The Global Implications of Trump’s Conviction

The Global Implications of Trump’s Conviction

Originally published on Council of Councils

A Blow to Global U.S. Standing

As an historian of the United States, I believe this is a significant moment. Trump is the first former president to be charged and convicted with felony crimes. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody,” Trump bragged in 2016, “and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s, like, incredible.” In this case, Trump hasn’t shot anyone. But his boast of impunity will be tested in November.

In the rest of the world, the conviction will be another blow to the regard in which the United States is held.

To be sure, Trump’s conviction demonstrates that no American—no matter how rich or influential—stands above the law. However, the fact that so many Americans believe his trial was a witch hunt and a sham shows the degree to which Trump’s cynicism has corroded American public life. His return to the White House would further tarnish the international image of the great republic.

Just as important as the power of the United States, I have always believed, is the idea of the United States: a democratic superpower; a flawed country that is always reaching for perfection; a nation of awesome might but also dignity and restraint; a republic with republican values. What would happen to those republican values in the wake of a Trump victory?

U.S. allies are deeply concerned about the policy implications that would flow from Trump’s return to the White House. Previous presidents have defined the United States’ self-interest broadly. But how can the rest of the world find our place in his “America First” worldview?

Most Australians support the U.S. alliance, and Australia is the United States’ most reliable ally: the only country to fight beside the United States in every major conflict of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. However, Trump’s values run counter to Australians’ values. Trump is an alliance skeptic; Australians are alliance believers. Trump is hostile to free trade; Australia is a trading nation. Trump swoons over autocrats and strongmen; Australia is an old democracy and a free society.

Australians lost some confidence in the United States during the Trump presidency. In 2020, Lowy Institute polling found that nearly half of Australians did not trust the United States to act responsibly in the world. The 2024 Lowy Institute Poll, released this week, reveals that if Australians had a vote in November, nearly seven in ten would vote for Joe Biden.

Canberra will deal with whomever Americans elect as their president, of course. But most Australians will be hoping that Trump’s conviction damages his chances.

Areas of expertise: Australian foreign policy; US politics and foreign policy; Asia and the Pacific; Global institutions