America Slips in the Eyes of the World

Donald Trump’s first year as president rattles world’s confidence, while quiet, stable Switzerland remains the No. 1 country.

THE MOOD ON THE international conference call at the beginning of this month was somber as Ian Bremmer, president of the political risk consulting firm Eurasia Group, prepared to list off top global dangers in the coming year. Bremmer began with a show-stopping line:

“If we had to pick one year for a big unexpected crisis — the geopolitical equivalent of the 2008 financial meltdown — it feels like 2018.” The reasons are many, Bremmer cited, but the most prominent causes for global insecurity stem from U.S. President Donald Trump’s move away from global leadership, and China’s eagerness to fill the perceived vacuum.

Bremmer isn’t alone. Donald Trump pledged to “Make America Great Again.” The world thinks he is doing the opposite.

The United States slips in this year’s U.S. News Best Countries ranking, dropping to the No. 8 spot after falling one position from its 2017 ranking. Switzerland, an island of stable prosperity in a world of turmoil, remains the Best Country, according to a global survey of more than 21,000 persons.

The reasons for America’s drop – the second straight year its ranking dipped – are fueled by the world’s perceptions of the country becoming less progressive and trustworthy, more politically unstable and a president who after just a year in office is far more unpopular than any other head of state or company CEO.

As in 2017, Canada remains the No. 2 in the survey. Germany, as it was in 2016, is perceived as the most powerful country in Europe – surpassing the U.K. to place at No. 3 overall, while the U.K. drops to No. 4. Japan rounds out the top five, the highest finish for a nation in Asia, a region which survey respondents increasingly believe holds many of the keys to the world’s future. At No. 6 is Sweden and Australia moves up to the No. 7 position, surpassing the U.S.

The 2018 Best Countries rankings, formed in partnership with global marketing communications company Y&R’s brand strategy firm, BAV Group, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, are based on a study that surveyed global citizens from four regions to assess perceptions of 80 countries on 75 different metrics.

Trump Shocks, Divides the World

The Best Countries rankings come just days after Trump celebrates his first year as U.S. president. The U.S. is still seen as the most powerful nation. In many ways, however, the results reflect 12 months of ongoing signs of the decline of America’s standing in the world. In this sense, a noticeable “Trump Effect” is taking hold of the U.S.

Just days after taking office, Trump fulfilled a campaign promise by pulling the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. Weeks later a poll showed just 15 percent of Germans believed the new U.S. president to be competent. By last spring’s NATO summit, European leaders had begun believing that the U.S. had abdicated its leadership role in the military alliance, as Trump shifted support for both NATO and the European Union.

As summer unfolded, Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. Days later, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center released a poll showing the unpopularity of Trump and his policies was sharply dragging down global opinion of the U.S.

Meanwhile, Trump’s statements further rattled world opinion. The president engaged in a war of words with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. By November, Trump had begun accumulating a sizeable trail of verbal gaffes to world leaders.

By early January, the Washington, D.C.-based Freedom House warned that democracy was “in crisis” around the world, in no small part because of Trump’s repeated attacks on the judiciary system and news media in the U.S., lack of seeking “meaningful input” from relevant agencies and “violations of basic ethical standards.”

In the Best Countries survey, the greatest drop by the U.S. in the rankings came in the perceptions of survey respondents for countries having open travel policies. The backlash against Trump’s travel ban order in February 2017 and subsequent media attention are having a lasting impact on America’s image, and challenging long-held perceptions of the country’s reputation for openness.

One piece of good news for the U.S.: The country is seen as the No. 2 country overall for education. Even so, U.S. higher education industry experts worry the country is becoming a less attractive destination for international students, partly because of U.S. immigration policies.

Opportunities for Many Countries

Among other key findings in the 2018 Best Countries survey:

“Soft Power” continues to define powerful national brands as Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries – Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Norway – dominate the top 15 positions in the various rankings.
Terrorism, income inequality and climate change remain the top issues that survey respondents want their leaders to prioritize and tackle.
A majority of survey respondents say religion is a “primary source of most global conflict today.”
The discontent driving populism and nationalism remains strong; Fewer survey respondents this year see themselves as citizens of the world vs. their country compared to last year (52 percent in 2018 vs. 58 percent in 2017).
Still, people around the world increasingly want unity and solutions; 87 percent say promoting diversity and tolerance is important, while 84 percent agree that people can work through their individual differences.
Technology and the internet draw mixed views; 73 percent agree that the internet is making them act more like global citizens, but 77 percent believe that their privacy is at risk. Another 73 percent believe technology is displacing jobs.
The roles of government and big business are beginning to blur in people’s daily lives. This development is shaping public perceptions of government and corporate leaders – corporate CEOs are generally more popular than government heads of state.
America’s perceived retreat from its traditional global leadership role is creating opportunities for other countries, particularly in the areas of “soft power,” arenas where economic and cultural influence drive opinions and policy-making.

Switzerland’s position as the No. 1 overall country is driven by its reputation for citizenship and being open for business. For the third year in a row, Canada is seen as offering the best quality of life, driven by high ratings for education, health care and public safety.

In Asia, the U.S. withdrawal from the TPP hasn’t slowed the advancing economic might of the region, particularly in China. Authorities in Beijing now see the U.S. foreign policy signals as mixed and an opportunity to work more closely with other countries, including American allies.

“Trump’s neo-isolationist and unilateralist inclinations have given China a golden opportunity to enhance its prestige, status, and international leadership,” says Zhang Baohui, a professor of political science and director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.

The Best Countries survey findings on leadership and trust in governments and companies are particularly revealing. Approximately 82 percent of survey respondents believe there is a leadership crisis, and 61 percent say they trust private companies more than the government to take care of their needs.

Additionally, corporate CEOs are more supported than government leaders. Only Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have approval ratings to rival the top ratings by CEOs such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

Source: U.S. News