The United States Election Is A Warning Sign For Europeans

The dramatic events in the USA show in which direction Europe could develop in the future – but also where the differences lie, believe the Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev.

How Europe sees the 2020 U.S. presidential election

When it comes to US politics, most Europeans believe the difference between the United States and Europe is similar to that between European football and American football. Like American football, American democracy follows its own rules. The electoral system that allows the candidate to easily become president with fewer votes probably makes a lot of sense to Americans but not to everyone else. Despite all the differences, some lessons from the US presidential election are very relevant to Europe.

In the play “Jumpers”, which premiered in 1972, the British playwright Tom Stoppard wrote mischievously: “It is not voting that is a democracy, but counting.” This year’s presidential election in the USA proves him right.

At its core, democracy is a system in which the loser legitimizes the election result by accepting his defeat. US President Donald Trump’s attacks on the objectivity of elections not only damage the reputation of the US, they are also likely a forerunner of what awaits us in the future: an increase in contested elections – not just in the United States, but elsewhere as well.

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Democracy does not protect against division

In politically divided states, the supporters of one party see the greatest danger to democracy not in breaking established rules, but in the victory of the opposing party. And many are more willing to destroy the system themselves in order to prevent the other side from coming to power. In such an environment, impartial institutions such as courts, central banks, or the free media run the risk of being politically instrumentalized.

The US election also showed that the shock and losses from the Corona crisis have the potential to deepen existing rifts rather than lead to more national unity and collective goals – even in those most affected by the pandemic affected societies. An analysis by the Associated Press (AP) news agency found that in the 376 counties with the highest number of new infections per capita, an overwhelming 93 percent majority voted Trump.

Europeans should take what is happening in the US as a warning,  if lockdowns are extended and the economy shuts down, our societies may begin to resemble the explosive mess we are seeing in the United States. While democracy is often praised for its ingenious ability to bridge rifts in modern societies, the experience of the past four years in the US has shown that democratic politics can also cement and exacerbate divisions. The election revealed that Democrats and Republicans are not just two parties – they have become two different countries at war with each other. And this political war will not end in Trump’s defeat.


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