No NATO ally could have conceived of such a scenario before Trump incited the coup attempt at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“This is a year in which the crisis of American democracy has become incredibly visible to all,” British columnist Martin Wolf told a Financial Times podcast in December. “And that is a singularly disturbing fact for those of us who live in what we used to think of as the free world.”
Wolf’s colleague Gillian Tett, the Financial Times’ editorial board chief, added: “When it comes to the question of American democracy right now, there’s a huge amount of uncertainty. Yes, the potential insurrection on Jan. 6 was suppressed. Yes, we have a new figure sitting in the White House as a result of an election. But one of the signs of just how dazed and confused everyone is, is that when everyone talks about what could happen in 2022. With the important midterms coming up, there’s a lot of discussion about whether or not people will actually believe the results.
“And what’s even more remarkable is that the person who is seen as being behind this insurrection … is being deemed a significant contender for the 2024 presidential race.”
European and Asian leaders wonder whether the partisan madness eating away at America’s democratic institutions will undercut any effective U.S. foreign policy. This is a time when our country needs to be united against China’s advances and Russia’s aggression. Moreover, NATO allies know they can’t handle these threats alone, and are looking for solid U.S. leadership in pushing back against Moscow and Beijing.
Instead, foreigners watch with amazement as Trump, his congressional acolytes and pro-Trump media shatter the most sacred principle of democracy: the commitment to free and fair elections in which the candidate who gets the most votes wins and the loser steps aside.
Never mind that audit after audit, court decision after court decision, debunks GOP claims that votes were altered, voting machines fixed, or absentee ballots misused. Never mind that a monthslong study by The AP of every potential case of voter fraud in six key battleground states found fewer than 475 individual cases of potential fraud out of 25.5 million votes cast.
Despite the clear facts, nearly two-thirds of self-declared Republicans say the 2020 election was stolen. And state GOP leaders are trying to pass laws that will enable state legislatures to override the popular vote and choose their own slates of electors. This is only one of many openly discussed schemes to ensure no Democrat can win the 2024 presidential ballot, no matter the number of votes cast in their favor.
In foreign capitals, they are already imagining the domestic U.S. political chaos if the GOP refuses to accept the results in the 2024 presidential ballot. They also worry about bitter U.S. domestic conflicts in the long run-up to 2024 elections, especially if the GOP wins a House majority in 2022 and makes clear its plans to upend 2024 results it dislikes.
No wonder America’s friends ask whether our country is on its way to destroying itself. No wonder our adversaries believe this to be the case.
“Trump has handed authoritarians such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping a huge gift: a United States divided, internally preoccupied, and contradicting its own democratic ideals,” writes Stanford political scientist Francis Fukuyama in Foreign Affairs.
Indeed, Chinese state media, and political leaders, point to the chaos of Jan. 6 at the Capitol as proof their system of governance is superior to America’s. The divisiveness that paralyzes American politics increases their self-confidence in their authoritarian order, and their conviction that the United States is in decline.
Trump’s lie, which keeps the legacy of Jan. 6 boiling, is the gift that keeps giving to America’s adversaries. So long as Republican leaders refuse to rebuff that lie in public, they are handing China and Russia a compelling advantage by helping rip up American democracy at its roots.