America serves up a global lesson in the weaknesses of American democracy
It’s not just the election, it’s the dysfunction in government: the endless Senate filibusters and holds, the refusal to fill judicial posts (going even for replacing any Supreme Court Justice for the entire presidential term if Hillary Clinton becomes present, the promise to investigate Hillary for years if she becomes president, the corruption of Congress by corporate funds channeled through lobbyists, the disregard for the public welfare, a strong and growing fundamentalist religious group, including those who are armed and anti-government and sometimes terrorists (and murdering the doctor in Kansas who provided abortions, much as the Taliban tried to murder the girl for attending school and getting an education: beliefs enforced via violence. That last is certain a picture we have no trouble recognizing in other countries. Well, guess what. They can recognize it in us as well.
Griff Witte writes in the Washington Post:
In the seaside cafes of Beirut, the whole thing looks “like a bad joke.” To persecuted journalists in Burundi, it amounts to “a total loss of dignity.” The government-scripted press of Beijing diagnoses “an empire moving downhill.” And the spin doctors of the Kremlin see cause for pure and unambiguous delight.
The U.S. presidential election — America’s quadrennial chance to showcase for the world how democracy works in the most powerful nation on Earth — has become instead an object lesson in everything that ails a country long seen as a beacon of freedom and hope.
Debates devoid of issues and deep in the gutter of personal insult. Interference from foreign intelligence services. Endless leaked emails, and FBI investigations that could extend long beyond Tuesday.
Americans may cringe watching their own election at close range. But the world’s reaction has been, in a sense, even more poignant and foreboding.
People in small and distant countries who count on the United States to stand up for democratic values have been astonished to see the essential components — a free press, the rule of law, respect for the outcome of elections — trammeled.
Long-standing allies have been left to wonder whether the essential American character has changed, and whether the United States can be relied on when it counts.
Adversaries have looked on with glee, surprised at how easily the country that casts itself as the greatest can be knocked off kilter.
And even though the campaign still has days to go — with the outcome very much in doubt — the damage to American moral standing may already be done.
“I heard the election is being controlled by Russia. Is it true?” asked Anas al-Abed, 27, a Beirut cafe worker who said he has been following the campaign closely ever since he read that the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, had bragged about assaulting women.
“America always spoke to Arab countries as if they had so much to learn,” he said. “And now we see their own democracy involves choosing between a woman from a dynasty and a man who says the system is manipulated. If that’s democracy, then we don’t want it.”
This is not the first time that America’s international reputation has been dealt a grievous blow. In recent years, the Iraq War brought global perceptions of the United States tumbling, only to be revived by the election of President Obama — who remains broadly popular overseas.
But political analysts worldwide said that never before have they seen a presidential campaign do so much to directly undermine America’s core credibility.
“It’s very shocking and disturbing to see this happening on such a scale in the richest country on Earth,” said Koichi Nakano, a political-science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.
It is not, of course, happening in a vacuum. Democracies from Southeast Asia to Western Europe are under pressure from within as populism and xenophobia surge. Autocrats from Moscow to the Middle East, meanwhile, are feeling emboldened.
“It isn’t just about this election,” said Jacob Parakilas, deputy head of the U.S. and Americas program at the London-based think tank Chatham House. “It fits into a broader framework of rising nationalism and the destruction of existing political norms.”
But with the breakdown of those norms happening so vividly in America — a nation that proselytizes the virtues of democracy more aggressively than any other — the global swing toward less free and open societies could accelerate no matter who wins Tuesday.
“This campaign makes the implicit argument that the U.S. model of liberal democracy isn’t what it’s cracked up to be,” Parakilas said.
America’s top diplomat has acknowledged as much. Speaking to students in London on Monday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry called the campaign “downright embarrassing” and said that it has already damaged American influence.
Thanks to the election, he said, he is greeted with skeptical looks — or worse — when he sits down “with some foreign minister in another country or with the president or prime minister of another country and you say, ‘Hey, we really want you to move more authoritatively towards democracy.’ ”
In the state-controlled media of America’s nondemocratic rivals and adversaries, the campaign has only exposed what they long knew the country to be — a declining and morally bankrupt power.
“We are seeing the failure of U.S. democracy,” wrote Zhang Zhixin, an expert on American politics at the Chinese institute of Contemporary International Relations.
The message is not only that America is floundering but also that China, prosperous and stable, is growing strong in its place.
With Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte promising to “separate” from the United States and realign with China’s “ideological flow,” Communist Party-approved writers seem to see an opening for more shifts in China’s favor.
A recent piece in Xinhua, the state-controlled newswire, cited work by Li Wen, an academic at the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences, who argued that instability in the United States shows the “twisted mentality of an empire moving downhill.”
In Russia, . . .