Opinion-Policy Nexus

Many of the globe’s big shooters in government, business, the arts and media will assemble in Davos, Switzerland Tuesday for the start of the annual four-day World Economic Forum.

The political landscape they will review has changed dramatically since they gathered a year ago, due primarily to one leader who may or may not show up. That’s U.S. President Donald Trump whose attendance, as of this writing, was contingent on the absurd government shutdown drama being staged once again in Washington – the 19th shutdown “crisis” since 1976.

Justin Trudeau is scheduled to be there, along with Angela Merkel of Germany, Theresa May of the United Kingdom, Emmanuel Macron of France, Narendra Modi of India and Paolo Gentiloni of Italy, among many others, but none will attract as much attention – or anxiety – as Trump.

It’s just been a year since he took office. In those 12 months, he has singlehandedly increased tensions in the world. He stunned the international community by threatening to obliterate North Korea, cranking up U.S. participation in the war in Afghanistan, withdrawing from the Paris climate accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, putting NAFTA in peril, imposing a travel ban on selected Muslim countries, barring Syrian refugees and announcing he will move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

These actions – plus Trump’s racist view of the world, his America First manta and his inability to make the government function even remotely effectively, even though his party controls both houses of Congress as well as the White House – have done immense damage to the image of the United States and the respect in which it is held by other nations.

Last week, the Gallup organization published its annual world leadership survey – a huge poll of 1,000 people in each of 134 countries. It found that their approval of U.S. leadership had dropped by 20 per cent since Trump took office. More respondents disapproved than approved of the U.S. role in the world.

Germany has replaced the United States as the best-regarded nation, with 41 per cent approval in the Gallup survey, followed by China at 31, then the U.S. with 30 per cent and Russia at 27.

Nowhere in the Western Hemisphere have people fallen out of love with Trump’s America more precipitously than in Canada where approval of U.S. leadership dropped by 40 percentage points in the year. Only 20 per cent of Canadian respondents told Gallup they approved of U.S. leadership while 76 per cent said they disapproved.

In Mexico, the other NAFTA partner, approval dropped by 28 points. The largest decline anywhere was in Portugal (down by 51 percentage points).

If Trump cares what others think, he can console himself in the knowledge that that his approval is up in Israel, Liberia, Iraq and, yes, Russia.

Gallup’s findings about the changed attitude in Canada are consistent with those of a major Environics Institute survey last spring. “The unexpected election of Donald Trump to the U.S. Presidency last fall delivered a major jolt to that country’s political and cultural fabric, and has also had a dramatic impact on how Canadians view their neighbour to the south,” Environics reported. It said Canadians’ overall opinion of the United States was at its lowest level since it started asking that question in 1982. “One in four Canadians has changed plans for U.S. travel this year or is considering it. Opinion is divided on whether the anti-government populism happening elsewhere will arrive in Canada soon.”

Bruce Heyman, Barack Obama’s last ambassador to Ottawa, said the loss of Canadian respect for American leadership “hurts a lot. Our best friend Canada has been impacted by this administration’s immigration policy, environmental policy and trade policy. But most important the language and style coming from (Trump) don’t match up to Canadian values.”

I think Heyman is dead on. Values do matter. And if Trump has any values, they are not ones most Canadians care to share.


Monday, January 22, 2018 - 12:00