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Chalk and cheese

US flag

While the world shudders at the hatefulness displayed by US presidential candidate Donald Trump, newly elected Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has been personally welcoming Syrian refugees at the airport. What a contrast between two neighbouring countries!

For months now, Trump has been ramping up his negative rhetoric against refugees and immigrants. First it was Mexicans, now it’s Muslims. After the San Bernadino shootings, Trump announced that all Muslims should be banned from entering America.

This was unsurprising given his track record. Days earlier, Trump had suggested that Muslims living in America should be forced to add their personal details to a central database. This move, reminiscent of Hitler’s early policies towards Jews in Germany, horrified much of the world. However, there remained those who were not horrified, who actually supported Trump’s policies.

His latest comments on Muslims have attracted widespread condemnation, even from unlikely candidates such as David Cameron and Boris Johnson. The latter said he ‘won’t visit New York because Trump might be there.’ But despite global condemnation, Trump remains popular among aspects of American society that fear the ‘Other’ and admire Trump for ‘speaking his mind’.

Journalist Barbara Walters recently interviewed Trump. Here’s a short sample:
Walters: “Are you a bigot?”
Trump: “Not at all. Probably the least of anyone you’ve ever met.”
Walters: “Because…?”
Trump: “Because I’m not. I’ve got common sense. I’m a smart person.”

Trump’s comments have alienated some of his Muslim business associates in the Gulf, notably the boss of Landmark shopping malls, who announced that his company would remove Trump branded products from its stores across the Middle East. The residents of Istanbul’s posh development Trump Towers aren’t too happy either.

One Istanbul resident, Melek Toprak, told the New York Times recently: “I feel ashamed to live in a building associated with such a vile man.”

In contrast, Canada has emerged as a do-gooder. Since Trudeau was elected, he has made a swathe of policy changes and announcements, deciding to withdraw from airstrikes on Syria, and allowing 25,000 Syrian refugees to enter Canada. These moves are reinstating Canada’s old image as a benevolent and inclusive nation.

Arguably, Trudeau’s actions are pulling Canada’s reputation back from the brink, undoing much of the damage caused by his predecessor Stephen Harper.

Canada currently ranks 12th overall on the Good Country Index, a ranking of countries that do the most good for the world as a whole. The US, in contrast, stands at 21st place. This is based on data from last year, so it will be interesting to see how the results change in next year’s edition of the ranking.

Simon Anholt, creator of the Good Country Index, commented via Twitter: “I’m greatly relieved that [Canada] is reengaging with the world.”

But while Canada continues to spread goodwill and reestablish itself in the global order, America’s political climate is bubbling with vitriol. Islamophobia and discrimination have risen significantly. This bodes badly for America’s reputation, already set against a backdrop of institutionalised racism and growing perceptions of a violent ‘frontier’ society. This is the country where school shootings happen regularly.

Many Americans (and indeed, the world) hope and pray that Hillary Clinton will secure the premiership next year. If that doesn’t happen, it’s possible that Donald Trump could end up as president. The consequences of that are indeed worrying.

America’s worsening reputation could be the least of anyone’s concerns. The risk of the world’s most powerful nation becoming an intolerant, far-right state, led by a man whose comments have drawn comparisons to Hitler, is far more frightening.

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