The Chalk and Cheese of Reputation

by Samantha North on March 15, 2016

Trump

Sometimes, the best way to improve your reputation is to contrast yourself with someone nearby who has a really bad one…

That’s what’s happening at the moment for Justin Trudeau’s Canada. While his southern neighbour shudders under the force of hatefulness that is Donald Trump, Trudeau was personally welcoming newly arrived Syrian refugees at the airport. What other head of state would do something like this?

But let’s first go back to the bad side of things. In case you weren’t sure, that’s Trump. For months now, the billionaire presidential candidate has been declaring ever-increasing negative rhetoric about refugees and immigrants. First it was Mexicans, now it’s Muslims. Supposedly in response to the San Bernadino shootings, Trump has stated that all Muslims should be banned from entering the US.

This statement did not come as much of a surprise. Just days earlier, Trump had suggested that all 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 support Trump’s policies.

His latest comments on Muslims have attracted widespread condemnation, in the UK notably the ire of 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 a certain segment of American society who 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 even alienated some of his Muslim business associates in the Gulf, notably the boss of Landmark shopping malls, who announced that his company would remove all 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 now feel ashamed to live in a building associated with such a vile man.”

In stark contrast, Canada has emerged as a real do-gooder, not just compared to the US but by anyone’s standards. Since Trudeau was elected, he has made a swathe of policy changes and announcements, such as the decision to withdraw from airstrikes on Syria, and to allow 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada. These moves are starting to solidify Canada’s old image as a benevolent, 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.

In terms of nation brand, 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 re-establish itself in the global order, America’s political climate is bubbling over with vitriol. Islamophobia and discrimination have risen significantly. This does not bode well for America’s reputation, set as it is against a backdrop of wider racism and growing perceptions of a violent ‘frontier’ society. After all, this is the country where school shootings are a regular occurrence.

Many Americans (and indeed, the world) hope and pray that Hillary Clinton will secure the premiership next year. If that doesn’t happen, there’s an actual possibility that Donald Trump could end up leader of the United States. 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.

This article was first published on PlacesBrands

About Samantha North :

Samantha North is a freelance journalist specialising in country branding, soft power and public diplomacy. She has a Master's degree in international business and management, and has worked on diverse projects in China, Belgium and Qatar over the last 7 years. Samantha is managing editor of the website PlacesBrands, (which can be found in the links to the left of this page). She is currently based in Istanbul.

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