How profoundly depressing it is to read of the US Elections shenanigans. After the UK – which I proudly view as the true birthplace of modern democracy – I’ve always regarded the United States as the beacon of freedom in the Western world.
As liberties across Europe have been taken away during the pandemic I’ve thought that at least America, despite its chaotic handling of Covid, is a place I could one day live and be free. For me though freedom and democracy go hand in hand – everyone gets a vote and all votes are equal.
To see Trump’s virtual declaration of victory on Wednesday morning, before millions of votes had been counted, was frankly pathetic. Then to hear the apparently baseless claims of voter fraud, plots to attack counting venues and use of the law to influence the final result is so, so sad.
In the UK, we’ve had our problems with elections with Scottish Nationalists and Remainers seemingly unable to accept they lost in 2014 and 2016. At least though every vote was counted, the result was clear and legislators tried to enact the electorate’s wishes.
At the same time as Trump made his declaration the United States Embassy to Ivory Coast issued a statement calling on leaders in the West African nation to “show commitment to the democratic process and the rule of law.”
It’s the kind of proclamation that US diplomats issue all the time regarding elections around the world, particularly those parts of it where democracy is not completely secure.
Chaotic debates and an ugly campaign had already marred the standing of the US democratic system overseas this year, but the sight of the American leader openly seeking to delegitimise the vote was still a shock for many. Trump’s comments were greeted with horror in many countries, and some glee in others, where critics of the US have long accused Washington of hypocrisy regarding democratic rights.
I agree with former foreign minister Jeremy Hunt who told the BBC a “huge argument about process” would “put a smile on the face of people like President Putin and President Xi who will look at their own people and say, ‘Are you not pleased we have not got any of this mess?’ and that would be an absolute disaster.”
“We must remember that the reputation of democracy across the world is at stake here,” Hunt added. For years, the US has held itself up as an arbiter of sorts for the democratic process around the world, sending monitors to polls, propping up democratic opposition and criticising countries for rigging or undermining elections.
Just this week, the US State Department condemned China’s ongoing crackdown on democratic freedoms in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong. In Belarus, a close ally of Moscow, the US no longer recognises Alexander Lukashenko as the “legitimately elected leader,” after hotly contested elections in the former Soviet state.
This sense of moral authority is now likely to be called into question in some parts of the world.
After Tuesday’s vote, Russian state-run broadcaster RT described the US as “battered and divided,” while a number of its columnists highlighted the potential chaos that could be unleashed by Trump’s comments, with one writing that “the affair paints a grim picture for American democracy.”
In China, alleged flaws in American democracy have long been used to prop up Beijing’s own authoritarian model, and the confusion and concern over Tuesday’s voting is no different.
The Global Times, a nationalist state-owned tabloid, published a piece Wednesday noting that “deep-seated divisions in US contradict democratic values.”
“Democracy is exercised in a civilized and graceful manner. The one who loses in elections is supposed to stay cool, accept the result, and call for bridging differences to move the country forward. But it seems that this does not exist in the US nowadays,” writer Wang Wenwen added.
America’s reputation as a democratic beacon is surely more important than one man’s inability to respect the decision of the people and accept defeat, if that turns out to be the final result, with grace.