Ever since Donald Trump started monopolizing headlines in the United States, I have made it a point to ask people around the world their thoughts about the American presidential campaign. In fact, I always try to find out what people are thinking as I travel around the world. But it's been particularly intriguing to gauge global attitudes in the time of Trump.
I will not pretend my survey follows a scientific method. But I was stunned that after talking with scores of people from more than a dozen countries, I had not found a single person who said (or admitted) that he or she hoped Trump would win.
So far this year I have asked my questions in six different countries, during travels for different projects. But it took flying some 10,000 miles away from U.S. shores, to an island in the Indian Ocean, to find my first non-American Trump supporter.
I didn't take the easy road. I could have gone to Russia, where the very popular President Vladimir Putin has expressed admiration
for Trump -- and Trump has reciprocated. In fact, Russians are
alone among the world's 20 largest economies in supporting Trump over Hillary Clinton, according to a recent poll. Just about everywhere else -- in that survey and in my traveling experience -- Hillary Clinton is a runaway favorite and Trump a source of deep concern.
When I tell people in the U.S. that most of the world dreads a Trump victory, Trump supporters often explain that this is a good sign, an indication that the world knows Trump would look after American interests, not everyone else's. But what I have heard abroad is quite different.
People who admire and respect the United States -- America's friends -- want Trump to lose. Those who think a weaker America is desirable -- America's foes -- want Trump to win. It's no wonder that another poll
of America's closest allies concluded recently "Europe is terrified at the prospect of President Donald Trump."
To find people hoping for a Trump victory I had to travel to the island of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. "I hope Trump will win," Iresh Edirsinghe told me. He sounded like a variety of American you can find in 2016 when he said, "I hate Hillary." In fact, Edirsinghe, a 40-year-old who runs a one-man car service, told me he has no great admiration or even respect for Trump, but believes Clinton is "too close to the terrorists, to the Tamils."
I heard similar comments from other Sri Lankans. Gayani Perera, a shop keeper, also prefers Trump because she believes "Hillary didn't see our side" in the war against the Tamil Tigers.
Clinton was secretary of state during the final months of a 26-year war between the Sri Lankan military and the brutal separatist terrorist group known as the Tamil Tigers. In 2009, Sri Lanka's final offensive soundly defeated the terrorists, but at a steep price for the civilian population. At the time, Clinton warned
of "untold suffering" in the Tamil areas. And in fact, United Nations investigations have now concluded t
hat some 40,000 civilians were killed in that campaign, with both sides -- the Tigers and the government -- committing crimes against humanity.
Still, not everyon
e in Sri Lanka wants Trump to win, not by a long shot.
In fact, the American election was seldom front-page news even before the recent floods
that devastated the country and crowded out other news.
But some people are paying attention. America matters. Edirsinghe made it clear that he prefers Trump because he doesn't really like any American government, certainly not one with the power to give its opinion on Sri Lankan affairs.
Another place that would prefer a more quiet America is China, a country that has been sharply at odds with the U.S. over Beijing's expansionist policies in the South China Sea and its human rights policies, to name just a couple of issues. There, Trump is gaining some support
, despite his threats to declare a trade war. China, like Russia and like some Sri Lankans, would prefer a weaker Washington, one with less global power.
A weaker America makes it easier for other countries to push the boundaries of international law. It makes it easier for America's rivals and foes to grow stronger.
China particularly likes Trump's suggestion
that it may be time for the U.S. to stop defending its Asian allies. Since America's vow to defend South Korea and Japan is in large part a promise to protect them from China, an expansionist Beijing relishes the idea.
Elsewhere, however, among those who admire the United States, Trump's mere rise is a deep disappointment.
In Albania, I spoke with Adrian Kati, who spent 15 years as a prisoner of the communist government. He's not one to speak about God, but he makes an exception when talking about America and the creation of its system of government and its Constitution. "For this one time," he says, he believes there was divine intervention in the creation of America, a country that represents a gathering of minds from around the world and the ages, resulting in something singular, special.
He remembers other political prisoners. "Before they were shot," he told me, "they said, 'We are with democracy, American democracy.'" For Kati, the notion that Trump could become president after opposing immigration and seeking to downplay America's role in promoting freedom in the world, would be a stunning turn of events. I heard similar sentiments from many Albanians. And their leaders have been echoing
what I heard.
In Latin America, it's even more difficult to find someone hoping for a Trump victory. It's not just his anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant stance, it's more than that. Amparo Rodriguez, a retired nurse in Cali, Colombia, told me "Trump is against the poor. I like Clinton's wife."
In the Middle East, where I have been informally canvassing opinions for decades, I found much the same: fear that Trump would be a disaster, matched with a powerful sense that Hillary Clinton could be quite the opposite.
If you are looking for a region where the overwhelming feeling is that the Obama administration's foreign policy has been a failure, this is the place. At least I've found it so. And yet, that disappointment does not extend to his former secretary of state. In Israel, the polls
show stronger support for Clinton than for Trump.
In the United Arab Emirates a few weeks ago, I asked a group of young Emirati professionals who they wanted to see as the next American president. They responded in unison, "Hillary!"
I insisted, "How about Trump?" The expression on their faces made it clear they found my question absurd.
According to Bahar Erdogan, a government communications expert working in the Emirates, "It's not about who wins. It's time for someone... who is aware that it is his job to work for [the] people and not to serve himself." She doesn't think Trump is capable of representing America.
My worldwide search for Trump supporters leads me to one conclusion: In the U.S., Trump supporters may want to make America great again. But when it comes to the rest of the world, the people rooting for America are not cheering for Trump.
And the people cheering for Trump are not rooting for America.