A Skeptical View of Trump

February 13th, 2018

If you are wondering how the rest of the world views the United States a year into the Age of Trump, a small, unscientific sampling was available last week aboard Crystal Symphony, a cruise ship sailing the waters off Western Australia.
The occasion was a panel discussion: “Ocean Views: Perspectives from Four Continents” in front of several hundred passengers who hailed from North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. The panelists included your faithful correspondent from the U.S.; Michael, a British historian; Danielle, an Australian olympic gold medalist in water polo and Herta, a woman banking executive and lecturer from Nairobi, Kenya.
To a person, the international panelists said they were confounded by the first year’s performance of President Trump and dismayed by its impact on the rest of the world.
“It’s hard to understand what he is doing, much less why he is doing it,” said Herta.
The panelists lamented the loss of U.S. leadership in the world, expressed concern about the rise of China and alarm about the ongoing war of words between North Korea and the Trump Administration. The Doomsday Clock, they said, is rightly set at two minutes to midnight and the world has every reason to be anxious.
The discussion took place as the ship sailed the warm, blue waters of the Indian Ocean to Perth, the capital of Western Australia and, as it happens, the sun-drenched childhood home of Gavin Buckley, the new mayor of Annapolis. This being the height of the Australian summer, Perth was about 50 degrees warmer last week than Annapolis and the beautiful beaches were busy.
As part of the discussion, the moderator polled the audience on how they would vote for U.S. president today versus a year ago. On this same ship on November 10, 2016, two days after the U.S. election, the passengers aboard at that time chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, 52-to-38 per cent. Last week, the passengers currently aboard choose Clinton over Trump in a purely theoretical rematch 47 to 41 per cent. Not the same passengers, of course, but a significant switch in sentiment none the less.
Why the sour view of Trump? “We know him better now,” an Australian woman said.
Using hand-held polling devices, the passengers expressed their view on several other topics. By substantial margins, they said the ME TOO campaign in the United States and elsewhere was growing and likely to change the way men and women relate to each other over the long term. By equally big numbers, they said they saw a future for public broadcasting in an era of fake news, fragmentation and political polarization.
With an eye towards the upcoming winter Olympics in South Korea, the passengers and the panelists lamented the impact of doping on the Olympic movement and were pessimistic about the chances of curbing it. They also criticized the interference of international politics in the Olympics, but agreed that the prospect of North and South Korea marching into the opening ceremony under the same flag might reduce tensions on that peninsula much the way ping pong diplomacy helped thaw relations between the United States and China a generation ago.
The passengers were not unanimous on any of these topics, nor are they necessarily representative of a broader view, but they hail from more than 20 countries and share a similar, almost shocked view of President Trump and his foreign policy.
Danielle the Olympian said Australians in general were in disbelief over the headlines from Washington these days.
Herta the executive from Nairobi said the Trump Administrations’ skepticism on climate change was a huge concern. She said that as the United States deliberately shrinks its role in international affairs, China is rushing in to fill the gap, especially in Africa, which she described as the fastest growing continent with the greatest untapped potential. “China is buying up industries and investing,” she said. “Where is the United States?”
Michael the British historian agreed. “China is playing the long game,” he said, “the U.S. is focused on the short game. That alone changes the balance of power.”


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