It’s no coincidence that while congratulations for Joe Biden’s victory in the U.S. presidential race came quickly from Western democracies, many thuggish regimes remained conspicuously silent. The many despots who welcomed Donald Trump’s crass indifference to the fortunes of freedom are right to be wary of Biden. The president-elect intends to make America decent again, not only at home but abroad, by restoring the promotion of liberty and defense of democracy as pillars of U.S. foreign policy. Rebuilding U.S. credibility on human rights will take time, however.
Trump’s affinity for autocrats is well documented. “It’s funny,” he mused to Bob Woodward of The Washington Post. “The relationships I have, the tougher and meaner they are, the better I get along with them. You know? Explain that to me someday, okay?” Amusing or not, Trump is at least self-aware. His predecessors used their bully pulpit to champion universal liberties enshrined in America’s founding documents. He is just a bully, drawn to other bullies.
Trump’s fawning admiration for dictators and elected strongmen is unparalleled in American history. He’s gushed over North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, China’s Xi Jinping, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, among others. Congratulating Xi for consolidating power as president-for-life, Trump suggested, “Maybe we’ll give that a shot.” He publicly joked with Putin about “get[ting] rid of” journalists. Meanwhile, he disparages leaders who are beholden to voters, like Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Germany’s Angela Merkel, as “weak” and “losers.”