In the years after World War II, the image of Americans overseas wasn’t flattering. In fact, it was ugly, as in “ugly Americans.” President Trump is doing his best to bring back that trope.
By the late 1940s, middle-class Americans, unused to unfamiliar cultures and languages, were traveling in Europe in increasing numbers. They were the first Americans that most Europeans had ever encountered.
The resulting impression was that Americans were naïve, loud, rude and incredibly arrogant. The image jelled into a pejorative taken from the title of a 1958 novel, “The Ugly American.”
This week, President Trump’s London trip has been used as a platform from which to portray his own version, beginning with tweets sent from Air Force One insulting both Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Meghan Markle, duchess of Sussex.
The royal family, demonstrating the reserve and manners for which they are famous, ignored Trump’s 21 percent approval rating in Britain and rolled out the red carpet that President Trump lives for. He was on his best behavior most of the first day.
He couldn’t resist sticking his fingers into the British domestic political pie on the second day.
Alliances that are critical for America’s standing in the world and its own security and prosperity depend on mutual respect. Presidents stay out of their affairs; their leaders stay out of ours.
President Trump, on the other hand, uses delicate talks over mutual interests with Britain, as he does with other countries, to promote his supposed deal-making superpowers and to take credit for or give unsolicited opinions about its domestic affairs.
In ugly-American fashion, Trump urged the British to walk away from the European Union if Parliament wouldn’t approve a deal. He also patted himself on the back for predicting the Brexit vote.
He said the United States would respond to Britain’s “crashing out” of the EU with a “phenomenal” trade deal, for which he gave no details. He suggested the British open their public health-care system to American competitors, then had to walk that stunning proposal back.
Trump apparently believes his brash, opinionated, arrogant, get-in-line-behind-America attitude will regain some mysterious lost standing for this country. The danger is that this ugly image will get projected onto all Americans. We can only hope not.