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Nov 18, 2020

Trump’s global echoes

Co-produced with PRX Logo

Coda Story reporter Natalia Antelava explores the impact of President Donald Trump’s four years on international institutions. The United States has traditionally been a leader of democracy internationally, taking a big role in establishing institutions such as the United Nations. But Trump’s “America First” priorities have left a leadership vacuum in these important organizations. What will it take to turn that around?

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Listen: United, we’re not


Reported and produced by: Natalia Antelava

Edited by: Jen Chien

Production manager: Amy Mostafa

Production assistance: Katharine Mieszkowski, Caitlin Thompson, and Brett Simpson

Sound design and music by: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda

Mixing: Jim Briggs, Fernando Arruda and Ameeta Ganatra

Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan

Host: Al Letson

Editor in chief: Matt Thompson

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.


Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.

Al Letson:

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.

Throughout his time in office, Trump has tried to rewrite the narrative in a way that benefits him. It's a part of a swing towards populous and autocratic tendencies that you can see in his administration and in other countries around the globe. Over the last four years, while Americans were consumed by endless news about Trump, our partners at the nonprofit newsroom Coda Story have been tracking how Trump's style of governing has echoed on the global stage. We asked Coda's editor-in-chief Natalia Antelava to bring us some reflections.

Natalia Antelav...:

Where to even begin assessing the global effect of four intense news-packed years of Trump's presidency? Well, here's one place that's probably as good as any.

Speaker 3:

Welcome to this episode of superpower Game of Thrones live from Almaty, where we're asking you who's going to inherit [crosstalk 00:01:02].

Natalia Antelav...:

It's May, 2019, and I'm sitting in a tightly packed conference hall in Almaty, the biggest city in Kazakhstan. That's right, the place where this guy says he's from.

Sacha Baron Coh...:

14 year ago, I released movie film which brought great shame to Kazakhstan.

Natalia Antelav...:

That's Borat, comedian, Sacha Baron Cohen's fictional journalist. His Kazakhstan is a backward poor country. The real Kazakhstan is central Asia's richest, and one of the world's most corrupt states. I am here attending the country's blockbuster annual event, a forum organized by the daughter of a former autocratic leader. The room is buzzing with excitement. A big star is about to come on stage. And no, it's not Borat.

Speaker 5:

And Steve Bannon, would you join us, Steve? Steve was CEO of President Trump's successful presidential campaign, and he's been meeting a series of political leaders across Europe.

Natalia Antelav...:

Fresh off the plane from Paris and sporting his signature double black shirt. Steve Bannon dived straight into the first question. How is Donald Trump changing the world?

Steve Bannon:

I think if you look throughout the world, you're starting to see the reinforcement or the very beginning stages from Brexit to Trump's victory, to now, the beginning of a restructuring for the benefit of working class people and middle-class people throughout the world.

Natalia Antelav...:

He says, people are fed up and nations needs to turn their attention inward, that liberalism and globalism are dead. For the last four years, that's also been the message we've heard broadcast from the world's largest megaphone, the White House. And that has had a massive ripple effect, says former President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

Toomas Hendrik ...:

Things were great for the authoritarian and the disaster for democracy.

Natalia Antelav...:

Estonians, historically bullied by their big neighbor, Russia, have always had to work extra hard to ensure their media is uncensored, LGBTQ communities are protected, elections are free and fair. Institutions that share these values like the EU and NATO are part of the world order that offers countries like Estonia the chance to exist. This is also the world order President Ilves says, that Trump has put on its head by attacking traditional allies, pulling out of treaties and cozying up to authoritarians from Russia to the Philippines.

Toomas Hendrik ...:

Who is he friends with? I mean, Putin, Duterte, he's been actually extremely weak on China and has not condemned what's going on in Hong Kong. He has said not a word about Belarus, right?

Natalia Antelav...:

Pulitzer winning historian, Anne Applebaum says that as the U.S. withdrew from the world under Trump, its traditional allies, which she calls the democratic camp were left without the leader.

Anne Applebaum:

The democratic camp is not going in any particular direction. It doesn't have a strategy. It doesn't have a way to deal with China or to think about China. And so without a strategy, without a leader, without a sense of purpose, this loose coalition of countries doesn't act as a single block ever.

Natalia Antelav...:

Over the last four years as democracies around the world lost the anchor the White House had always provided, populace found their anchor and its new occupant.

Anne Applebaum:

From Viktor Orbán in Hungary to Erdoğan in Turkey, to the leaders of Saudi Arabia and strangely even China, the fact that Trump was in the White House has enabled them. And you've heard them copying things that he said.

Natalia Antelav...:

Like fake news or America First. Applebaum says dictators have really seized on Trump's concept of sovereignty.

Anne Applebaum:

There's "My country first." That means you can't criticize me if I've committed human rights abuses. And that's literally the word that the Chinese use, sovereignty.

Natalia Antelav...:

Since 2016, all around the world, journalists, activists, human rights defenders, suddenly felt much more vulnerable as if Trump was pulling off the invisible security blanket America has provided for decades.

Peter Pomerants...:

I mean, in a really practical way, if you fall out your government in your country, where do you run? You run to the U.S. Embassy.

Natalia Antelav...:

Peter Pomerantsev, Coda's contributing editor is an expert on global disinformation.

Peter Pomerants...:

Even if you hate them, you run to the U.S. Embassy. That's just where you go.

Speaker 10:

And if there is no U.S. Embassy to run to anymore, the world is suddenly a very different place.

Peter Pomerants...:

[crosstalk] but you know, there'll still be a pocket, but it'll be like pockets of resistance in a world dominated sadly by countries that really have very little room for even hypocritical arguments about values.

Natalia Antelav...:

For four years, all around the world, authoritarian voices have grown stronger, bolder, more prominent. For me, the astonishing paradox is just how many of them are the same individuals who only a decade ago stood up for democracy and progress. Historian Anne Applebaum wrote a book about that issue, where she maps out why so many of her friends who fought for democracy in Eastern Europe have more recently turned against it.

Anne Applebaum:

The main quality that I've found in people who have turned against their own democracies is disappointment. These are people who have turned away from their societies, who don't like the countries that they live in. I think all radicalism and all extremism ultimately begins there. It begins with some kind of very profound alienation. And that's the quality that links people from Poland to Ukraine, to Russia, to America, to the United Kingdom.

Natalia Antelav...:

That's part of democracy. Someone will always be disappointed, and someone else will always be ready to exploit that. Applebaum hopes that the biggest lesson that four years of Trump have told the world is this. We all need to work to make democracy more representative, more fair and more competent, if we want it to survive.

Al Letson:

That's Natalia Antelava from Coda Story. Jen Chien edited today's episode with production help from Reveal's Catherine Makowski and Caitlin Thompson from Coda. Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel. Our production manager is Amy Mostafa. Score and sound designed by the dynamic duo, Jay Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando, my man, yo Arruda. That helped today from [Amita Genatra 00:07:50], and Brett Simpson. Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Matt Thompson is our editor-in-chief. And our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan.

Our theme music is by Comarado Lightning. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

I'm Al Letson. And remember, there is always more to the story.