President Donald Trump is widely believed to be isolationist. After all, his infamous mottos, “Make America Great Again” and “America First,” reinforce the notion that only our nation, or Trump’s nation, matters in the international spectrum. Yet, day by day and headline by headline, it becomes evident that Trump likes to have his influence felt worldwide by meddling into other nation’s affairs.
He seems to have something to say about every country. Whether he is expressing his distrust of Iran, dismissing Haitians and Syrians as undeserving of American citizenship or generally disparaging Mexico, Trump is building animosity between foreigners and Americans. As the U.S. president exhibits clear disdain toward other nations, people of those same countries are developing cynical views about him — and about the Americans he represents.
News of Trump’s latest miscues and accusations seem to dominate media coverage almost every day. Whether he is driving an elected Republican official toward early retirement, using vile language in a meeting or playing a role in the government shutdown, it seems that the news just can’t get enough of Trump. Of course, this constant coverage creates worldwide buzz, as American news — especially in the eyes of a distant viewer — has become nearly synonymous with Trump’s daily activities.
To test this truth, all you must do is travel to a different country and ask the locals about their views on America today. More likely, they’ll ask you first.
When I was studying abroad last summer in Lebanon, people asked me, “How do you feel as an American in the age of Trump? People are losing hope in America here, you know.” I always brushed off the question, thinking that these locals probably just had an oversampling of Al Jazeera. I responded the same way every time: “Nothing is going to change. You will all still look at America in the same way as before.”
The questions never stopped. Whichever way I turned, people asked me about Trump. Sure, they wanted my opinion as an American. But these people had already made up their minds: Trump is simply an autocratic powermonger who wants everything to go his way in all parts of the world. He desires power and loves the headlines; if they are good, he will accept them, and if critical, refute.
When returning from my summer in Lebanon, I remember, even the security guard at the airport smirked as he stamped my passport. “Is everything alright?” I asked.
“Here in Lebanon, everything is alright. But the country you are going back to, who knows what will happen? And the crazy thing is, your Mr. Trump probably makes Americans fear coming to Lebanon. Did you notice anything so bad while you were here?”
The guard was right. Our president has the means to influence global perceptions of Americans with a simple tweet or statement. Problems arise because this particular president often uses social media in a way that is inappropriate for someone in his role. As the leader of the free world, Trump should not regularly hurl childish language or ad hominem attacks at elected officials. Rather, he should be a unifier, rallying both Americans and those living abroad. Previous presidents have played this role more graciously, as with President Ronald Reagan’s international influence against the force of communism.
Instead of working to strengthen alliances and the respect of America abroad, Trump belittles the role of the presidency by sharing his unfiltered and dangerous thoughts. His style and rhetoric can ultimately alter international relations as a whole, like when he compares nuclear button sizes with North Korea, or when he dismisses African countries while discussing immigration.
Never before in our nation’s history has one man had the ability to affect global perceptions of Americans with a mere statement. Trump’s style is unconventional in every sense; social media is still a relatively new way to communicate with the world. Newer, still, is the way Trump uses social media. Although platforms such as Twitter were around during former President Barack Obama’s time in office, Obama did not talk about foreign policy or minorities with the frequency or with the tone that Trump does.
The more you travel, the more you will recognize the negative impact the president can have in a short period of time. This is a time defined by instantaneous communication, and the president of the United States consistently uses his far-reaching influence to paint Americans in a negative light. The more you see this firsthand, the more you will realize that we are truly living in the Age of Trumpism.
Youssef Osman is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. Capital Affairs runs online every Thursday.