As Trump doubles down on election falsehoods, world reflects on America’s deep divide

Here are the latest developments:

  • Trump repeated unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud and again prematurely declared victory as his lead in key states slipped away.
  • The image of American democracy has taken a battering, as has the country’s image as a dependable ally.
  • Trump’s attempts to undermine faith in the vote count were condemned.
  • Some admired the resilience of the U.S. electoral system for ensuring that every vote is counted, in the face of Trump’s attacks.

With the world watching America’s excruciatingly slow vote count on Friday, many people recoiled at President Trump’s attempt to undermine faith in the democratic process, and reflected on the deep divisions blighting the United States.

America, a deeply flawed but nevertheless beguiling model of democracy, has had its global image tarnished, and the damage may not be easily undone. Its retreat into nationalism and isolationism under President Trump will also not be soon forgotten in many capitals, whoever ultimately wins the election.

Britain’s Economist newspaper said Trump’s shrinking path to a second term and his loss of the overall popular vote were “a repudiation of sorts,” but added that “the unexpected closeness of the vote also means populism will live on in America.”

That will be a relief for populists around the world, it wrote in an editorial, suggesting that “the rejection of immigration, urban elites and globalization, which gathered pace after the financial crisis of 2008-09, still has further to run.”

“The second conclusion is to be wary of relying on America,” it wrote. Even if a Biden administration were to restore alliances and strengthen global governance, “everyone will know that it could all revert again in 2024.”

In a statement Thursday evening at the White House, Trump again claimed without proof that he had been cheated and leveled unsubstantiated allegations of widespread vote-rigging — remarks that threatened to further undermine the credibility of American democratic practices. His campaign has announced legal challenges to determine which votes will count.

And as the vote count showed his lead in Georgia and Pennsylvania narrowing on Friday, Trump tweeted more unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud, and repeated his incorrect earlier claim that he had won the election.

In U.S. ally Japan, the spectacle of the president trying to discredit the democratic process was met with consternation.

“For the president to call for excluding massive numbers of votes sent by mail that have been fairly submitted without counting them is outrageous,” Japan’s Asahi Shimbun wrote in an editorial.

Regardless of the result, the Asahi Shimbun said the elections exposed the widening divides in American society, based on race, religion and region.

“It is as if the United States of America today is made up of two entirely different countries,” the front-page Vox Populi column, written by senior reporters, said. “And the whole world, including Japan, is on pins and needles until it becomes clear which of these two Americas has won the 2020 contest.”

Britain’s left-leaning Guardian newspaper was even more scathing, reflecting in an editorial on the “deep weaknesses” in American democracy, and the electoral college system that it called “an abuse that is ripe for the scrapheap.”

But it also painted a bleak picture of the road ahead, suggesting that the possibility of a Democratic-controlled White House and a Republican Senate spelled more gridlock and acrimony.

Trump, it suggested, was already setting the tone for more bitter partisanship.

“The calculated shamelessness of Mr. Trump’s disregard for facts and propriety in his response to the election suggests the coming days and weeks will also be vicious, bitter and explosive,” it wrote.

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tried to draw a parallel between Trump’s reluctance to accept the election results and the British government’s refusal to offer Scotland a second referendum on independence.

“As we’re seeing across the Atlantic just now, politicians who rage against democracy don’t prevail,” she tweeted. “Let’s not dignify this rubbish. Instead let’s keep making and winning the case for independence. Power doesn’t belong to politicians — it belongs to the people.”

With Biden narrowing Trump’s lead in Georgia and Pennsylvania, and hanging on to a slim advantage in Nevada and Arizona, many pundits believe he has an easier path to the White House than Trump.

But Asian leaders on Friday were not inclined to weigh in with their assessments in the absence of a clear victor or a court determination on legal challenges. Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper cited an anonymous government source as saying Tokyo was “in no hurry” to send a congratulatory message to either side.

At the same time in Japan, where China’s growing military assertiveness is causing increasing alarm, questions about America’s reliability as an ally gripped social media.

“I think it is time for Japan to reinforce a defense capability that does not rely on America,” read one popular comment from a user. “To be sure, it will depend on the president what policies toward Japan will be taken, but it is about time for Japan to reinforce its own trade power and military power and stop riding on the coattails of America,” said another.

As some around the world poked fun at the slow-moving vote count, others appreciated the strength of the system. “We can all joke about how painfully long America is taking to count its votes. But it also underlines that every vote actually counts in their system,” said Nidhi Razdan, a journalist in India.

American media also drew praise in India from commentators for calling out Trump’s falsehoods about the election being stolen from him. “A media with a spine telling truth to power! Salute!” said journalist Rajdeep Sardesai. The decision by ABC, CBS, NBC news networks to cut out of Trump’s speech Thursday night for the falsehoods earned special praise with many lamenting that it would never happen in India.

Meanwhile, Asian stock markets were subdued after a strong week, as investors bet that a combination of Biden in the White House and Republicans controlling the Senate would close the door on any significant rises in corporate tax or massive rollout of new regulations.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index rose 0.9 percent, hitting a 29-year intraday high, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index slipped 0.1 percent.

Niha Masih in New Delhi, Jennifer Hassan in London, Akiko Kashiwagi in Tokyo, Min Joo Kim in Seoul and David Crawshaw in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

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