BRUSSELS – The bleak spectacle of the presidential debate on Tuesday evening caused some shock, sadness and weariness on Wednesday among American allies and rivals.
As President Trump bellowed and shouted and shouted at both moderator Chris Wallace and his opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and as Mr. Biden responded by calling Mr. Trump ” clown, ”many wondered if the chaos and substance of the event said anything more fundamental about the state of American democracy.
“Of course, the ultimate arbiter will be the American voter,” said Ulrich Speck, analyst at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. “But there is a consensus in Europe that this is getting out of hand, and this debate is an indicator of the bad form of American democracy.”
The allies have always felt that in America, despite political disagreements, “there is only one republic, and conflicts will be resolved through debate and compromise,” and “this power was married to a sort of morality, ”Mr. Speck said.
But that view is now being questioned, he said. “The debate was really not a debate at all, but two people pursuing their strategies.”
Many, if not most, European analysts blamed Mr. Trump for the mess.
“The debate was a joke, a low point, a shame for the country”, Markus Feldenkirchen of the German news magazine Der Spiegel posted on twitter. “Roars, insults, two over 70s who interrupt like 5-year-olds – and a host who loses all control. The trigger, of course: Trump’s rude and unworthy behavior.
John Sawers, a former British diplomat and director of a risk analysis firm, said simply: “My own answer is that it depresses me about America. The country we expected for leadership has fallen into a nasty brawl. “
Jeremy Shapiro, a former US diplomat who is now research director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said foreigners would likely view the debate “as yet another sign of the degradation of American democracy”, as some Americans do. The debate will not change the foreign views of Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden, he said, but beneath the spectacle lies something more disturbing.
Allies and rivals “see Trump and the political culture that created him herald the decline of American democracy and culture,” Shapiro said. This judgment, he added, is “only reinforced by the response of the coronavirus, not just the absence of the United States in world leadership, but the striking incompetence to deal with it at home.”
The coarseness of the debate will resonate abroad, Shapiro said. “Biden on this scene calling the President of the United States a clown and a liar is not something Biden would have done four years ago under any circumstances,” he said. “The fact that he felt he had to do it is a sign to outsiders that American culture is in a cycle of decline.”
Thomas Gomart, director of the French Institute of International Relations, said the debate reinforced the impression “that the United States has withdrawn from the world stage and turned in on itself.” Mr. Trump, he said, “has explicitly moved away from the position of world leader, and Joe Biden could implicitly do so too.”
Mr Gomart said the debate showed the deep partisanship of America today, even in the face of the pandemic. “These two men are from the same generation, from the same world,” he said. “And yet, these are the two faces of a deeply polarized society.”
This point of view was shared by Nicole Bacharan, a Franco-American historian and political analyst who lives in France. She said she was “appalled” by what she saw in the debate, adding: “It sent a depressing image of the United States, American democracy and its role in the world.”
The events look set to exacerbate the concerns of Europeans, said Ms Bacharan. “European leaders must have woken up this morning thinking, ‘American leadership is over, and for a while, even though Biden gets elected and tries to rebuild what Trump destroyed,'” she said.
The damage to transatlantic relations will take years to repair at best, she added.
“The truth is, European leaders feel lonely because they know that what Trump dismantled cannot be rebuilt so quickly and so easily,” she said. “As for the others, Putin, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, they must tell each other what we already knew: they can do anything, because the United States is no longer a leader.
This was certainly the quick view in China, where the official reaction was cautious, but that of the Global Times, a Communist Party propaganda sheet, was jubilant.
Hu Xijin, the newspaper’s editor, said that Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden “have clearly not played an exemplary role with the American people on how to engage in debates.” He added: “Such chaos at the top of American politics reflects the division, the anxiety of American society and the accelerating loss of advantages of the American political system. “
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Foreign policy has barely been brought up in the debate, but China has been a regular target during the campaign on topics as diverse as the coronavirus pandemic and trade. Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, said on Wednesday that the government “resolutely opposes” efforts to involve China in the US elections and that the charges against Beijing during the debate were “without notice. foundation and indefensible “.
Others have weighed in on Chinese social media platforms, saying the debate has left them puzzled and amused. One user said that Mr. Trump’s frequent interruptions to Mr. Biden gave a “comical sense” to what should have been a serious discussion, while another likened the debate to a feud over a vegetable market.
In Singapore, which prides itself on technocratic governance and cautious democracy, former ambassador Bilahari Kausikan called the presidential debate a political theater.
Debate? What debate? He asked. “The event was not meant to change one’s mind or elucidate issues. It was just a form of entertainment that did not bring credit to either the incumbent. nor to the challenger. It sums up everything that has gone wrong with American policy. “
In Japan, a debate earlier this month between three candidates seeking prime ministerial post was a stark – if not downright sleepy – contrast to the fireworks of the Trump-Biden showdown.
Japanese people are savvy viewers of US politics, and Mr. Trump is a known quantity, but the tone of this debate has come as a shock nonetheless. Many were surprised when Mr. Biden told Mr. Trump at one point to “shut it up, man,” said Ichiro Fujisaki, former Japanese ambassador to the United States. “If the president says that, everyone takes it for granted,” he added, “but for an honest man like Biden to say it’s a bit of a surprise.”
Mr. Trump has fans in Japan. A tweet about the debate proclaiming that it “looks like Trump will be re-elected, almost certainly” has been liked about 9,000 times and retweeted 1,000 times. Another social media post questioned NHK, the public broadcaster, for removing “the bad scenes from Biden” and said the editors “intentionally misinterpreted Trump’s remarks.”
Yujin Yaguchi, professor of American studies at the University of Tokyo, said English-language students in Japan often watch presidential debates to study the technique of speaking. “What we saw today is just not usable,” Mr. Yaguchi said politely. “Most people in Japan would be appalled at the disparaging style of the debate. “
Fujisaki said the Japanese reaction would have to wait for the results. Citing a diplomatic joke, he likened the election to a Christmas present.
“You don’t say anything until Christmas Day, and when you open the box you scream, ‘This is exactly what I wanted!’ ” did he declare. “If Mr. Trump is re-elected, we say, ‘We look forward to working with you for another four years,’ and if it’s Mr. Biden, we say, ‘Oh, we’ve been waiting for you. “”
The report was provided by Elian Peltier from London; Damien cave from Sydney, Australia; Motoko Rich and Hikari Hida from Tokyo; Mike ives from Hong Kong; and Hannah Beech from Bangkok. Coral Yang contributed to the research.