The president who promised to “make America great again” is the one who made it smaller than any other president in modern times. Foreign leaders – friends, partners and allies, but mainly rivals and foes – saw Donald Trump’s America as a country that is unreliable, phobic, introverted, uninterested in issues like human and civil rights violations, and incapable or unwilling to assume its traditional role as leader on a slew of vital questions, most notably demonstrated by the United States turning its back on the Paris Agreement for climate change and more recently on the World Health Organization.
Behaving in the manner of a banana republic dictator, Trump was often driven more by private interests and those of his entourage than by any desire to work for the good of the nation.
Much of the media, meanwhile, must also be held to account for the part it played in creating the Trump phenomenon and in his ascent to power. This is not just because of decades’ worth of glamour shots of Trump living large in his ivory towers surrounded by beautiful women, some of whom he married, but mainly because of the exaggerated amount of coverage he was given for his colorful grandstanding in the Republican Party’s primaries in 2016, which resulted in his beating all the other candidates, some of whom were better for the post but did not create so much noise or attract as much attention.
Even though Hillary Clinton beat Trump in the popular vote by a comfortable margin, his marginal victories in three states allowed the arrogant New York Tycoon to ascend to the presidency – a development that had a profoundly negative impact on America’s internal social cohesion, as well as on its relations with the rest of the world. His presence also hindered the management of global challenges, most recently the coronavirus pandemic, where the absence of the world’s most powerful country has undermined international containment efforts.
Trump topped off his presidency by inciting a riot that led to the loss of human life and caused extensive damage to the building that symbolizes American democracy. In addition to being disgraceful, all that sent an extremely dangerous message to many autocratic leaders around the world.
It is now up to the country’s democratic forces, in both parties, to protect the symbolism of the US Capitol for oppressed people across the globe and to begin – without delay – restoring the United States’ badly tarnished image.