The world sees a disturbingly open celebration of hate-filled ideas and a leader unable to differentiate between those who spread racial hatred and those who oppose it.
The tragic “United the Right” protest in Charlottesville, Va.seems like a story of domestic politics. America is confronting its torturous racial divides in an era when President Trump is willing to act as a moral apologist for the worst of our society — so long as they support him politically.
But the story of Charlottesville is splashed across front pages and news bulletins worldwide. It has been for nearly a week. Readers and viewers across the globe are being shocked and horrified by images of Nazi salutes and white supremacists not even bothering to obscure their faces with hoods, in 2017. The world looks to America and sees a disturbingly open celebration of hate-filled ideas that had been tossed into the dustbin of history decades ago, thanks to the unfathomable sacrifices of millions. But the world also looks at America and sees a leader so morally bankrupt that he cannot differentiate between those who spread violent racial hatred and those who oppose it.
Spanish newspaper El Pais proclaimed that “Trump remains alone in his defense of racism.” Right-leaning German paper Die Wielt called Trump “the president of anti-democratic forces on the extreme fringe.” Belgian daily Le Soir ran with a one-word headline over Trump’s photo on the front page: “Hate.” The Economist put Trump on its cover speaking through a megaphone shaped like the iconic white Ku Klux Klan hood. The magazine tweeted the cover with the caption: “Donald Trump is politically inept, morally barren and temperamentally unfit for office.”
Trump has been destroying America’s reputation in the world every day since he took office. And it just got a lot worse.
Most Americans are rightly horrified by the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members who descended on a picturesque American city. They are rightly disgusted that Heather Heyer, a peaceful counter-protester, was run over by a car, allegedly by one of the marchers.
In response, Trump equated the racist bigots with the protesters who stood up to them, placing blame on “both sides.” He even claimed that there were “very fine people” on both sides. Nobody who is a “very fine” person would participate in a protest that involves Hitler salutes, the KKK and Nazi flags.
Trump is unwilling or unable to bring down the moral hammer of unequivocal condemnation from the highest office in the land. This catastrophic failure of values is destroying our country’s image in the world.
Seventy-six years ago this week, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill signed the Atlantic Charter, a document setting out the shared goals of the Allies as they began to contemplate what the world would look like after the defeat of Nazi fascists. Today, that same alliance is under strain because Trump cannot clearly condemn neo-Nazi fascists.
Prime Minister Theresa May is facing pressure from across the political spectrum to dis-invite Trump from any form of official state visit to the United Kingdom. She has called on Trump to recognize that there is “no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them.” This is astounding criticism from America’s strongest ally, one that countless Americans have fought and died alongside over decades of a “Special Relationship.”
In Germany, next month’s election has devolved into a contest between who will distance the country from Trump and the United States more aggressively. Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the racism and bigotry of Charlottesville as “evil.” Her main opponent in the elections, Martin Schulz, went further, saying: “We should not tolerate the monstrosities coming out of the president’s mouth.” A candidate running for parliament in Schulz’s Social Democratic party even produced a campaign poster in which he is chopping down a tree with Trump’s face embedded in the bark.
The world is running away from Trump. Before Charlottesville, the loss of confidence in American leadership was already disastrous. In the six months since President Obama left office, confidence in America to “do the right thing” in global affairs plummeted 75% in Germany, 71% in South Korea, 70% in France, 57% in the United Kingdom, and 54% in Japan. Those declines came before the president failed his latest moral test.
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Unfortunately, global surveys also show a severe spike in the number of people who now view the United States, not just Trump, unfavorably. Trump’s personal failures are diminishing America’s global leadership in a way that will do lasting damage.
It’s harder for the United States to corral allies into action if the world finds this president morally repugnant. Many around the world already thought of Trump that way due to his conduct in the campaign, but their ranks grew considerably after Charlottesville.
Despite what Trump wants you to believe, the outrage about Charlottesville and Trump’s morally limp response to it are not “Fake News.” Bipartisan outrage has spread to the highest ranking members of Trump’s own party and American business leaders. And it has also spread globally.
After Trump leaves office, most Americans will still believe in America. The world may not.
Brian Klaas, a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, is author ofThe Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding and Abetting the Decline of Democracy. Follow him on Twitter @brianklaas.
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