LONDON – Allegations of election fraud, protests at counting centers and false declarations of victory by a contested incumbent. President Donald Trump’s baseless post-election claims are a gift to the world’s dictators and undermine American efforts to incite anti-democratic behavior abroad, experts have warned.
Since the elections, Trump has launched a rhetorical attack on the basic principles of American democracy. He urged officials to stop counting as his lead began to narrow in several battlefield states. alleged widespread electoral fraud without evidence and incorrectly labeled mail-in ballot papers illegal; and he repeatedly accused the Democrats of trying to “steal” the election.
Even after an initial term in which the president has repeatedly undermined democratic values, his comments this week have raised a whole new level of alarm. This only increased when his supporters, some of whom were armed, began to overcrowd polling stations during the knife counts in Arizona and Michigan.
However, independent observers have also warned of the damaging consequences abroad, where the United States spent decades – and millions of dollars – building democracy.
“He clearly crossed a line by saying that votes shouldn’t be counted,” said Michael Link, head of an election observer mission for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the United States. “To use a sports analogy, if you’re in the middle of the game and you’re in the lead 40 minutes from time, you can’t stop the game just because you want to win.”
The OSCE, a major international organization that oversees elections around the world, has in their Preliminary report Wednesday that the US vote was largely “competitive and well-managed”. But it said it was “tarnished” by Trump’s “unfounded allegations” and warned that his comments would “damage public confidence in democratic institutions around the world.”
Authoritarianism expert Nic Cheeseman, who was watching from Malawi, said he had seen firsthand the damage Trump’s utterances had done.
“This weakens the US’s moral authority when it comes to talking about elections in other countries, and it will encourage dictators around the world,” said Cheeseman, who is temporarily based in East Africa but a professor of democracy and international development at the English university is from Birmingham.
Anyone who wants to undermine democracy in their own country can now “take advantage of the fact that the US now has a weaker voice on these issues,” he said.
For the past four years, strong men – from Syria to Turkey and from Hungary to Thailand – have adopted Trump’s “fake news” mantra to reject factual journalism they dislike. The fear now is that autocrats will be able to refer directly to Trump’s anti-democratic rhetoric to justify their own actions. Or they just feel like the US is more likely to let them off the hook, Cheeseman said.
“The US is the leading democracy in the world,” former British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC on Wednesday.
“If we have people talking about stolen elections left and right in the middle, we will only put a smile on the face of people like President Putin, President Xi,” Hunt said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Chinese President Xi Jinping, “Who is going to look at their own people and say, Aren’t you delighted that you have not made this mess?”
Even after a presidency in which Trump has shocked the world with his norm-busting style, his comments have found a new nadir for many observers at home and abroad.
“People here look at America in disbelief,” said Cheeseman. “America is becoming an election laugher around the world, and the long-term damage to America’s democratic reputation will be profound and will continue well beyond Trump.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden predicted victory and called for unity as the final vote was counted. According to NBC News, he received 253 votes for the electoral college, compared to 214 for Trump. His election lawyer, Bob Bauer, received some criticism for saying in response to Trump ’s statements that” we won the election and we will defend this election “.
For decades, the US has been at the forefront of international democracy-building efforts, and is quick to call on some foreign governments when they question democratic norms.
In 2018, the US Agency for International Development spent $ 92 million on its Transition Initiatives Program, which aims to help countries step up their efforts towards “sustainable development, peace, good governance and democracy.”
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Ahead of a spate of elections across Africa, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned last month that the US would be “closely monitoring the actions of those who interfere in the democratic process and will not hesitate to ponder the consequences.”
And on Wednesday, the morning after the US elections, the US embassy in Ivory Coast called on the country’s heads of state and government to show “commitment to the democratic process” after the controversial election.
“From what Trump said, this exact language could very easily be brought back directly to the US because it applies here too,” said Brian Klaas, Associate Professor of Global Politics at University College London.
Of course, the USA is also accused of criticizing friends and strategic partners. Washington is one of his allies the human rights violating theocracy of Saudi Arabia. And there is $ 1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt. where guard dogs say President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has consolidated his authoritarian rule.
During his tenure, Trump got used to dictators, specifically saying he “fell in love” with Kim Jong Un of North Korea, widely considered one of the world’s worst living human rights abusers.
With that in mind, many experts see the post-election post-election comments as a brazen example of a long-term trend rather than an entirely new development.
During his previous job as an election observer who traveled around the world, Klaas said he was the one after the 2000 US presidential race in which George W. Bush defeated Al Gore, despite the loss of the referendum and only after an ugly litigation in Florida was reached, encountered a setback to the Supreme Court.
“People would say to me, ‘How can you teach us if you don’t even give the presidency to the person who gets the most votes?'” He said. “This choice is like Bush versus Gore over steroids.”
There are some senior Republicans who broke rank with Trump who condemn the comments and insist that all votes must be counted.
“There is no defense for the president’s comments tonight that are undermining our democratic process,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said in a tweet. “America counts the votes, and we must respect the results, as we have always done before. No choice or person is more important than our democracy.”
Those nuances are little cut through outside of the US, however, and “likely get lost in the wall of noise when it comes to international perceptions,” Cheeseman said.
And Trump’s anti-democratic message is the one that resonates above everyone else.
In Bangkok, Thailand, where protesters are risking jail for demanding democratic reforms, 19-year-old student Pan Siripark said they were something “no one ever expected the US to do”.
It is “reminded of third world countries,” he added, “where you have allegations of election fraud … it seems incredible.”