A few weeks ago, I confessed that I have become totally hooked on the weekly New York Times column of Thomas Edsall. His most recent from last Thursday was brilliant but unutterably depressing.
Edsall reviewed a Pew Research Center survey, taken in 37 countries in June, asking whether people had confidence in President Donald Trump to do the right thing in international affairs.
By smooshing the responses from all countries together the overall verdict is, by 74 to 22 percent, ordinary people around the world lack confidence in Trump. Is that because they don’t trust America in general or any of its leaders? I could imagine that, but apparently not. When the same poll question was asked during Barack Obama’s presidency, foreigners had confidence in the United States to do the right thing by 64 to 23 percent.
How widespread is this decline global confidence in America since Trump became president?
Confidence down in 35 of 37 nations surveyed
When you break those responses down by country, confidence in U.S. had gone down in 35 of the 37 countries surveyed. The two exceptions were Russia and Israel. In Israel, the change was relatively small. The last time Pew asked the question there under Obama, 49 percent said they had confidence U.S. policy. The first time they asked it after Trump took office, that rose to 56.
In the Russia the change was much more dramatic. Only 11 percent of Russian respondents trusted Obama, but 53 percent said they trusted Trump.
At the other end of the spectrum, confidence in American policy from the last Obama poll to the first Trump poll fell by 83 percentage points (from 93 to 10) in Sweden, which was the biggest drop in any country. After that, Germany and the Netherlands were the biggest losers of confidence in America since the change in its top leader — a drop of 75 percentage point in both. Then South Korea (drop of 71 points); France (drop of 70); Spain (68); Canada (61) the UK (57), Australia (55), Japan (54).
Pew has done similar polls for years. There have never been results anything close to this bad.
This link will enable you to see all the scores. At the low end of the spectrum (meaning countries where the decline in confidence was relatively small) were Jordan, Nigeria, Venezuela, Tunisia and Vietnam.
Sought out experts for analysis
Edsall’s column was about more than just these horrifying poll results. As he generally does, he emailed experts at analyzing issues like these and printed some of the responses. Edsall writes, for example:
“Arthur Lupia, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, emailed: ‘As America is seen as an increasingly volatile and unreliable partner, the reduced credibility that follows creates new international opportunities for people like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin — who can promise relative stability. The net result? We now have reduced leverage in many international settings.’”
Personally, I’d never seen the word “decivilizational” before, but Edsall suggests that what he called “Trump’s assault — and that of his appointees — on democratic standards and principles” might be having that effect – a decivilizational effect — on the U.S. and the world order. Edsall asked some of his experts whether, perhaps, there might be a legal remedy, perhaps from the Mueller investigation? His column concludes with some discussion of that:
“Executive authoritarianism and lawlessness can be hemmed in and checked but not fully constrained by courts, the criminal law, or the written Constitution,” Jacob T. Levy wrote this week in “The Limits of Legalism,” published by the libertarian-leaning Niskanen Center:
They ultimately have to be confronted by elected officials: co-partisans willing to exercise serious restraint, or if not, an opposition voted into office who will do so instead.
At the moment, Trump’s co-partisans, House and Senate Republicans, have shown little willingness to confront him. The longer Trump stays in office, the greater the danger that he will inflict permanent damage on the institutions that must be essential tools in any serious attempt to confront him.