With his stunning election triumph, Donald Trump has emblazoned his name in golden letters on the brand of the United States. The superpower of soft power that produces much of the world’s most-loved music, movies and technology yesterday chose a president who is wildly unpopular in close US allies.
Trump’s surprise election could have far-reaching effects for the US image with potential consequences for companies, universities and tourism.
Still, the extent of Trump’s impact remains to be seen.
The presidency itself has long been key to the US global image, with popular films and television series such as “Air Force One” and “The West Wing” depicting wise, principled presidents, and embassies around the world throwing election watch parties to showcase the peaceful transition of power.
The harsh tone of the campaign, and protests that followed Trump’s victory, undercut that message this time, said Nicholas Cull, a professor of public diplomacy at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School.
“I think it’s unsettling to audiences around the world, especially as part of Trump’s approach is to be tough and to be rude around foreigners – saying he is going to teach China a lesson, or that China has been ‘raping’ the American economy, or to say that NATO allies are not pulling their weight,” Cull said.
“However, on the other side of that, I think people around the world are not stupid and they recognise an American version of a kind of politics that is occurring in many countries,” said Cull, referring to rise of populist leaders.
The drag on the US image could be particularly acute to the travel and tourism industry, which has been growing steadily with help from the marketing firm Brand USA, set up under a 2010 law.
The United States last year was the largest recipient of foreign tourists after France, with the tourism industry accounting for 7.6 million jobs directly or indirectly.
Trump has called for a ban on all Muslim visitors and a wall to block the border with Mexico, the biggest source of visitors to the United States after Canada.
Christopher Nurko, global chairman of strategy firm FutureBrand, said European countries and especially Canada – whose Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has laid out a welcome mat to foreigners including refugees – stood in a strong position to woo foreign travelers or investors turned off by Trump.
US universities are also home to nearly one million foreign students, contributing more than USD 30 billion in 2015 to the US economy, according to government data.
Led by China and India, the international student body in the US jumped 10 per cent in 2014-15, its fastest pace in years, amid concerted efforts to attract students of diverse backgrounds.
“What you are seeing now is that the domestic identity of the United States, or of those who elected Trump, is starkly at odds with how the world wants America to be seen,” Nurko said.