Foreign observers fear for US democracy because of Trump
In recent years, international election observers have watched the tumultuous votes in countries like Afghanistan, Ukraine and Russia. This year, they are looking again to the United States, a place that is not normally seen as an endangered democracy but looks more and more chaotic.
Members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) began visiting Washington last week to prepare for election day. But just hours after a dozen OSCE experts officially began work on September 29, the United States witnessed one of the ugliest debates in its history – studded with claims of the sitting president that the election results would be fraudulent unless he won.
This was even before the president was rushed to hospital on Friday, having contracted a deadly virus, and details of his health were hidden from the public, further fueling the uncertainty before the contentious vote.
In the 90-minute debate last week, President Donald Trump heckled and lied with abandon. he refused to denounce white supremacists. He laughed at the drug addiction of opponent Joe Biden’s living son as the former vice president spoke of his dead son. He framed the death of a suspected shooter in Portland, Oregon, as an extrajudicial murder, boasting of having sent American marshals who “took care of business.” And he again looked to undermine public confidence in the integrity of the election by falsely claiming that “there is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen”.
“I urge my supporters to go to the polls and watch very carefully because that is what has to happen,” Trump said, declining once again commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
Such language is “generally criticized by election observers around the world,” said Susan Hyde, a University of California at Berkeley, a political science professor who studies election observers and who previously worked as a person in seven countries. “I don’t think it’s too much to say it would have caught their attention.”
“He’s a dictator,” said an American who previously monitored elections on three continents, but asked not to be nominated because she did not want to be seen speaking on behalf of her current employer.
“This is what we see constantly in African countries,” she said, speaking specifically of Zimbabwe.
“I never thought in my eight years of working in this industry that I would be worried about election violence in the United States right now,” she added, “but now, I wouldn’t let her pass. “
Katya Andrusz, spokesperson for the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, declined to comment on the ongoing US elections, pointing out that the organization’s observers, who have been monitoring the US elections for 20 years , always remain politically neutral.
Speaking of democracy more broadly, however, she stressed the importance of public confidence in the vote.
“In any country, trust in the process is absolutely vital and if there is something that undermines trust, it is not healthy for a democracy,” Andrusz said. “A big part of democratic elections is self-confidence, that the system works, that your vote counts.
“If people don’t believe this is the case, it can weaken public confidence in the democratic process itself.”
Of course, the events of the past few days surrounding the coronavirus outbreak inside the White House have thrown a new wrench into a tumultuous election season. With doctors warning that Trump could still have severe symptoms of COVID-19 in the days to come, there remains some speculation about what could happen if he should die or become too sick to continue the election – gossip Trump sought to crush Monday night with a high-profile return to the White House from his hospital bed designed to show him as the Strongman leader.
In a cascade that the Atlantic writer and historian of democracy Anne Applebaum compared to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, Trump stood on the balcony of the White House while still infected, removed his mask, and praised for the cameras. A White House Video The event, set to booming orchestral music worthy of an action movie, was released within an hour.
“Anyone from an authoritarian country is horrified by this Trump video, as should anyone who values democracy over demagoguery,” Garry Kasparov said. Grand Russian chess master, President of Human rights foundation and Renewing Democracy Initiative – sure Twitter. “The staging, the bragging, the contempt for people’s lives. He won’t change and he has to go. “
Interest in the US election around the world remains feverish, with international broadcasters live streaming last week’s debate (prompting translators struggle) and foreign news sites often leading with the latest political developments.
While international attention is high, global opinions of the United States fall to low levels. September Pew Research Center A survey of 13 countries found that in several countries, the number of people with a positive opinion of the United States was lower than at any time during their nearly two decades of polling. The decline is in part driven by perceptions of the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, but also by the views of Trump himself. Less than one in ten Belgians, for example, is convinced that the American president will do the right thing.
As the president continues to upset democratic norms and undermine public confidence in the integrity of elections, experts told BuzzFeed News they fear not only for the image of the United States abroad, but also for the United States itself.
“Especially from a country which promoted election observation, democracy promotion, was a beacon of democracy in the world and which believed to be able to send observers to other countries to teach them good manners of running elections, it’s disheartening, ”said Judith Kelley, Dean of the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy, who has thoroughly studied these observers. “It’s very, very disheartening.”
Kelly said Trump’s comments during the debate would likely alarm election watchers, who would see his attempts to undermine public confidence in the election as a form of voter suppression.
“I also think Trump was indirectly urging his supporters to engage in voter intimidation and he indirectly got involved in voter suppression by simply discouraging people from believing this election would be important, that their ballot would be. counted, ”she said. “Why run if you think your vote wouldn’t count?”
The president’s comments during the debate came less than a week after the Trump campaign was published a video in which his son Donald Trump Jr. called on supporters to volunteer partisan election observers, authorized by law. Except that Trump Jr. framed his appeal in highly militaristic terms. “We need every able-bodied man and woman to join the military for Trump’s election security operation,” he said, calling on people to “defend” their ballots and “enlist” .
