At some point, we’ve all been told not to care what other people think. Whether it be our parents, friends, therapists or significant others, the general trend in our individualistic philosophy is to boost self worth and confidence by choosing to define ourselves. In short, don’t let the haters keep you down. But that rule doesn’t really apply when you’re a country that has been occupying the role of global leader for decades rather than just a person trying to make it in the world.
A new Pew Research poll serves as a good reminder that when something is done by, or happens in America - everyone pays attention. The main result making headlines is that President Trump’s short tenure in office has already had a negative impact on global attitudes towards the United States. After surveying 37 countries, Pew found that only 49% of people around the world have favorable views of America, whereas that figure was at 64% at the end of President Obama’s second term.
A lot of it is personal. Just 22% of respondents have confidence in Trump to do the right thing regarding global affairs, compared to 64% who felt that way about Obama. In a matchup of Trump with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jing Ping, all rank low on the popularity scale, but Trump lands at the bottom with just 22%.
In measuring global views of Trump’s characteristics, 75% say he is arrogant, 65% see him as intolerant, and 62% believe he is dangerous. Just 26% think he is qualified to be president, and 55% consider him a “strong” leader. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
The primary takeaway here is that the rest of world is troubled by President Trump and what he is capable of. I have a feeling the MAGA believers couldn’t care less, and who knows, maybe they even like it that way. Those opposed to Trump are both nodding and shaking their heads - agreeing with the global assessment and simultaneously in disbelief that voters, and Republicans primarily, let this happen.
If we read deeper into the Pew results, however, there are some lessons to be found. Of course every poll needs to be taken with a grain of salt. For example, this study surveyed just over 40 thousand people, which while not insignificant, is also a very small portion of a global population estimated to be at 7.5 billion.
An overarching rule to consider is that American actions have consequences. Our civil liberties record, for example, has been taking a hit for years. According to Pew, European attitudes towards “America’s reputation as a guardian of people’s rights may have been affected by revelations in June 2013 that the U.S. National Security Agency had listened in on telephone conversations, even those of European leaders”. There is also a global gender gap, with Pew finding that “women are less likely than men to say the U.S. government respects the personal freedoms of its own people”. Given our less than stellar record on gender equality in the workplace, opportunities for girls, and an increasing assault on women’s reproductive rights, these results speak volumes.
Positive views from the neighbors that share our borders have taken a hit, with Mexico’s favorable attitudes diving from 66% to 30%. More than 9 in 10 Mexicans oppose Trump’s plan for a border wall.
62% globally reject the President’s stance on restricting immigration from Muslim-majority countries, and a majority of people are opposed to the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord in 32 of 37 countries.
The only places where Trump gets higher marks than Obama are Israel and Russia. These results also make perfect sense. Russians feel very negatively about having sanctions imposed on them, so why wouldn’t they look positively upon an American leader who promises to improve relations and refuses to take a strong stance on the Russian government's transgressions? President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a publicly acrimonious relationship, whereas Trump wants to restore a US position that erases any criticism of Israeli policies.
Americans are also still well liked as a people around the world, but according to Pew, that positive image doesn’t hold up in the Middle East. It’s not hard to imagine that 16 years of a global war on terror which has resulted in civilian deaths in Muslim countries could be a large factor in affecting public views.
President Trump hasn’t yet responded to these Pew results, and it’s very possible he never will. For now it’s entertaining just to imagine what he would blame them on given the absence of his favorite American target, the “fake news media”, in other countries. But while Trump is the primary driver of our falling global image in 2017, it would serve us well to be conscious of the ways in which our policies, beyond Trump, affect our global standing. Every action, from local to federal laws, business practices, and where civil liberties land on the priorities list, has a reaction.