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A popularity contest: International perception of the United States has declined under Trump


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There are three reasons why Love, Actually remains one of the nation’s favourite films.

Firstly, Emma Thompson (this point requires no further explanation).

Secondly, the incongruous-but-indisputably-masterful inclusion of a Hugh Grant dance scene set inside the hallowed halls of Number Ten.

And finally, it’s the wildly fantastical, entirely self-serving moment when the young, newly-elected Prime Minister stands up to the supercilious, smarmy President of the United States in order to declare the so-called special relationship defunct. It’s a scene that, despite being entirely unimaginable, never fails to puff the chests of my (older) family members each Christmas and momentarily replace the festive feeling with a sudden burst of patriotism.

Unrealistic as it may be, when Hugh Grant’s character takes to the podium at that fictional press conference and declares that "a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend", he does at the very least exhibit more resolve than Theresa May has indicated in her interactions with and commentary on Donald Trump.

The current Prime Minister may have run an election campaign which embraced a reputation for being a "bloody difficult woman", but many have noted that May’s responses to some of Trump’s most controversial acts as president have been remarkably lukewarm.

I couldn’t help thinking about Love, Actually’s depiction of the special relationship as I read the news that according to a new study conducted by the nonpartisan American organisation the Pew Research Center, the results of which were released today, Trump’s presidency has led to a sharp decline in international perspectives on America and its leadership.

The poll, which surveyed 37 countries globally, revealed that favourable ratings for the US had dropped from 64% at the conclusion of Barack Obama’s time in office to a considerably lower current rating of 49%, while an average of only 22% of those questioned claimed to have faith in the president’s competence in decision-making when it came to international affairs.

By contrast, 74% reported having little to no confidence in Trump’s abilities.

While this may appear to be yet another blow to a White House already mired in scandal and controversy – from the dismissal of the Director of the FBI, James Comey, to the interlinked issue of alleged links to Russia – perhaps the most curious thing about his presidency thus far is that it continues to march on, wounded but functioning, seemingly supported by the strength alone of Trump’s sheer (and oblivious) arrogance.

The extent to which international disapproval will affect America’s dealings with the rest of the world inevitably relates to Trump’s own vision for his revitalised nation – the country he swore to "make great again".

While Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had served in Barack Obama’s cabinet as Secretary of State between 2009 and 2013, Trump’s presidential campaign suggested that his only real feeling for foreign policy was to fear the outside world – pursuing an inward-looking, isolationist agenda which advocated for building a wall between Mexico and the US, and which has seen his presidency attempt to institute a highly contentious travel ban.

The proposed travel ban which would affect Visa applicants from Muslim-majority countries Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, had originally been blocked by US courts, but has now seen those restrictions partially lifted by the Supreme Court, which continues to consider the legitimacy of the policy.

Thus, Donald Trump himself may remain totally unfazed by poor ratings abroad - after all, he wants to make walls, rather than friendship bracelets - but his country may feel otherwise. While Theresa May was criticised for her unwillingness to forcefully condemn Trump’s decision to remove the US from the Paris climate accord – an announcement he explained with the apparently prophetic words: "We don’t want other countries and other leaders to laugh at us anymoreW – other world leaders were swift to voice their disapproval (as French leader Emmanuel Macron put it: "Wherever we live, whoever we are, we all share the same responsibility: make our planet great again.")

This kind of pithy criticism may roll off Trump like water off a duck’s back – or rather an oily blonde toupee – but many of his fellow Americans have publicly disclaimed the representation of the US that a Trump presidency has come to symbolise. The Mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, is one of the more high-profile examples, tweeting that "Pittsburgh stands with the world" in following the Paris agreement.

The Trump administration may extract some comfort from the Pew Research study, which did suggest that America’s favourability had increased in Israel, a country in which Obama’s presidency had been far less popular. However, the only other country surveyed which saw the US enjoying increased favourability was Russia – a fact the White House may just want to downplay.

Ultimately, we’re not about to see Justin Trudeau or Angela Merkel or Theresa May disavowing Trump anytime soon in front of a room full of journalists – but clearly the impact the president’s time in office is already having on global perceptions of the United States isn’t exactly doing the country any favours.

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