“President Trump is going to win. Don’t let them fly, ”said Trump Jr.
A week before that, supporters of the president disrupted early voting at a site in Virginiachanting slogans. Some voters and election officials felt intimidated by the group and had to be escorted, officials said.
“You can have the intimidation of unarmed voters,” said John Campbell, who lives in the nearby city of Alexandria and who, as US ambassador to Nigeria, oversaw the team of US diplomats that monitored the 2007 elections in that country.
Campbell noted that in Nigeria it is not uncommon for gangs of political supporters to attempt to intimidate each other. “This is one of the reasons why elections are so often so violent,” he said, “especially in the preparation period.”
Eric Bjornlund – Chairman of the Board of Directors Network of electoral reformers and president of Democracy International, who consults internationally on governance and policy issues – told BuzzFeed News that “politically affiliated armed gangs” were a hallmark of some South Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan .
“There is a huge tradition of these armed thugs who are affiliated with parties that try to prevent people from voting,” he said. “They would say they provide security.”
Bjornlund said he now feared their emergence in the US political arena.
“It is very likely that in another country, if people who are not police or official security forces or rather militiamen or self-proclaimed election observers who are armed and go to the polling stations, there is enough clear that we would have a problem with that as a community and we would call it, ”he said.
Kelley, Duke Sanford’s dean, said it was possible some Trump supporters would see his comments as a call to arms, given the presence over the summer of armed, right-wing and self-proclaimed militias at protests policies. This included the group Proud Boys, which Trump said during debate to “be ready” and whose members were accused of violent offenses during such demonstrations.
Trump’s illness and hospitalization for COVID-19 were also seen by Trump supporters who believe in the mass illusion of QAnon as a signal from Trump that he was being held in a safe place so that masses of Democratic politicians, starting with Hillary Clinton, can be arrested and should prepare for a battle against his political opponents.
Amnesty International USA published on Tuesday what it claimed to be unprecedented advice, warning of the threat of armed violence and armed intimidation of voters at polling stations. Georgetown Law School experts even prepared 50 information sheets – one for each state – “explaining the laws prohibiting unauthorized private militia groups and what to do if armed groups of individuals are found near a polling station or registration campaign voters ”.
Even if these self-proclaimed militias don’t actually materialize on election day, if many voters fear it does, it’s a form of voter suppression, Kelley said.
“You can have voters who say, ‘I don’t feel safe going to the polls. I don’t know who will be there. “And this is classic voter intimidation,” Kelley said. “And he’s indirectly urging his supporters to engage in that kind of conduct and it’s worrying.”
Robert Lloyd, the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Palm Beach Atlantic University and who worked as an election observer in Nigeria, Libera and Mozambique in the 1990s and 2000s, called for caution. He said any individual incident of intimidation at polling stations should be taken seriously but also put into perspective at the national level.
“In terms of [supporters] yelling and yelling at people would not be considered appropriate. Can you stop it in a country of 330 million people? Probably not, ”he says. “This is not to rule it out, but you have to get the big picture.”
Still, Lloyd said his job monitoring the heated elections in Africa had taught him that leaders should be careful not to use inflammatory language because “others can interpret it in a way they don’t want to. not say. “
Another sign of the unprecedented nature of this election, the Carter Center, the non-governmental organization founded by former President Jimmy Carter that monitors elections around the world, is looking for the first time in its 30-year history to United States.
The non-partisan group announced in August that they were preparing an initiative, which could still include some election observation, as they feared that American democracy would “back down.”
“We often thought about this and knew that the United States could improve or benefit from the observation,” Carter Center director of democracy David Carroll told BuzzFeed News, “but we never really thought seriously about it. that we would be seriously asked to observe in the United States as a country that need observation.”
Carroll said the past five years have seen a marked increase in political polarization and doubts about the credibility of the electoral process in the United States. “The feeling that people think elections could be stolen is not something that was a widespread concern 20 years ago in the United States,” he said. “It’s much more like countries where we work internationally.”
The former anonymous election observer who spoke to BuzzFeed News cited Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power as a particularly worrying sign for American democracy and one that would tarnish America abroad.
“If America uses the same formula we use abroad to see which countries are backing down in their democracy,” she said, “then we will back down quickly.
In one report prepared before their visit, the OSCE group voiced its “concerns about the potential use of intolerant speech during the campaign, including inflammatory speech targeting ethnic and racial minorities by senior officials.”
This comes two years after the latest crop of OSCE observers wrote a report on the 2018 US midterm elections, in which they found that the rhetoric used in this campaign was “often a source of division, confrontation and intolerance, much of which emanated from the national level”.
They recommended that all candidates and supporters refrain from any language that incites hostility, discrimination or violence.
On Wednesday last week, the morning after watching the debate, the president’s performance did little to reassure Duke Sanford’s dean, Kelley, that Trump’s confrontational rhetoric would abate.
“We are all tired of the word ‘unprecedented’,” she said. “You can only use it a limited number of times before it’s no longer unprecedented.”