‘Stop the count!’

‘Stop the count!’

It is difficult to believe that Donald Trump is so unaware of the democratic process that he would demand “Stop the count!” as he did on Thursday, when the results from five states were still in the balance. At that point, Joe Biden was leading in two states; if the process stopped there, he would have enough votes to be elected. So, the most likely reason for Trump’s call was that he wanted to stoke the rage of his supporters and undermine the process. He had, after all, spent the past few weeks preparing them for this, with groundless claims of cheating and efforts to provoke preemptive judicial action. Then, soon after the balloting ended, he ordered numerous lawsuits, claiming irregularities in the vote. On Thursday night he made the same claims in a delusional and divisive news conference. Now Americans will have to deal with the consequences of having had a president who invested so much in anger, who tested democracy to its limits.

Trump transformed politics and social perceptions. The close election confirmed the depth of division and the hold that Trump and his policies have over a huge section of the population. More people voted for him this time than in 2016, even though they now knew exactly what he is about. Trump and his ways, though, could endanger not only his own country. With his constant attacks on institutions, rivals and procedures, he sends a strong message that a leader can do whatever he likes to achieve his aims.

Perhaps the United States’ image as the beacon of modern liberal democracy was an exaggeration, hiding many of the social and political rifts that are evident today; it was, though, with all its faults, a necessary illusion, a model for other countries and a framework for acceptable behavior. After the last few years, when the government of the United States showed such indifference to human rights at home, on its borders and beyond, does its voice carry the same weight in the world? Will its annual reports on human rights in other countries have any credibility? What cost will this have on people’s lives across the world, and relations between their countries?

Trump’s preference for unilateral action and his impetuous decisions based on personal relationships with “strong men,” encourage other countries to act like players in a new age of Great Powers. Turkey is a striking example. Similarly, Trump’s scorched earth politics at home harmed the United States’ political culture, inspired autocrats everywhere, undermined democracy in the eyes of nations that stored their hopes in it. Trump casts a heavy shadow over America and the world.

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