How Donald Trump has already shaken U.S. relations with friends and foes

March 30, 2016
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a Town Hall in Janesville, Wisconsin March 29, 2016. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

Donald Trump speaks during a town hall in Janesville, Wisconsin, March 29, 2016. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

Donald Trump says he doesn’t care what the world thinks of him. The whole world.

Has any presidential candidate ever exhibited such boorishness? Does it matter?

Bad manners are the antithesis of diplomacy. They weaken international coalitions essential to physical security. But then, Trump discounts the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and key bilateral treaties with U.S. allies in Asia and Latin America.

Bad manners also undermine economic security. Trump advocates the same beggar-thy-neighbor tariffs that deepened the Great Depression in the 1930s and sparked World War Two.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives at a campaign rally in Salt Lake City, Utah March 18, 2016.   REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives at a campaign rally in Salt Lake City, Utah March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

Strangest of all, Trump delights in offending. This would also make it hard for him to sustain friendships or cooperation with allies that are as proud of their independence — and as sensitive to slight — as Washington is.

Trump demeans Mexico by threatening to build a wall along its border with the United States. He offends France by faulting it for the Charlie Hebdo and concert-hall massacres. He scoffs at Germany’s “insane” Syrian immigration policy and affronts Britain by smearing critics there as panderers. He scorns Japanese and Chinese trade policies as rip-offs, and insults all Muslims, a third of the world’s population, by proposing to bar them from the United States.

Foreign nations have not accepted Trump’s disdain with the humility of losers on his reality TV show, The Apprentice. British Prime Minister David Cameron calls the New York real estate developer “divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong.” The French ambassador to the United States dubs Trump a “vulture” whose tweet about the brutal Charlie Hebdo attack lacked “human decency.” Many more see Trump as a threat to peace.

If global warming, global terrorism and global economic uncertainty didn’t exist, this might not matter. That’s not today’s world, however. Trump’s contempt feeds enmities that threaten Americans and poisons friendships upon which Washington relies.

The institutions that the United States helped build after World War Two are what have kept us from World War Three: the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, NATO and many more. The Great Recession of 2008 did not evolve into another Great Depression because, unlike in the 1930s, central banks around the world pulled together to prevent economic collapse. Without the grease of goodwill, the machinery of cooperation freezes.

cobbs-jackson-painting

Andrew Jackson from the painting by C.G. Childs, Childs & Inman lithographer, 1833. Library of Congress

Some commentators liken Trump to President Andrew Jackson, a populist who also stoked public anger and invited mobs with muddy boots into the White House. But in foreign relations, the analogy doesn’t hold. In 1828, the year Jackson won the presidency, there was no telegraph, telephone, television or Internet to speed news. Jackson offered no commentary on foreign affairs and no one would have known — or cared — if he had. As a young, weak country, the United States then had few speaking lines on the world stage.

Former Republican presidential nominee Barry M. Goldwater is the better comparison. Like Trump, the Arizona senator brashly wooed controversy. “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” he declared at the 1964 Republican National Convention. Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, opposed mandatory Social Security contributions and commended the extreme right-wing John Birch Society. In foreign affairs, Goldwater praised atomic “brinksmanship,” suggested that NATO’s commander be authorized to use nuclear weapons and advocated “bombing the living hell” out of Vietnam. He rejected peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union.

In the tightly interconnected world of the 1960s, when the United States aspired to effective leadership of the “Free World,” the Goldwater nomination set alarm bells clanging globally.

Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev called the Goldwater candidacy “a strange phenomena.” A more forthright commentator said Russians “feel they must be on their guard more than ever.”

cobbs-goldwater

Senator Barry M. Goldwater September 25, 1962. Library of Congress/Marion S. Trikosko

Allies were blunter. A West German newspaper editorialized that Goldwater would “be more dangerous for world peace than Mao Zedong.” A British editorial warned that if Goldwater tried “to put his policies into effect, the whole Western alliance could be undermined.” One French newspaper commented that the senator sent “cold chills up your back.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson welcomed Goldwater’s challenge. He knew the Arizona extremist would be easier to defeat than anyone else the Republicans could nominate. Johnson’s campaign ran the infamous “Daisy” commercial — a little girl counts flower petals as she plucks them, which turns into the countdown for an atomic bomb explosion over her head. “These are the stakes,” Johnson intoned.

Goldwater lost. Since then, no candidate has prompted such overt international controversy. Normally, foreign leaders refrain from commenting on U.S. elections, given that they hope to cooperate with whoever is selected.

Goldwater developed a more centrist position over time. Today, he would fit somewhere between Mitt Romney and Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in the GOP. Had he been elected, his policies might have become more sensible than his rhetoric.

The same could be true of Trump, who pledges to be reasonable in office. But Goldwater refrained from ad hominem attacks on nationalities, religions and individuals. The New Yorker has trumped the Arizonan. He has already weakened confidence in, and increased fear of, America. Rebuilding trust will complicate the foreign policy goals he has begun to articulate, including the reform of important institutions and agreements.

