A group of world leaders posing for a photo at a NATO conference.
U.S President Donald Trump (front left), Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (center) and British Prime Minister Theresa May (front right) during the NATO summit in Brussels in May 2017. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/Getty Images/AFP

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.

Jen Chien is a former senior radio editor for Reveal. Previously, she was managing editor for KALW in San Francisco, where she also was host and executive producer of Sights & Sounds, an arts coverage, community engagement and community media training project. She has edited for podcasts including “70 Million” from Lantigua Williams & Co, “The Stoop” and Wondery. She has been a contributor to “All Things Considered,” Radio Netherlands Worldwide, BBC/PRI’s “The World,” Making Contact, the San Francisco Public Press, the East Bay Express, New America Media and KPFA in Berkeley, California, where she took part in the First Voice Apprenticeship Program. Her work has won awards from Public Radio News Directors Inc., the Religion News Association, the San Francisco Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter, which named her Outstanding Emerging Journalist in 2013. Chien holds a bachelor’s degree in American studies from Smith College and a master’s degree in interdisciplinary performance from New College of California. Before entering journalism, she had a successful career as a professional dance and theater artist, teacher and massage therapist.

Kevin Sullivan is a former executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Fernando Arruda is a sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. As a multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the original music, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. He has held four O-1 visas for individuals with extraordinary abilities. His work has been recognized with Peabody, duPont-Columbia, Edward R. Murrow, Gerald Loeb, Third Coast and Association of Music Producers awards, as well as Emmy and Pulitzer nominations. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio for media and TV ads, and co-founded a film-scoring boutique called the Manhattan Composers Collective. He worked with clients such as Marvel, MasterClass and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck+Company, BUCK and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles, such as SFJAZZ Monday Night Band, Art&Sax quartet, Krychek, Dark Inc. and the New York Arabic Orchestra. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 Percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker,” Wondery’s “Detective Trapp,” MSNBC’s “Why Is This Happening?” and NBC’s “Born to Rule,” to name a few. Arruda also has a wide catalog of composed music for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which has premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. The original music he makes with Jim Briggs for Reveal can be found on Bandcamp.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Amy Mostafa (she/they) was the production manager for Reveal. She is a UC Berkeley School of Journalism alum, where she focused on audio and data journalism as a Dean's Merit Fellow and an ISF Scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on NPR, KALW and KALX. Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She has most recently reported on housing and aging in the Bay Area. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Laura Starecheski is a former senior radio editor for Reveal. Their radio work at Reveal has won a national Edward R. Murrow, a duPont-Columbia, and a Peabody, among other awards. Previously, they reported on health for NPR’s science desk and traveled the United States with host Al Letson for the Peabody Award-winning show “State of the Re:Union.” Their Radiolab story “Goat on a Cow” won a silver award for best documentary from the Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, and SOTRU's “The Hospital Always Wins” won a national Murrow Award. They have been a Rosalynn Carter fellow for mental health journalism and a Knight-Wallace fellow at the University of Michigan. Starecheski is based in Philadelphia.

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. She's also been a senior writer for Salon and Fast Company. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Slate and on NPR's "All Things Considered."

Her coverage has won national awards, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award two years in a row, an Online News Association Award, a Webby Award and a Society of Environmental Journalists Award. Mieszkowski has a bachelor's degree from Yale University. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Brett Simpson (she/her) was an assistant producer for Reveal. She pursued a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where she focuses on audio, print and investigative reporting. She has received fellowships from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, the National Press Club, the White House Correspondents’ Association and the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center. She is also the graduate researcher at UC Berkeley's Investigative Reporting Program. Most recently, Simpson reported breaking news for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered the coronavirus outbreak in the San Francisco Bay Area for The New York Times. She received a bachelor's degree in English at Princeton University, where she twice won the Ferris Prize for Outstanding Undergraduate Projects in Journalism.