On Monday, while President Trump was praising the horribly renamed-and-renegotiated NAFTA in the Rose Garden, he declared: “The United States is respected again. But it’s also respected as to trade and industry.” The idea that the United States is newly respected under Trump has been a running theme of his for much of this year. Beyond yesterday see here, here, here, here and here for starters.
It is unsurprising that a president who campaigned on making America great again would subsequently say that everyone agrees it is now great. But is it, you know, true? On Monday, the hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts suggested that Trump had little comprehension of the kinds of power that would flow from respect and admiration. But that could have been me bloviating or cherry-picking anecdotes embarrassing to the president of the United States. Is there any hard evidence?
Actually, there is. In the past 24 hours, two new polls have been released — one by the Pew Research Center on global attitudes toward the United States and one by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs about U.S. attitudes toward foreign policy (full disclosure: I sit on the Chicago Council’s Foreign Policy Advisory Board, which oversees the direction of the annual survey). The combined poll results suggest that the United States under Trump ain’t getting much respect at home or abroad.
Let’s start with the international surveys. Here’s the first paragraph of Pew’s report:
America’s global image plummeted following the election of President Donald Trump, amid widespread opposition to his administration’s policies and a widely shared lack of confidence in his leadership. Now, as the second anniversary of Trump’s election approaches, a new 25-nation Pew Research Center survey finds that Trump’s international image remains poor, while ratings for the United States are much lower than during Barack Obama’s presidency.
What doe this look like in chart form? Behold:
So none of this data is good, but maybe it could be explained by the rest of the world grudgingly respecting U.S. power while disliking Trump’s exercise of it. The thing is, Pew’s other survey findings do not jibe with that. If that hypothesis was true, the survey should show recognition of a more prominent U.S. role in world affairs under Trump. In fact, Pew finds that “there is no real consensus in views of America’s prominence in world affairs. A median of 35 percent believe it is as important as it was 10 years ago, while 31 percent say it is more important, and 25 percent say less.” This comes at the same time that Pew found a strong consensus about China’s growing role in the world.
Beyond that, Pew’s data largely confirms the results from the 2017 survey: Folks outside Israel and Russia really, really dislike Trump. It also explains why so much of the world was laughing at him last week.
What about Americans (see also Dina Smeltz’s summary over at The Monkey Cage)? Do they feel like America is more respected now than the time before Trump? Not according to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which surveyed Americans on this very question: “As interactions with allies have strained over the past year, majorities of Americans say that relations with other countries are worsening (56%) and that the United States is losing allies (57%). In addition, 59 percent of Americans say that the United States is less respected now than it was 10 years ago, with 21 percent saying it is more respected now. . . . The public’s perception that the United States is losing allies is tied to the view that the United States is losing global influence. ”
Indeed, it is striking that Americans believed that China, Russia and the European Union all gained global influence over the past year while the United States was standing still. Furthermore, when asked whether the United States is feared or admired on the global stage, the responses are not good for Trump: Thirty-nine percent said “feared,” while 20 percent said “admired.” But what is astonishing is how many respondents volunteered another answer despite the prompt. And the modal response? “The most common responses are along the lines that the United States is laughed at, a joke, or ridiculed.” It is therefore unsurprising that Americans would strongly prefer a return to the liberal internationalism that Trump explicitly rejects.
One could argue that neither the American public nor the global public truly understands the nature of influence in world politics. It is possible; there have been some serious misperceptions in these polls in the past. But there are two problems with this argument. First, even if it is a misperception, it’s still a problem. That is how conflicts get exacerbated on the global stage. Second, Trump is running out of audiences to substantiate his claim about respect. If Americans do not believe that the United States is respected on the global stage, and foreigners do not believe that either, and foreign leaders are openly laughing at him in high-profile venues, where is the group of people that respect America more now? Israel and the Gulf emirates are too tiny a sliver of the world for this dog to hunt.
Trump can say that America is respected again as much as he likes, but the public opinion data is clear on this point. A majority of Americans do not believe the country is more respected now than in the past. Foreign populations neither trust nor respect the United States more under Trump. Donald Trump’s America is less respected across the world. The president has succeeded in little beyond making America anxious about its global standing again.