If elected, Trump would face animosity whichever border he crossed. Half a million Britons have already signed a petition to ban him. Trump would most likely face long odds in negotiating with foreign leaders, having already flaunted his disrespect.

Average citizens might find themselves similarly disadvantaged. The president is the face of the nation, freely chosen to represent all Americans. Trump’s election would likely place every American serving or traveling abroad in the uncomfortable position of explaining why we picked someone who disses so many.

Perhaps more important, America’s greatest successes have resulted from its ability to inspire. Since 1776, the United States has made democracy look inviting and capitalism attractive. The world has become more stable as a result. Arrogance dims the nation’s appeal as a model, and undermines faith in humanity’s common future.

A remarkable image from the 20th century was the photograph of Earth taken by American astronauts on the moon. It revealed a beautiful blue marble in the immensity of space — and reminded all peoples that the planet isn’t really that big. Getting along is important to security and prosperity.

Remarkably, Trump just doesn’t care.

8 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

” .. Since 1776, the United States has made democracy look inviting and capitalism attractive. The world has become more stable as a result..”

Yes, that was then when the capitalism was community-centric. Capitalism in the current form is corrupt to the core that has no interest in the local sustainability.

With corruption rampant in the current legalized form of lobbying where a $1 spent on lobbying returns $32+, global ventures of current times in the form of – free-trade that freed-up US jobs and destabilized the middle-class, flow of massive legal and illegal immigrants that have broken the social system, NATO/CIA that foment conflicts around the globe and ruined relations at global level and put national security at risk, USAID that panders to nations while US can’t afford any more and corrupt FED keeps feeding banks/investment firms to borrow at no-cost to buy back their shares and invest abroad that have no impact on growth of local wages nor on local economy, defense/medical/social – all abusing of tax-payer dollars at great proportions with disregard for the impact of massive debt levels on the future of next-generation.

Public resonates well with Trump’s core message of forcing the goodness back to local via – VAT, WALL, NATO/Defense and such. Wish he can go after FED and tax-receipt-spend by line-items, next.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

Trump is king of the cable news trailer park. Ignorant people cheer for ignorant politicians. He will not be president of anything.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Her account of history seems a bit off-base. After 1964 the country moved steadily to the right, to the point that Reagan, also on the right, was elected and then reelected president. Many feel Reagan did a commendable job on foreign policy. Unlike Trump, Goldwater was knowledgeable, experienced, and a principled conservative.

Posted by Calfri | Report as abusive

Already so much, and so many, conflicting issues and supporters. And only at the party preselection phase. Yet to come are the heavy weapons and massed charges of the election campaign. And after the battle of words and slogans, and visions and delusions, and promises and lies, comes the actual impact of executive power really happening to real people.
Who would a President Trump draw upon for an administration ? How would the apprentices function with a supremo Trump playing for some ego ratings and crowd applause ?
What would really happen to the global economy ?
Trying to think of a analogy in memorable history – partly like the failure of the Soviet Union and the regime of Yeltsin ? But different. Time will tell.

Posted by Neurochuck | Report as abusive

Latest from trump is woman who have abortions should be punished, oh wait, he’s had to walk that back because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He also thinks China, South Korea, and some countries in the middle east should have nukes, this guy is a moron. He’s threatening breaking off trade with Mexico if they don’t pay for the wall? China will love to fill any void we leave in Mexico, imagine China on the other side of our boarder. Trump is dangerous stupid, to support him is showing your ignorance.

Posted by Whipsplash | Report as abusive

Bravo… well said!

Posted by euro-yank | Report as abusive

First the US superpower with its NATO/EU coalition have failed in two wars that have been going on for longer than a decade. Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost of these two forays have cost the United States. 4,487 American lives, 32,223 wounded for Iraqi Operation Freedom, Operation New Dawn another 66 deaths, and 301 wounded. 2343 deaths in Afghanistan, and wounded 17,674 (the cost and deaths continues to increase, these numbers are old news). The financial cost is at about $5 Trillion, plus interest borrowed on the War debt is still to be calculated, and Afghanistan isn’t over in lives and cost. With a debt in the US beyond $19 Trillion. Also the United States has $101 Trilliion in unfunded liabilities. I think other nations better learn to deal peacefully with their neighbors, the US shouldn’t be conned by the EU, Saudi Arabia, and other despotic Middle East nations. Using the US as its muscle with the cost both in US lives and $$$$ .

Posted by americangrizzly | Report as abusive

On other fronts, alliance leaders pressed NATO countries to follow through on commitments to spend 2 percent of their nations’ gross domestic product on defense. Only four NATO nations meet that threshold: the U.S., Britain, Greece and Estonia. 2% of GDP. The US pays 25% of all costs no matter how many nations join! Any shortfall the US pays!
At present, NATO has 28 members. In 1949, there were 12 founding members of the Alliance: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States. The other member countries are: Greece and Turkey (1952), Germany (1955), Spain (1982), the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland (1999), Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia (2004), and Albania and Croatia (2009).
Not counting other special deals with nations Middle Eastern, Asian, and African. Trump speaks the Ugly truth.

Posted by americangrizzly | Report as abusive