-- In Japan at the G-7 summit this week, world leaders are supposed to be talking about the global economy and security issues.
But today, President Obama suggested there’s one other big issue dominating conversations among the world’s most powerful men and women: Donald Trump.
“I think it’s fair to say they are surprised by the Republican nominee,” Obama said about the leaders he’s spoken with. “They are not sure how seriously to take some of his pronouncements, but they’re rattled by him, and for good reason.”
Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson fired back, telling CNN that it made sense foreign leaders are “rattled because the gravy train ends if Mr. Trump becomes president.”
All this sounds very familiar for those Americans who live overseas.
Just about everywhere Americans go across the globe these days, they get asked about Trump. Not just journalists and politicians — ordinary tourists are frequently fielding questions, sometimes polite, sometimes scared, sometimes angry.
An American business executive in London recently told me she was grilled by her U.K. colleagues about Trump. Then they demanded to know who she was going to vote for.
“When I told them I really hadn’t made up my mind yet, they couldn’t believe it,” she told me. “A couple of people I’ve known for years actually started yelling how they couldn’t be my friend if I voted for Trump.”
That kind of disbelief is happening across the globe.
Even in North Korea -- the “Hermit Kingdom" -- the curiosity is intense.
Over dinner at a Pyongyang restaurant a couple of weeks ago, a North Korean government official asked me to explain the Trump phenomenon, and whether the brash real estate mogul and reality-TV star could win.
When I told the official that a Trump victory was certainly possible, the official said: “How strange.”
This from a North Korean.
The fact is, Trump terrifies many people around the world.
First, many of his pronouncements and policies seem downright bigoted to millions of those who feel they are the targets of his enmity.
From his proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. “until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on;” to his description of Mexican immigrants as “they’re rapists…some, I assume are good people;” to his proposal to build a border wall to keep out Latino migrants; to his relentless China-bashing -- Trump has said the kinds of things no major American politician has said in decades, if ever.
Leaders have reacted with scorn and rage.
“Donald Trump’s ignorant view of Islam could make both our countries less safe,” said Sadiq Khan, the recently elected mayor of London. “It risks alienating mainstream Muslims around the world and plays into the hands of the extremists.”
Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, received almost unanimous acclaim in his country when he lashed out at Trump’s proposal for a border wall (one that will be paid for by Mexico).
“I’m not going to pay for that f------ wall," Fox declared.
But there’s a deeper reason so many people around the world are horrified at the prospect of a Trump presidency.
The American president holds tremendous power over the lives of everyone on the planet. That’s a fact all humanity lives with.
And Trump’s shoot-from-the-lip style, his evident unfamiliarity with so many policy issues, his coarse rhetoric, his antagonism to trade deals that have been in place for years, his drive-by proposals to abolish NATO and his demand that allies spend more on defense — it all adds up, for many outside the U.S., to a recipe for uncertainty, for bigotry, for an America in retreat from the responsibilities of leadership in the world.
At first, when Trump launched his campaign, Europeans and others sniggered at him, at what they like to think is America’s bottomless vulgarity, at the endless circus of our politics.
All of a sudden, it seems, it’s not so funny anymore.