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How Trump’s Destructive Behavior Emboldens Authoritarian Leaders Abroad – Hartford Courant

US presidential elections have always attracted a global audience, and in general, that’s a good thing.

Our quadrennial poll, despite obscene campaign spending and often resentful exchanges between candidates, has served as an example to the world that free and fair elections are possible and that transitions of power can be peaceful. Americans may be deeply divided politically, but every four years they have a chance to reset politically — and voters from all parties accept the outcome.

So what does this year’s election signal to the world? The days and weeks to come will clarify this, but one thing is certain: the vote exposed cracks in the country’s democratic foundations that will have significant global repercussions.

Since the early 1990s, the United States and other democracies around the world have played an important role in convincing incumbents who lose elections to step down peacefully. This pressure has counted in many countries. In recent months, for example, US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo has encouraged political actors to accept disputed election results in Belarus and Guyana.

President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the election results will inevitably complicate future US support for democratic elections around the world, rendering our efforts less effective and most likely subject to ridicule.

A second crack likely to reverberate around the world has been the president’s steady stream of unfiltered lies. By reaching out to his followers directly on social media with deeply misleading information, he provided a dangerous model for would-be authoritarian leaders on how to lie directly to supporters with little repercussion, while undermining reputable media outlets that are based on facts.



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This is a more fundamental threat to democracy than many people realize, because it blurs the line between truth and lies, and begins to make people wonder if the truth is even knowable. As former President Barack Obama said in an interview recently, “If we don’t have the ability to tell what’s right from what’s wrong, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. And by definition, our democracy does not work.

Trump’s use of these tactics, though derided by many, was a shocking success with his base. In many recent surveys, less than half of self-identified Republicans said they believed Joe Biden won the election, despite the vote tally showing he was the winner. A survey found that 70% of Republicans believe the election was fraudulent, a position that has not been supported by any concrete evidence. And Trump recently posted, with apparent pride, a link to a Reuters/Ipsos poll revealing “Trump’s open disregard for Biden’s victory in both the popular vote and the Electoral College appears to affect public confidence in the American democracy, especially among Republicans.

Such success in evading electoral accountability – and undermining democratic foundations – will not go unnoticed by other populist and authoritarian politicians around the world. While the American foundation of democracy is probably strong enough to stand up to Trump, at least for now, it is likely that his methods of evading electoral accountability, contradicting inconvenient facts with lies, and governing with bluster rather than with actions will undermine democratic accountability around the world.

Voters ultimately chose Biden over Trump, and despite his refusal to concede, Trump will soon be removed from office. His authoritarian impulses, including the encouragement of intimidation as an election tactic, failed. In the end, the tools of democracy worked and an incumbent sitting president was defeated at the polls.

It will take time and effort to undo the damage caused by Trump’s authoritarian impulses. Here at home, perhaps the failure of his latest outrageous stand will serve as a cautionary tale to politicians of both parties. And internationally, we have only to hope that authoritarian leaders who embrace his example will meet similar ends.

Susan D. Hyde is a professor of political science at the University of California at Berkeley.