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Trump and the West: The Alienation Continues. Will His Supporters Ever Care?

This post is written by W.A. Schmidt, an op-ed contributor.

When it comes to the Trump presidency, sympathetic observers outside the United States are preoccupied with the same question that the majority of their American counterparts must be pondering: How much longer will this president inflict damage upon his country, its political culture, its international relations and its global reputation without paying more of a penalty than a mere shrug among most of his supporters?

For the sake of illustrating the extent of incredulity among foreigners, let us imagine for a moment the shock and dismay that would emerge if the leaders of some of America’s closest allies were to have uttered what has flowed so carelessly out of Trump’s mouth.

What if the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, had mocked a reporter for his disability, demonstrated her complete ignorance of the country’s nuclear deterrent during a debate, braggingly disclosed an intelligence source to Russia, praised President Putin for expelling British diplomats and suggested that the U.S. president appoint a far-right bigot as American ambassador to the UK?

What if Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, had bragged about his sexual prowess, about grabbing women with impunity and about his voters’ forgiveness even if he shot someone in the middle of Paris, had encouraged police brutality against arrested suspects, become obsessed with and incessantly lied about the crowd size at his inauguration and claimed he received praise in meetings that never occurred?

What if Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany had incited violence against protesters at her rallies, attacked mainstream media as “fake news,” called journalists “sick people,” retweeted pictures of physical violence against a major news network and encouraged Russia to hack and leak the e-mails of her political opponent?

What if the Prime Minister of Italy, Paolo Gentiloni, were openly stoking and abetting racism, had called illegal immigrants “rapists,” compared them to “vomit,” refused to distance himself unequivocally from the violence perpetrated by domestic neo-Nazis, called some participants in their rallies “very fine people“ and waxed aesthetic about fascist statues?

And what if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had called Canada’s election system “rigged” when he was not sure he would win, falsely accused his predecessor of wiretapping him, questioned the legitimacy of members of the judiciary as “so-called judges,” called for the prosecution of his political opponent after the election, engaged in pitiless personal vendettas via Twitter and repeatedly expressed his infatuation with human-rights abusing authoritarian rulers?

These examples are but a fraction of the unrelenting dose of equally un-presidential missives and falsehoods that continue to stream forth from President Trump.

In more decent times – i.e. before Trump’s dreadful feat of coarsening public life by mainstreaming vulgarity and normalizing mendacity – voters would have recoiled. They would have treated such utterances as either the work of a humor-challenged satirist or the product of a fake news outlet. Alternatively, they would have considered the source incompetent, immoral or out of touch with reality and certainly unfit for public office. And yet, this man was elected and has remained, so far, in power.

Meanwhile, we must rely on the efficacy of the countervailing powers to contain the damage. Thankfully, some of the checks and balances within government have been triggered. Resistance in society-at-large is strong and mounting. His record low approval ratings are a further sign that common sense is still alive and that the majority of Americans is not being fooled.

Hope rests also in the fact that, so far, none of the policies he intends to pursue command majority support at home. Interestingly, some of his highest domestic disapproval ratings relate precisely to those issues that are of greatest concern abroad, namely foreign policy and the environment.

Trump claimed speaking not just for America but for the West at large when he read out the disingenuous prose of his scripted remarks in Warsaw, Poland: “I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail.” This begs the question: What in his unscripted and hence unfiltered outbursts could possibly be representative of the values of the West?

In any case, his actions speak louder than the fake solemnity of his teleprompter speeches. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his willful destruction of American diplomacy. If Trump took the defense of the West and the United States seriously he would strengthen not eviscerate the Department of State. Nor would he mistreat friends and allies while expressing his admiration for the methods of authoritarian strongmen.

Trump’s address to the UN General Assembly was yet another missed opportunity to demonstrate statesmanship. For the most part, it was jarringly incoherent and parochial. Its many retrograde aspects pleased the adversarial powers he spared most. They see in him a fellow traveler, if not an ally, in their quest to undermine the fundamental values that undergird the United Nations, particularly in the field of human rights and international humanitarian law.

Since the UN’s founding, each consecutive U.S. administrations has endorsed the universality of these values and at times promoted and protected them – until now when even the pretense is gone. His tirade left America’s closest friends understandably aghast. Many of them rebuked him diplomatically in the speeches that followed. Some, like Sweden’s foreign minister, expressed their disagreement with more frankness.

Trump’s supporters would be well-advised to go beyond the soundbites of his speech and its fawning coverage by the news sources they typically consume. Instead they ought to read it in its entirety and then compare it with a speech that would have made Americans proud had it been given by their own president. It was Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, who took on the task of filling the void left by a politically and morally abdicating America. His engaging and inspiring address at the UN aimed at mobilizing humankind’s best intentions and abilities to cope with the world’s problems.

In contrast, Trump’s inclination lies in appealing to people’s lowest instincts and in debasing, not upholding, civilized norms and values. He is neither suited for nor interested in leading by example. As a result, the U.S. has morphed into an outlier among the community of democracies in both style and substance. This voluntary retreat from global leadership is a godsend to America’s enemies and to autocrats the world over. It should make every patriotic American shudder.

It is not surprising that when a prominent BBC journalist returned to the U.S. after spending a few weeks in Europe this past summer, she felt that she had returned to a country “diminished and dismissed.” Her impression was that in Europe “general publics increasingly see the US as a non-entity. It’s not even seen as a joke, people are saddened by America’s diminished global status.”

This becomes painfully obvious in personal exchanges with citizens from other democratic countries. Condemnation of Trump the person and most of his policies is near universal across the political spectrum, except for the extreme right. Case in point was Trump’s complete isolation due to his decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. His ignorance of the world inures him from grasping the damage he causes to the standing of his own country, let alone the health of the planet. His pointless posturing may well feed his ego, special interests and the most ill-informed members of his base. Yet for those who care about the U.S., it was just another sad instance of America’s unprecedented alienation from the rest of the world.

Americans better engage in some somber soul-searching as to why such a great nation took such a potentially fateful turn. This task applies predominantly to those Trump voters who do not generally share his or his far-right supporters’ extremist views. They would be well-advised to heed the warnings by fellow Republicans such as former President George W. Bush, former presidential candiates McCain and Romney as well as Senators Corker, Flake and Sasse. How much longer can sensible supporters possibly remain complacent or complicit?

As for the self-proclaimed “super-patriots” among his base, when will they realize that their unconditional support will discourage him from changing course; that giving him a free pass will only deepen domestic and international divisions; that it will wreck America’s image further; and that this may ultimately put the nation at risk – whether from outside or even from within?

And, on a more personal level: that maintaining their allegiance to such a toxic leader in spite of the harm he causes speaks volumes about their gullibility? Or worse, that it exposes the shallowness of their professed “love of country”?

W.A. Schmidt is an international affairs consultant and a member of the board of the Foreign Policy Association. He is an op-ed contributor, and his views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foreign Policy Association or of the Foreign Policy blogs network.