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The world already had low views of the US due to Trump. The debate didn’t help.

The debate didn’t tarnish America’s reputation. Trump already had.

People watching the first presidential debate from outdoor seating at a bar.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

The first 2020 presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden was an international embarrassment, exposing the rot of US politics to the world.

The sorry display had pundits in France calling it “worrying for American democracy,” in Italy bemoaning that “never had American politics sunk so low,” and in the UK predicting “this dark, horrifying, unwatchable fever dream will surely be the first line of America’s obituary.”

That’s shocking stuff, and it would only be natural to conclude that the debate radically shifted the globe’s perceptions of the US. But the reality is far more troubling: In the Trump era, the US is historically disliked because of the president and his inept leadership.

The debate didn’t shatter positive perceptions of the US. They were already broken.

Polls show few really like America as much as they used to

The Pew Research Center published a survey on global attitudes toward the US earlier this month, and the results weren’t pretty. Some of America’s allies — the UK, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, and Australia — now have record-low views of the US.

Pew Research Center

The key reason? Trump.

“Since Donald Trump took office as president, the image of the United States has suffered across many regions of the globe,” the report begins. It continues:

As a new 13-nation Pew Research Center survey illustrates, America’s reputation has declined further over the past year among many key allies and partners. In several countries, the share of the public with a favorable view of the U.S. is as low as it has been at any point since the Center began polling on this topic nearly two decades ago.

Let that sink in: Views of the US have dropped to a two-decade low in large part because of Trump and the way he has run things. One of the top reasons cited is the country’s weak response to the coronavirus, with only 15 percent of respondents saying the US has done a good job.

Yet it’s clear from the chart below that even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Trump was already disliked compared to his predecessor, Barack Obama. How could it be otherwise? After all, Trump has spent much of his presidency bashing allies, hobnobbing with autocrats, and occasionally acting like an autocrat himself.

Pew Research Center

What Pew’s survey makes clear, then, is Trump’s shenanigans remain a global problem because they’re a globally recognized quantity. The tarnishing of America’s standing thus began years ago — and the debate didn’t help reverse course.