Overseas, Trump’s ‘America First’ pledge draws praise, alarm

There was dismay in Britain, applause in Russia and silence in Japan. French populists found hope, Mexican leaders expressed concern and Germany's vice chancellor offered an allusion to his country's dark past.

In his first speech as president of the United States, Donald Trump showed the world he could be as divisive abroad as he is at home. His vow to place America first — and his threat to upend long-standing alliances, trade deals and many other tenets of the liberal democratic order the nation has chosen for nearly 70 years — was received across the globe with fear, silence and glee, sometimes within the same country.

In searching for a historical analogy, some in Britain reached back to the 1930s, when a bleaker vision of the world prevailed with the United States on the sidelines. China imposed unusually tight state control over coverage of the inaugural, though state media highlighted "violent" protests in the United States. In the Philippines, nationalists set fire to an effigy of Trump, while the country's president welcomed his U.S. counterpart's apparent willingness to stop telling other leaders how to govern.

Nationalist movements embraced Trump's words as a validation. Far-right French politician Marine Le Pen, a serious candidate in presidential elections this spring, declared that Trump's victory had opened "a new era in the cooperation between nations."

The mixed reaction reflected the global uncertainty about what a Trump presidency would look like — and the divided world into which he steps. A fractured landscape of self-interest — whether from rising nationalist movements in many European countries, an emboldened Russia or long-standing allies such as Britain or Japan — underscored the confused, and often contradictory, responses. He is, in some ways, a Rorschach test for a polarized world.

"Time to buckle your seat belts and cross your fingers," said Marcos Troyjo, a Brazilian economist and diplomat.

For those hoping the president would sound different from the candidate, there was little comfort in his address.


In Germany, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel warned of a "drastic radicalization" in U.S. politics and said Berlin stood ready to fill the void left by an isolationist Washington. The only thing missing was a denunciation of parliament as a "gossip chamber," he added, using a term that fascists applied to German institutions in the 1920s. And in Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May said she would tell a skeptical Trump how important NATO and the European Union are for European and world stability.

"With the threats we face, it's not the time for less cooperation," May, who is supposed to travel to Washington soon, told The Financial Times.

For a world confronting a tide of populist rage, his words both soothed and frightened. President Francois Hollande of France, battling nationalist currents in his own country, did not even wait for Trump to give his address before offering his take.

"We are in an open world economy, and it is not possible nor advisable to want to be isolated from the world economy," he said.

In Mexico, which Trump has made a whipping boy for the false promise of trade and the threat of migration, the response from President Enrique Peña Nieto, who plans to deliver his own address on foreign policy Monday, was almost immediate. On Twitter, after a congratulatory note, he wrote: "Sovereignty, national interest and the protection of Mexicans will guide our relationship with the new government of the United States."

And an influential member of the president's governing party, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, warned in an address after Trump's Inaugural Address that "a weak and offended neighbor is not a good ally."

Yet the response was not all bad.

There were the usual gestures of cooperation, mixed with hope that Trump's angry and nationalistic words would not mean a U.S. retreat from global responsibility. There was also joy, whether among nationalist parties or global powers long at odds with the United States.

Russia, where often vicious mockery of Barack Obama has for months been a state-sponsored national sport, responded with glee to Obama's departure from office and the arrival of Trump.

The inauguration received blanket coverage on state media, with Rossiya 24, a round-the-clock television news channel, broadcasting the entire ceremony and Trump's address live, along with scenes of anti-Trump demonstrators smashing shop windows in Washington.

Stirring particular delight among Russian politicians and commentators were Trump's remarks in his inaugural address about the need "to unite the civilized world against radical Islam." One of Russia's biggest gripes against Obama was that he criticized President Vladimir Putin for supporting the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, a position that Moscow presented as tantamount to supporting terrorism.

In France, Le Pen, the National Front leader, lauded the British vote to leave the European Union and Trump's victory. "In 2016, the Anglo-Saxon world woke up," she said. She added: "In 2017, I am sure it will be the year of peoples across the continent rising up!"

Le Pen was to join other far-right leaders from Germany, Italy and the Netherlands in the German city of Koblenz on Saturday, just a day after Trump's inauguration, at a conference to consult and celebrate what they consider a popular shift in their direction.

In saying nothing, some world leaders seemed to embrace the new reality, seeking to accommodate a galvanizing political force whose message has been echoed in mass movements across continents.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, who was the first world leader to meet with Trump after his election in November, said nothing after Trump's speech. But he has called Japan's alliance with the United States an "axis of Japan's foreign and security policies," even though Trump was vocal as a candidate in attacking Japanese trade practices and questioning U.S. military support for the country.

In China, which also offered no public response, the silence was notable for another reason.

It appeared to have been codified in an explicit directive. China Digital Times, a U.S.-based website that tracks Chinese media and reports regularly on leaked orders from China's propaganda apparatus, published a directive that forbade the country's online news organizations to run photos of the inauguration or include it among their top five news stories of the day.


Notwithstanding a few aberrations, the words of analysts were less muted, freed from the constraints of political niceties and the obligation of world leaders to work with the new U.S. president.

In Japan, Goro Hashimoto, a special editor at the right-leaning Yomiuri Shimbun, the world's largest-circulation newspaper, compared Trump's speech to President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address — and not favorably.

"When I heard Kennedy's speech when I was a child, I was so excited," Hashimoto said. "He talked about American values as well as the benefits for the world. Trump didn't talk in that way."

Zhang Zhe, a Chinese student who is pursuing a doctorate in political science at Brown University in Rhode Island, watched Trump's inauguration with his parents. The picture Trump presented of "American carnage," he said in an email, did not register with the family.

"My parents have only been in America for a few months and they don't know much about it, but even they could not bear what Trump said," Zhang wrote. "My father asked me, 'This president, why does he describe the United States as a society that is worse off than China's old feudal society?'"

The shift in policy left some determined to forge a path without the United States as the leader.

"We can't sit around & hope for US support & cooperation," the former Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, wrote on Twitter. "Europe must take its destiny & security in its own hands."

Still, amid the hand-wringing of establishment voices worried about a return to a less globalized world, there was a silver lining.

"The upside today is that the demagogues of the 1930s did not have to stand for re-election," Josef Joffe, publisher and editor of Die Zeit, the German weekly, wrote in the Guardian.