The appeal with Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Saturday was the president’s latest move to pressure a state official to overturn the result of a free and fair election he lost .
Brussels: President Donald Trump’s extraordinary and cajoling phone call to Georgia state officials seeking to overturn election results there has shocked many Europeans – not so much for what it reveals about Trump himself, but for what this may portend for the health of American democracy.
With just 16 days of his presidency, Trump’s ability to shock the world with his epic self-centeredness and disregard for democratic and ethical standards is fading. The president revealed himself several times before this latest episode, when he harassed and threatened Georgian officials to “find” him the votes necessary to overthrow the state.
But if Trump hasn’t moved on, the world has. Foreign leaders are looking to the future, although many fear the Trump effect will last for years, undermining confidence in American predictability and reliability.
“A lot of people are just going to roll their eyes and wait for time to pass,” said Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the United States and the Americas program at Chatham House, the British research institute. “But by far the most disturbing thing is the number of Republicans who are ready to go with him and what that does to the Republican Party, in real time.”
A group of House Republicans have pledged to challenge the victory of Joe Biden’s Electoral College on Wednesday when Congress meets to certify him, and at least a dozen Republican senators are expected to join them, forcing a vote, though that it is almost certain to fail.
With Trump continuing to have such a hold on the party and winning over 74 million votes in November, Vinjamuri said: “It shows us that it will be incredibly difficult to rule the country over the next year or so.”
If so many Americans believe the election was fraudulent, “it seems America cannot guarantee even the most basic standards of democracy, the peaceful transfer of power, when losers have to accept that they have lost. “she said.
Indeed, to distant observers, the corrosive effects of Trump’s presidency are not limited to Trump himself but extend far beyond the president – to the deep coterie of facilitators around him in the White House. and his party, and even to an American audience in which significant numbers believe their democracy has been compromised and cannot be trusted.
The dangers this poses for foreign allies are manifold and will not be easily ruled out even with a new president. But they raise particular concerns ahead of Trump’s departure.
Patrick Chevallereau, a former French military officer now at RUSI, a defense research institution in London, said Trump’s call “shows the current president is in the mindset to do anything – absolutely anything – before January 20. There are no standards, no benchmarks, no ethics. He added, “Anyone other than himself can be destroyed and crumble, including us.”
Thomas Wright, an Irish-born expert on the United States at the Brookings Institution, said “people are really worried that Trump is coming back.” The months since the election have shown people “how bad a second term would have been – the safeguards, a government completely personalized and giving voice to its authoritarian tendencies,” he said.
“Now the rest of the world understands that Trump could actually make a comeback in 2024, so that’s a shadow he will cast on American politics,” Wright said.
World leaders “all know Trump is a little bit crazy, but this is the end of his actions, how far he has come, that he got 74 million votes and is not stepping down but will be a force for Republicans” which is disconcerting, he added. “People knew what Trump looks like, but importance is the shadow of the future.”
The letter that the last 10 living defense secretaries have all signed, urging the nation – and the military – to accept that the elections are over and that “the time to question the results is over” is also disturbing for a lot.
Jean-Marie Guéhenno, former French and UN diplomat and president of the International Crisis Group, asked on Twitter: terrified that they believe that taking a public position has become necessary? “
Current acting defense secretary Christopher C Miller has not fully cooperated with Biden’s transition team, while Trump’s former national security adviser Michael T Flynn recently pardoned, called for martial law, and had a White House meeting, and that obviously raised concerns.
“It’s the things we don’t know that are scary,” Vinjamuri said. “We don’t know who else in the Pentagon is not cooperating, and it is worrying that these former secretaries clearly felt that they had to warn the people of the Pentagon that they had to keep their oath to the Constitution.”
François Heisbourg, a French security analyst, jokingly asked, “How many wars can you start in 16 days?” But he, too, was struck by the autocratic tone of Trump’s appeal and the hold Trump continues to have over so many key members of the Republican Party.
If the second round of the Senate in Georgia results in Republican victories on Tuesday “despite that blameless phone call,” Heisburg said, “the international reaction will be that Republicans are not going to divorce Trumpism – after all, while Trump has lost. , they did not lose the legislative, but did better than two years ago. Trump’s ability to get the party under control and keep it to the end is what’s amazing and what scares people on the outside, ”he said.
For others, Trump’s behavior is now taken for granted, but so too are his debilitating effects on American democracy and his standing in the world.
Laurence Nardon, head of the North America program at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris, said Trump’s call was “more of the same”, so not particularly shocking. “American soft power, as a model of democracy, is damaged by Trump’s actions,” she said. “But I think we understood that his practice of power is an exception, even if his election was no accident.”
Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, said that in general, “Europeans are no longer surprised at everything Trump does, but more in disbelief than anyone like Trump has ever been president.”
There is confidence in the American system, Niblett said. “But what is more worrying is the number of prominent Republican actors who think it will do them good to play in this gallery, this scorched earth policy, of falsehood and disinformation, in which you raise doubts in people’s minds about your own democracy and you use those doubts politically.
The great risk, he said, is that even though the American system may hijack authoritarianism, “there could be a really brutal dynamic that would make it difficult for America to be the partner that the people of overseas need and hope ”.
After that phone call, the Germans are holding their breath on what Trump might do next, said Jana Puglierin, director of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “News like this confirms everything the Germans have heard in the media over the past four years,” she said.
The letter from the former defense secretaries was also a revelation in Berlin. “They realized it was serious,” Puglierin said. “That they see a reason to write such a letter is shocking. “
Sophia Gaston, director of the British Foreign Policy Group, a research institution, said that “Trump’s desperate efforts to interfere with election results and overthrow American democracy are now almost universally seen in Westminster as a last pitiful howl to the moon.
More optimistically, she said: “What is clear is that the enormous impact the Trump administration has had on America’s position in the world is coming to an end. There are high hopes for Biden to restore America’s moral mission, and the focus in Britain is entirely forward-looking, identifying areas of alignment and common interest with the new administration. Biden.
Steven Erlanger circa 2021 The New York Times Company