THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — Stunned by the electoral chaos enveloping the United States, the world began its anxious watch on Wednesday to find out whether U.S. President Donald Trump will be reelected and continue a presidency that has shaken the foundations of global politics.
Under Trump’s leadership, the United States has caused confusion and consternation around the world by dropping out of international treaties, engaging in a Cold War-like rivalry with China, greenlighting nationalist far-right ideology, withdrawing from the Middle East peacekeeping and sowing discord with its traditional allies in Europe.
Even without a clear winner by this morning, the U.S. election left many in Europe shocked to see Trump doing so well and defying expectations. In the run-up to Election Day, polls consistently showed Trump losing.
“Even if he doesn’t win, he’s pulled off the political comeback of certainly the decade if not the early part of this century,” said Ben Tonra, a professor who studies international politics at University College Dublin, in a phone interview.
Tonra described himself as being blown away to see so many Americans throwing their support behind Trump “in extraordinary numbers and with phenomenal enthusiasm.”
He said a Trump reelection would be a major turning point.
“If we do get a second Trump term, this potentially marks the ignominious end of the American century,” Tonra said.
The election is also turning into a repeat of 2016 when polls failed to predict Trump’s victory. “It becomes another cliché,” Tonra said, “and the same cliche that followed 2016: Why didn’t people see this coming? Why weren’t we told? Why were we talking in terms of a landslide?”
America’s nail-biter of an election left expats living in Europe feeling exhausted and anxious, too.
“I’m a wreck,” said Katherine McKinnley, an American who has been living in Brussels for the past five years and works for a nongovernment organization. She stayed up most of the night to watch the election results.
“I just wish it was over already,” said Michelle van den Berg, who lives in The Hague. She’s lived abroad for more than 15 years and has voted by absentee ballot in every presidential election since then. This year was the first time she was worried about her vote being counted.
Many world leaders, especially in Europe, are hoping that former Vice President Joe Biden will take the White House and restore a sense of normalcy to world politics. But the election is much closer than predicted and the prospect of four more years of Trump left the world on edge.
“My concern about Trump is that he has weakened the rules-based international order,” said Mark Lyall Grant, a former national security adviser for the British government, on Sky News.
Trump’s “America first” foreign-policy stance has seen the U.S. become more isolationist and antagonist toward the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and other multilateral institutions. Most recently, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump pulled the U.S. out of the World Health Organization, claiming it was corrupted by Chinese influence. His administration is also challenging the World Trade Organization.
Trump has used his presidency to drop out of major deals the U.S. entered into under former President Barack Obama, most significantly the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal. Those actions, and his decision to withdraw from arms control treaties, dismayed and angered European leaders.
Trump’s presidency has also been marked by an aggressive and bellicose attitude toward China. The U.S. and China are engaged in a trade war and tensions are growing between the two militarily. The U.S. views China, which is projected to become the world’s largest economy in the near future, as a dangerous rival. Trump’s anti-China rhetoric intensified a new aggressive approach toward China that began with Obama.
Under Trump, the U.S. has also become less involved in the Middle East. Some experts warn that Russia and Turkey are filling the vacuum left by the U.S. in the Middle East.
Still, there are many world leaders hoping for a Trump victory. Chief among them are the leaders of Russia, Israel, North Korea, Poland, Hungary and Brazil — each for different reasons.
Russia favors a Trump administration because Biden is considered much more hawkish on Russia. A Trump win would be great for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, too. Trump has supported Netanyahu’s plans to annex Palestinian territories and helped broker a historic peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
In Europe, Poland and Hungary, two nations led by authoritarian governments, have courted Trump; and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is close to Trump and hopes to reach a trade deal with the U.S.
People around the world expressed amazement to see the U.S., the world’s champion of democracy, consumed by bitter domestic politics, factionalism and chaos with its own president calling into question the legitimacy of the election.
“Dear American friends… The reputation of democracy is at stake and the world is watching. Please proceed carefully,” said Jeremy Hunt, a leading Conservative member of Parliament in the United Kingdom who was in the running to be prime minister.
Tonra said the difficulties in counting votes and legal challenges to voting is hurting the image of the U.S. as a beacon of democracy.
“It is extraordinary for anyone coming from a stable parliamentary democracy to see how much contestation, how much chaos, can surround a U.S. election,” Tonra said. “This was an electoral process designed for disparate states over long distances where people were traveling on horseback and trying to conduct a continental-wide election. You have to ask whether this really is suitable for a 21st century democracy.”
For many, the fact that the U.S. election was this close left them questioning more generally the state of America. Trump is widely seen around the world as a man unfit to be running the world’s superpower because of his racist, conspiratorial and far-right views. He has denied climate change, expressed admiration for authoritarian leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, and pushed a hard-right agenda both within the U.S. and around the world.
“In the United States, half of the electorate is openly racist, finds it normal to pay a pittance to the working poor and wants to exclude part of the population from access to medical care,” said Philippe Marliere, a political scientist at University College London, on Twitter. “I am not sure that Europe is safe from this poison.”
Alexander Clarkson, a political scientist at King’s College London, said this U.S. election proves that the European Union needs to bolster its own sovereignty and not rely so much on the U.S.
“Whatever tonight’s result, the U.S. cannot sustain its current global position if it remains crippled by polarization and the EU cannot continue to be beholden to swing counties in Pennsylvania,” Clarkson said on Twitter.
Michael Ivans, a technology professional who moved to Amsterdam two years ago, said he was glad he doesn’t live in the U.S. any more.
“I don’t think it’s fixable, even if Biden wins,” he said. He was transferred to the Netherlands by his employer but said the political situation under Trump made the move easier.
“A lot of my friends are jealous,” he said.
Courthouse News reporters Cain Burdeau and Molly Quell are based in the European Union.