemies are gleeful, because Trump has handed them a priceless gift. Every tinpot dictator can now savor a moment of unearned moral superiority over a country that has spent decades lecturing them on human rights. Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov: “I am horrified by watching the situation in the United States, where members of the authorities brutally violate the rights of regular citizens.” The Iranian press quotes Ayatollah Khomeini: “America has begun the process of its own destruction.” A North Korean newspaper decries “a white policeman’s brutality.”

It was only last week that Trump rightly condemned Beijing’s move to take away Hong Kong’s freedom. Now China has an unanswerable riposte. After State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus tweeted that “freedom loving people around the world must stand with the rule of law and hold to account the Chinese Communist Party,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman replied: “I can’t breathe.” Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif took to Twitter to rewrite one of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s condemnations of Iranian abuses into a condemnation of U.S. abuses — including the mistreatment of protesters.

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This is, of course, unfair; even under Trump, the U.S. human rights record is infinitely better than Iran’s or China’s. But it is a measure of Trump’s international isolation that no one is coming forward to defend us. “America First” leaves America alone.

Just this week, Trump canceled a planned Group of Seven meeting in the United States after German Chancellor Angela Merkel — the true leader of the free world — refused to attend. This was an unprecedented snub. Desperately trying to save face, Trump expressed his desire to hold an expanded meeting in the fall that would include Russia, but both Britain and Canada expressed opposition to including Vladimir Putin.

Even before our current disasters, the United States’ standing in the world had plummeted. A Pew Research Center survey found that the percentage of people around the world with confidence in the U.S. president had fallen from 74 percent under President Barack Obama to just 31 percent under Trump. More people expressed “no confidence” in Trump than they did in Putin or Xi Jinping. And that was back in 2019 — before the pandemic, before the economic meltdown, before the riots. How low can we go? We are about to find out what is lower than rock bottom.

Trump has often said that he would stop the world from laughing at us. Mission accomplished. Instead of laughing, the world is weeping at what we have become.

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The Post’s View: President Trump’s snarling demands for rough policing are the opposite of law-and-order