The rule of law standing up to Donald Trump is a victory. But how is the U.S. going to stand up for democracy elsewhere when it doesn’t even have its own democracy in order?
The farce is practically over. Joe Biden on Tuesday got clearance from the U.S. General Services Administration to start preparing for a transition of power in January. Donald Trump grumbled his acceptance on Twitter.
This is a victory for democracy, but most of all, it’s a victory for the rule of law. Since the election, courts in six states have dismissed 30 requests to invalidate votes because there was no evidence.
On the other hand, it is proof that standards have dropped pretty low when you feel like uncorking the Champagne because an attempt to overturn the result of the U.S. election has failed. It is not a sign of strength, but rather an expensive and vague promise of a “return to normal,” as Biden likes to put it.
Is that even possible? And by the way, what is normal? It is often portrayed as an ideal picture of the 1990s where the economy is booming, Democrats and Republicans balance the budget together and the world is more or less in agreement on the obvious advantages of liberal democracy. This is despite the fact that this is now quite a long time ago, and that the 2000s in more ways than one moved in the opposite direction.
In some ways, this trend is more pronounced in the U.S. Simply speaking, the American 2000s can be summarized as a series of traumas causing parallel crises of both trust and identity.
The Iraq War demonstrated arrogance, and cost about $2.25 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives. It also undermined the trust in politicians who were confident they were right, but in reality did not have a clue.
The 2008 financial crisis can be described in about the same way. Hurricane Katrina in between is often forgotten, but it was the killer blow for George W. Bush and became ingrained as a symbol of the incompetence of American agencies.
The photos of bodies floating along the streets of New Orleans for several weeks simply do not send good signals, as Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, wrote in his autobiography, released last week.
His campaign in 2008 was a shining light; just like Biden’s, dealing with the rehabilitation of the U.S. as a role model, and leadership through cooperation.
Looking back, it was just so-so. The nuclear agreement with Iran was a big win, and hopefully Biden can revive it after Trump leaves office. Nobody, except perhaps liberal Swedish writer Johan Norberg, can claim that the world became safer, freer, or more fun during the Obama years. The Islamic State built a dystopic caliphate, the ocean temperature rose and the Chinese assiduously displayed their military strength around the South China Sea.
Sure, you can argue that none of this was Obama’s fault, that these are forces beyond the control even of presidents.
But in some ways, it is the U.S.’ fault.
Without the Iraq War, Vladimir Putin would have struggled to justify the invasions of Ukraine and Georgia (something he himself likes to point out). The financial crisis is in the same way central to understanding the thinking of Xi Jinping and why China has moved in a more totalitarian direction during the 2010s. The American model simply didn’t look as attractive anymore.
It is in this light that the situation in the U.S. in 2020 should be viewed.
If the Iraq War, the hurricane and the financial crisis could rock the belief in America as a global role model, as Obama writes, what will a quarter of a million deaths and an infection that appears out of control do? And what does it say to the world when the president declares that American democracy, in reality, is a delusion that can be manipulated with precision by international conspirators?
Ask the Ivory Coast. It had its election the same day as the U.S., disputes arose, and the U.S. Embassy encouraged all parties to respect the result.
It would be good to have some weight behind those words again.