This is a personal observation at an odd point in time. I just spent nearly four months out of the US, mostly in Florence, Italy, but also in China, Israel, Malta, Spain, Croatia, Ireland, UK, Poland, and France. I gave talks at various universities; I saw and talked with many people, and I read newspapers in local languages in several of these nations as well as experiencing their media. I lived abroad long enough to get a strong feel for how people in many nations abroad think, even if arguably my sample was skewed to some extent. However, I have now been back long enough to see what is going on here in the USA, to experience it, especially after this past week, while still not fully back into the groove here, still having as a short term memory of these perspectives from abroad. So I want to share how that is.
It is not pretty, as most reading this will not be surprised to learn. Even among conservative foreigners who do not know one, if you are an American and you are speaking with them at all seriously for more than a few seconds, one of the first things they will want to know if if you are "one of them," you know, supporters of Donald J. Trump. They were all relieved when I informed them that, no, I was not. Now I know that there are many people in other countries who are sympathetic to him, and he has been sympathetic back, those who support authoritarian nationalism, and some countries contain many such types. But since Trump won in the US, these people have been losing elections pretty much all over, with the exception of Erdogan's referendum in Turkey, which Trump congratulated him on, even though it was close with allegations of fraud, and, of course Erdogan celebrated his victory and Trump's congratulations by arresting and torturing several more thousands of people.
There are some contradictory polls out there. So one poll from last year claimed that 77% of the world's people supported Trump over Clinton. Maybe, but probably not. Specific polls in some nations supported that, especially in Russia, where Trump was definitely popular, maybe more so than anywhere else in the world, big surprise. He also appears to have been quite popular in Poland according to one poll. Certainly various authoritarian leaders supported him, with Hungary's Oban and Egypt's al-Sissi and Turkey's Erdogan on the list along with Putin, of course. The Saudi leaders have and continue to support him, although polls suggest their enthusiasm is not shared by their populace. Likewise in Israel, Netanyahu has been all for him, even though prior to the election more people supported Clinton than him. In most other nations he has had terrible poll ratings, with one poll from last year showing only 9% of Europeans as a whole supporting him. And it looks like he has gone down hill in support in most places, just as the polls show as well in the US. Thus to go to his once most supportive nation, Russia, a poll at the end of April had only 13% supporting him against 39% against. No wonder their foreign minister appears to view him with contempt as exhibited by his reaction when SecState Tillerson told him before he met with Trump that Trump had just fired the FBI director: "You're kidding." This is a man who played the ultimate role in helping the Iran nuclear deal negotiations come to a successful conclusion, not a fool.
And of course in our neighbor and major trading partner, Mexico, only 3% support him, with even that level surprising given his behavior toward that nation, long a US friend and ally, if not always.
I also checked polls for the Most Admired Person In The World, finding the most recent one from slightly over a year ago on May 7, 2016 from yougov. The top three men were Bill Gates, Barack Obama, and Xi Jinping. Putin was 6th, with the Dalai Lama at 8th, Pope Francis at 13th, and Bernie Sanders at 20th, the farthest down they went. Trump was not on the list. The top three women were Angelina Jolie, Queen Elizabeth, and Hillary Clinton, with Angela Merkel at 8th and Marine Le Pen at 20th. A Gallup poll of Americans in December had Obama as the most respected, far ahead of Trump. In any case, all of this just reinforces that Trump is viewed very negatively around the world, even in countries where the leaders are making friendly noises to him, such as in Japan.
So how do I feel about all this? I must say that I am glad to have been out of the country for the last few months, to have some distance from the grind of partisan media and social media that is here, which I am now experiencing full blast, and seeing how it just sucks one in. I pay attention to Fox and some other rightist outlets, but I see how the bubbles are really strong, how one just gets caught up in the scandal of the moment and so on. Heck, just to note, so many think this is it for Trump, but so many thought that a year ago after his "grab 'em by their pussies" remark came out, and here he is president. Those of you seeing him about to be impeached, sorry, no, his support is hanging in there at well over 30% and the GOP in Congress remains more afraid of Trumpist primary challengers than of Dem opponents doing them in, although the health care issue may yet change all that. But that is not an impeachment issue, that is a midterm election issue, and it is normal for an incumbent president to lose badly in midterms. Reagan did so in 1982, and he took 49 states two years later, not that I am predicting that for Trump in 2020. But a lot of you need to step outside of your bubble, and I am addressing those I agree with.
What really concerns me is the bubble of the hanging-in-there Trump supporters. I must confess that my long absence where everyone I have met has viewed them as people beyond belief and utterly beneath contempt has affected me, and that is how they are viewed, like they are no better than Nazis, really. Yes, I recognize that Trump has not done many bad things he promised he would do (and is not a Nazi), but from what the rest of the world thinks, he looks like a total disaster of an incompetent and unpredictable president, profoundly frightening because he has his finger on the nuclear trigger and can end the world in a flash of fitful anger. I know that support for him has been drifting downward in the US, and the opposition/Resistance to him has been ferocious here. But his core supporters in their Fox News/alt-right media bubble continue to hang on, although it seems that they may be becoming somewhat desperate. I have been watching Fox and I am astounded at how much time they are spending conjuring up how the new FBI director will restart the investigations of Hillary Clinton, and how Trump goes to rallies where these people continue to chant "Lock her up,"when he is clearly the most criminal and corrupt president in the history of the nation. They are getting further and further disconnected from reality in their desperation to believe in their man.
If anything has shocked me it has been how ferocious and bitter these people have become, viciously and wildly attacking others they disagree with on social media in a frenzy unlike what I saw before I left, before Trump became president. It is clear that many of them are seriously disillusioned and upset, but those hanging in there are lashing out irrationally at those criticizing their hero. I am deeply worried about this and where it could lead. I sort of intellectually realized this might be the case before I returned, but seeing it after I got here is really upsetting. I do not see how this is going to end, and I fear it will be very hard for these people ultimately.
Objectively I have to say that anybody still supporting Trump is one of at least the following three, or three and a half things: stupid, crazy, or a fascist racist. I might have said that before I left, but no, I would not as I knew many loyal and reasonable Republicans who supported him out of party loyalty, if without enthusiasm. But after what has gone down over the last few months, which my absence has made me see very clearly, this sort of view is no longer acceptable. The only possible excuse now is that one has simply gotten totally ensconced in the media bubble supporting him and pays no attention to anything else. So, yes, I recognize that there are still at least semi-intelligent and not insane or totally socially awful people who continue to support him sitting in these bubbles. But the bubble is getting really stretched out and thin, and pretty much the rest of the world can see it, even in places like Russia where they once liked Trump. They now view him as seriously dangerous for the whole world, and chanting "America First" will not change that reality.