President Donald Trump, who preaches pro-business policies at home and more favorable terms for the United States in trade deals, may well help elect more anti-American leaders around the world and leave the United States more isolated and embattled.
We could see the first manifestation of this in Trump’s confrontational approach with Mexico. His positions on trade (particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement) and immigration, and his characterization of the people of Mexico, have boosted the prospects of presidential hopeful Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico’s July 1 election.
López Obrador, who has talked about possibly granting amnesty to drug traffickers, is widely viewed as a nationalist, left-wing populist who favors restricting foreign investment and protecting his nation’s domestic economy.
Earlier this year, López Obrador promised to put Trump “in his place.”
In the area of energy, for example, The New York Times recently reported that López Obrador “wants to reverse policies that have tied a knot between Mexico and the United States in recent years in energy production and consumption. And he has promised to make sure that oil never falls ‘back into the hands of foreigners.’”
Polls conducted in April and May have shown López Obrador holding leads of 10 to 20 points in the multicandidate presidential contest. (Mexico does not have a runoff system, so the first-place finisher is elected, even with only a plurality of the vote.)
Meanwhile, in France, Emmanuel Macron has faced a torrent of criticism for his obsequiousness to Trump. The French president’s poll numbers are down, as critics from both ends of the ideological spectrum have blasted Macron for allegedly humiliating himself during his meetings with the American president.
Macron, like some other foreign leaders, has tried to flatter Trump to ingratiate himself with the president — and to convince Trump to change his positions on trade, the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal and other crucially important issues. So far, those efforts have failed.
France is not alone in its disdain for Trump. The Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes and Trends annual survey shows respondents have a less favorable view of the United States than they did before Trump was re-elected, and they have less confidence in the president doing “the right thing regarding world affairs.”
The declines have been most notable in Western Europe and Japan — including in countries that have been among America’s closest allies for decades.
Pew Research polling in Latin America showed the same general trend, with a dramatic drop in the public’s view of the United States and in the public’s confidence that Trump will do the right thing.
Although Trump’s standing is down throughout Latin America, the drop is most pronounced in Mexico. Only 5 percent of respondents in Mexico in a spring 2017 survey said they had confidence that Trump would do the right thing in world affairs.
Enemies of his friends
One of the few places around the globe where Trump’s standing has improved is Israel, but that improvement masks a dangerous development.
For decades, Israeli political leaders and American advocates for Israel have sought to portray the relationship between the two countries as above partisan politics.
Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives could all support the Jewish state. It was one of the few things on which most Americans, regardless of party or ideology, could agree.
But Trump’s strong support for Israel, which includes moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, carries some risk for the Jewish state.
Trump is such a polarizing figure at home that his support for Israel could actually undermine bipartisan support for the country.
In particular, weakening support for Israel among nonwhites and Hispanics in the United States has concerned Israeli officials for years, and they have been looking for ways to connect with the minority community.
But Trump’s rhetoric and actions could make that more difficult. The combination of Trump’s support for the Jewish state and his historic unpopularity among some Americans could undermine support for Israel among younger voters, progressives and minority voters, who don’t have the same connection to or affection for Israel as most Jews and Christians.
In other words, if Donald Trump supports Israel, some voters automatically cannot.
Indeed, a Pew Research survey conducted earlier this year showed a sharp drop in support for Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute among Democrats. While part of this change almost certainly can be traced to Israeli actions, Trump’s possible impact shouldn’t be ignored, considering the animosity that many hold toward him.
Many Republicans complained that Barack Obama “led from behind” and weakened American power around the globe. But Trump seems to be encouraging America’s critics and alienating its friends, weakening America’s standing and unleashing forces that could do additional harm in the future.
Note: This column first appeared in Roll Call on May 22, 2018.