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New study analyzes how countries view the United States

A recent Pew Research study shows that almost half of the people in surveyed countries see U.S. power as a “major threat” to their country.

Across six continents, 22 countries were surveyed. “A median of 45 percent across the surveyed nations see U.S. power and influence as a major threat, up from 38 percent in the same countries during Trump’s first year as president in 2017 and 25 percent in 2013, during the administration of Barack Obama,” according to Pew Research.

Aminta Arrington, professor of intercultural studies and Biblical studies who previously lived in Asia, said the U.S.’s foreign approval changed drastically when Barack Obama was elected.

“It was great to be an American abroad when Obama was president,” Arrington said. Arrington’s parents flew to visit her in Southeast Asia during Obama’s inauguration.

“My dad goes to check in [at the airport] and presents his American passport, and the guy behind the counter … was like. ‘You’re an American. Let me shake your hand. Congratulations.’” After Trump’s election,  however, Arrington said it became more difficult to be an American abroad. 

“The U.S. is appearing very much as this rogue power who’s gonna do whatever it wants for its own interest only and not care about other countries and not be one to work with other countries. I would say, under George Bush, we pretended to work with other countries,” she said. “Under Trump there’s no pretending. He doesn’t even want the pretense of working with somebody else.”

Christopher Poveda, a Walton student from Nicaragua, said there has been a direct link between the prosperity of Latin America and the U.S. for years. The U.S.’s meddling in the late 1900s created the opportunity for political instability and is the main cause for all the caravans coming to the U.S.. “What is happening now is a direct consequence of that,” Poveda said. 

The U.S. occupied Nicaragua twice, both times heavily interfering in politics and eventually backing a dictator to ensure that Nicaragua did not become a communist country. “Most of the revolution that happened in the last century has been against American interventions,” Poveda said.

Around this time, the U.S. also intervened in the political affairs of other Central American countries. Much of their influence included civil wars. Poveda said that after the wars the countries “were devastated. No infrastructure, no functioning government.”

During these wars, lots of Central American citizens from countries like Honduras and El Salvador went legally to the U.S. to flee the destruction in their countries. This is how a lot of the maras (gangs) started. After the wars, they were deported back to their countries.

“They were deported back to a country that had no functional government, no rule of law, just coming out of one of the bloodiest wars ever,” Poveda said. “How do you expect them to do good now?” This movement helped the maras obtain power in the governments of these countries, and to this day the drug trade and gang power is a huge problem because of the lack of long-term planning by the U.S. government.

“It is the most powerful nation in the world. There’s no doubt about that. There’s no country that comes to a close second. Maybe China now with its economic and military power might be more powerful than the States globally or politically in the near future but not now,” HG Park, a Korean student and missionary kid from multiple countries in Africa, said. He sees the survey as very accurate because political power tends to threaten less powerful countries. “You look at war, and the one with the bigger army tends to win most battles and they tend to write more history about [the winning side].”

Using history as an example, Poveda said the country of Chile is one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America because of a variety of factors, but Poveda said a big factor is that the U.S. hasn’t interfered much in their politics in over a century. “Because the U.S. hasn’t intervened, the government looks at the interests of its own citizens and they have had the opportunity to steer their own destiny.”

After 1990, Poveda said Nicaragua became more U.S.-friendly. He said that especially now, in light of recent political turmoil, many people in Nicaragua are looking for U.S. intervention to prevent them from being the “second Venezuela.”

“Many people are in favor of U.S. intervention,” Poveda said, but based on recent history he said that might not be the best idea. “I think there was two reasons that the U.S. intervened in foreign policy. One, because the other guy is a communist, and we don’t care who [the new leader] is as long as he’s not a communist. The other is because they are in their geopolitical neighborhood and they feel powerful.”

Still, some countries see Trump’s power as a positive thing. “At least in Korea, Trump is more favorable now, ever since getting elected. Part of the reason was because Trump was one of the main factors that lead to the talks with North Korea,” Park said. “We don’t like the comments he’s said about a lot of other things, but in this perspective we do like him.”

Madison Bearden, an intercultural communication major who grew up in Arkansas, thinks the U.S. can do better not only in their international foreign policy, but also in how they treat people from other countries in the U.S.

“We don’t think [immigrants] have anything to offer us, we can’t work with them because we think we have it all,” she said. In contrast, Bearden said a trip she took to Guatemala opened her eyes to a completely different way to treat foreigners.

“It was like, ‘let me shake your hand because you don’t do hugs. Let me try to greet you in English the best I can,’” she said. “There was a major difference in how I was treated than [how foreigners are treated in the U.S.]”

Arrington urges other Americans to represent themselves and their country with humility and cultural competence to people from other countries both inside the U.S. and while traveling.

“Every single American abroad is representing all of America. So, if you go abroad and you are kind and you seek to understand and you represent Christ … they’re going to pay attention to that more then they’re going to pay attention to a headline about Trump who they’re never going to meet,” Arrington said.