LONDON – The Security and Cooperation Organization in Europe in the 1970s was the product of the Cold War standoff between the liberal democratic West and the communist Soviet bloc. The body’s name correctly described its role. As the Soviet empire crumbled, the OSCE turned to fostering the transition of countries to democracy, including by helping them run free and fair elections.
The world paid close attention to the verdict of OSCE observation missions on elections held in countries such as Ukraine, Romania, and Kazakhstan. But a while back then he took much notice of holding presidential elections in the United States, the free country.
Indeed, some may have been somewhat disturbed by the broad electoral rhetoric of major US parties, more recent Republican attempts to suppress the vote in colored communities, and the ruthless party political reporting of some local and national media. Overall, however, the handling of the US elections gave little cause for concern. Voters chose presidents fairly, albeit through a curious Electoral College system that reflected American history but sometimes denied victory for the popular vote winner.
This year’s presidential election was held amidst high political tension and raging pandemic COVID-19. But the OSCE verdict was clear: The vote was “competitive and well managed.”
Other independent foreign observers – as well as Republican state officials who organized and administered some of the voting and counting – said the same. But there was a big plume in the lotion in the form of President Donald Trump. The OSCE denied “unfounded allegations of systematic defects, specifically by the incumbent president,” which “damage the public’s trust in democratic institutions.”
I guess no one should be surprised at Trump’s refusal to surrender to President-elect Joe Biden, who adjourned weeks before the transition to the new administration began. While daily US deaths from COVID-19 escalated to a new climax, Trump sank, tweeting claims he made before Election Day that he could only lose if Democrats cheated.
Arguing that his loss – by some six million votes – must be a fraud, Trump is behaving just as he did when he was a failed businessman. Every deal that collapsed, every dispute with a bank that had foolishly lent it, faced a fierce legal challenge. Trump could never admit that he lost. In 2016, USA Today reported that Trump and his businesses had been involved in at least 3,500 lawsuits over the previous 30 years.
But Trump’s plausible allegations of electoral fraud not only demonize him further, but also damage America’s global image and the cause of liberal democracy everywhere. Authoritarian states such as Russia and China have for years argued that core liberal-democratic principles – including the rule of law, independent judiciary, civil society, freedom of expression, and separation of powers – are hypocritical and empty.
To Russian President Vladimir Putin, rigging elections and imprisoning (or connecting) opponents
remove them) is second nature. It manages according to an old KGB playbook, and has created a society where, to borrow the title of an excellent book by Peter Pomerantsev, “nothing is real and everything is possible.”
Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged an attack on what the Communist Party of China considers to be Western values. His routine has happened regularly
violated the letter and spirit of international treaties, most notably by crushing the new Hong Kong democracy in an attempt to turn the once free city into a carbon copy of Xi’s own police surveillance state.
Open societies must stand up for the principles their institutions embody. Confucius argued that the moral virtues of leaders are more important than institutions, but surely the importance of both is not justified by history. Corrupt, cowardly and vengeful leaders often destroy the foundations of their countries’ governance systems.
While Trump did Putin and Xi’s destructive work for them, he couldn’t have managed it without the cooperation of other Republican Party leaders, especially in the Senate. They know how dangerous Trump’s behavior was after the election, but, fearing him and his most fervent supporters, they have given their principles a long vacation.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who described Trump as a “greedy, racist, xenophobic religious bigot,” recently lobbied Republican state secretaries in Georgia and Arizona to see if they could potentially disqualify any votes cast in Democratic districts.
The head of this fifth column is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. His primary concern is holding his position by ensuring that Republicans retain control of the Senate following two runoff elections in Georgia in early January. So, McConnell doesn’t want to do anything that could stop Trump supporters there from turning out to vote.
McConnell does not seem to believe in partnership and accommodation. During Barack Obama’s administration, he blocked much of the Democrat president’s agenda, just to thwart it. Consensus is an alien concept to it. Simply put, it’s bad for democracy, and its behavior spoils the cause for it all over the world.
The enablers of all this unwanted destruction are the media that parrots and broadcasts Trump’s agenda. Fox News has been Trump’s headphone, though it seems even recently that he has been getting cold feet about continuing to resemble media outlets in authoritarian countries. This assertion of independence – which, admittedly, must not simply acknowledge the fairness and outcome of the election – naturally irritated his usual White House star.
Rupert Murdoch is the founder and owner of Fox News. In Australia, former prime minister Kevin Rudd recently launched a record-breaking e-petition calling for a formal investigation into Murdoch’s almost monopoly control of the country’s print media. It’s not hard to see why more than half a million people signed it.
Nor is it difficult to see why, despite Trump’s defeat, America’s authoritarian rivals are apparently content with the result. By undermining liberal democracy in America, Republican leaders and GOP media allies are giving them a big helping hand.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2020.