In London last week, I met a Nigerian man who succinctly expressed the reaction of much of the world to the United States these days. “Your country has gone crazy,” he said, with a mixture of outrage and amusement. “I’m from Africa. I know crazy, but I didn’t ever think I would see this in America.”
A sadder sentiment came from a young Irish woman I met in Dublin who went to Columbia University, founded a social enterprise and has lived in New York for nine years. “I’ve come to recognize that, as a European, I have very different values than America these days,” she said. “I realized that I have to come back to Europe, somewhere in Europe, to live and raise a family.”
The world has gone through bouts of anti-Americanism before. But this one feels very different. First, there is the sheer shock at what is going on, the bizarre candidacy of Donald Trump, which has been followed by an utterly chaotic presidency. The chaos is at such a fever pitch that one stalwart Republican, Karl Rove, described the president this week as “vindictive, impulsive and shortsighted” and his public shaming of Attorney General Jeff Sessions as “unfair, unjustified, unseemly and stupid.” Kenneth Starr, the onetime grand inquisitor of President Bill Clinton, went further, calling Trump’s recent treatment of Sessions “one of the most outrageous — and profoundly misguided — courses of presidential conduct I have witnessed in five decades in and around the nation’s capital.”
But there is another aspect to the decline in America’s reputation. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey of 37 countries, people around the world increasingly believe that they can make do without America. Trump’s presidency is making the United States something worse than just feared or derided. It is becoming irrelevant.
The most fascinating finding of the Pew survey was not that Trump is deeply unpopular (22 percent have confidence in him, compared with 64 percent who had confidence in Barack Obama at the end of his presidency). That was to be expected — but there are now alternatives. On the question of confidence in various leaders to do the right thing regarding world affairs, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin got slightly higher marks than Trump. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel got almost twice as much support as Trump. (Even in the United States, more respondents expressed confidence in Merkel than in Trump.) This says a lot about Trump, but it says as much about Merkel’s reputation and how far Germany has come since 1945.