US Election: What has Donald Trump’s impact been on democracy?

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US Election: What has Donald Trump’s impact been on democracy?

As Americans go to the polls, political experts reflect on the effect of President Donald Trump's tenure on democratic institutions and polarisation in society

Stephen Oryszczuk

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

A voter wears a face mask and a face shield outside a polling station on Election Day during the 2020 general elections. Yegor Aleyev/TASS
A voter wears a face mask and a face shield outside a polling station on Election Day during the 2020 general elections. Yegor Aleyev/TASS

Criticism of Donald Trump and his ideological allies piqued this week with Jewish voices chief among the detractors, accusing him of destroying the liberal democratic order that helps protect Jews around the world.

Dr Alon Ben-Meir, a professor of international relations at New York University (NYU), said the president had “gravely injured the country’s revered institutions and battered its unity as one nation”.

Ben-Meir added that Trump had “alienated Americans from one another and basked in the polarisation and division he gleefully fostered,” saying his re-election would “sow chaos, trepidation and fear, threatening liberty and freedom of the press”.

Elsewhere US professor and historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat was one of 80 signatories, including several Israelis, to sign an open letter warning that Trump had contributed to a “frightening regression” of democracy around the world.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed profound inequalities of class and race across the globe,” they say. “As the last four years have demonstrated, the temptation to take refuge in a figure of arrogant strength is now greater than ever.”

Their sentiments are shared by Biden. At a conference in Copenhagen in 2018, he lambasted “demagogues and charlatans stoking people’s legitimate fears, pushing the blame always on the other,” without having to say who he was talking about.

“There always has to be scapegoats. Now it’s immigrants, the outsider, the other… In ways that evoke memories of the 1930s, frustrated and disaffected voters may turn instead to strongmen.”

Donald Trump meeting with Bibi Netanyahu at the UN

Biden said he saw a pattern. “All round the world, repressive governments are borrowing from one another’s playbook, deriding a critical free press as fake news; questioning, indeed delegitimising, an independent judiciary; ham-stringing civil society with increasingly repressive laws,” he said.

“Taken together, they threaten democratic ideals that have been the foundation for the western world.”

On this, many analysts think Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu – alongside other nationalist leaders of countries such as Poland, Hungary and India – are riding the same wave, with the Israeli PM this week criticised for being partisan.

Prof. David Rothkopf, who worked for both Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger, said: “Of all the world’s leaders, right-wing populists and ethno-nationalists, no-one embraced America’s betrayer as fully and as short-sightedly as Netanyahu.”

Writing in Ha’aretz, he added that “the years ahead will reveal the deep-seated damage that has caused”, while Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said Netanyahu had “decided to lose the Democrats”.

Accusing Netanyahu of having “turned Israel into a branch of the Republican Party”, Lapid added: “It is no coincidence that all Israeli governments have made sure to be both Republican and Democratic. That is important. Budgets run through Congress, as do security decisions.”


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