The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion How Western media would cover the U.S. election if it happened in another country

President Trump at the White House on Friday. (Chris Kleponis/Pool/EPA-EFE)

If we talked about the election in the United States the same way we talk about elections in a foreign country, here’s how Western media would cover it. Many of those quoted in the “story” below are fictional.

The United States, the former British colony already rocked this year by ethnic conflict and mass protests over extrajudicial killings by police, may finally have a new leader after weeks of political turmoil following a disputed presidential election.

In the midst of the divisive election, the United States, known for its Dunkin’ Donuts-powered economy and for exporting its own brand of democracy, has been devastated by the covid-19 pandemic, which the beleaguered regime of Donald Trump has been unable to control, causing more than 240,000 Americans to die.

Ahead of the election — which triggered accusations of fraud and exposed the country’s dysfunctional electoral system — experts had warned that the United States, whose population is awash with guns, was at risk for political violence. But there’s been a tense calm as official results confirm that opposition challenger Joe Biden won; Trump, however, is refusing to leave power, and there are fears that the fractured nation might be pushed over the edge, destabilizing the Western Hemisphere.

Trump, the populist right-wing leader of the Republicans, has repeatedly cast doubt on the voting process, especially mail-in ballots. As mailed votes were counted and Trump lost his early lead, he demanded to “Stop the count!” Now, instead of beginning a peaceful transition process, Trump has hunkered down in the presidential palace.

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The international community is watching with great concern. Leading observers wonder whether the United States is in the grips of an anti-constitutional seizure of power. “It’s not actually a coup unless it comes from the coup d’etat region of France,“ said writer Rémy Anne on Twitter. “Otherwise it’s just a sparkling authoritarian takeover.“

“In America, there is a term called ‘polarization’ that they like to use to describe the political situation,” said Andrew Darcy Morthington, a U.K.-based commentator and expert on U.S. affairs. His last trip to the country was in 1997, for a three-day panel conference in Washington. “What I can say for sure is that I have been witnessing an American regression into entrenched political tribalism.”

In Britain, which still maintains a keen interest in the politics of its former colony, there are signs that some members of the monarchy may be looking to influence the affairs of the troubled Western nation. The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, voted in the U.S. election and has been an outspoken critic of Trump. There have been rumors that Markle is considering a future presidential run herself.

A number of Americans and British citizens believe that the country was perhaps never ready to manage its affairs independently, but American politicians are resisting the prospect of renewed British influence. Rep. Jason T. Smith of Missouri sent a heated letter to the British government blasting the duchess and her husband, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, saying that their statements urging Americans to vote and “reject hate speech, misinformation and online negativity” were an “inappropriate act of domestic interference.”

International intrigue aside, the elevation of Kamala D. Harris as vice president raised some small hopes for gender and racial progress. Born to an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, Harris will be the first woman, Black person and South Asian to occupy that office.

“From Indira Gandhi to Pratibha Patil, India has had women in the highest offices of our country, so we are glad to see America finally trying to catch up to more politically advanced nations,” the Hyderabad-based political expert Sarojini Desai said. “To top it all off, a half-desi woman is a part of that change. Indian kids now know that their parents will tell them to work harder, that it’s not enough to just be a doctor or a lawyer, that they can now aim to be vice president. This is a bittersweet moment for desi children in America.”

Britain has also had a female prime minister before, but it has taken decades for its geopolitical protege of a nation to catch up. “We wonder why America has not adopted the values of gender progress and anti-racism like we have here in the U.K.,” Morthington remarked. Meanwhile, channeling Winston Churchill, U.K. politician Lord Kilclooney asked, “What happens if Biden moves on and the Indian becomes President? Who then becomes Vice President?” After social media backlash, Kilclooney retreated, tweeting, “This tweet is cancelled.”

Some have said Trump’s bombastic authoritarianism and disregard for science makes him America’s first African president. “If this were happening in Africa, the West would have been threatening aid cuts and sanctions to Trump and his officials,” said Joseph G. Rawlings, a Ghanaian political scientist. “But in Africa we do not have an out-of-control pandemic, unlike America. From where I stand, comparing Trump to Africans is an insult — to Africans.”

Republican loyalists, meanwhile, continue to stand by their leader, afraid that Trump will be mean to them on Twitter and make them unpopular.

Some strongmen rule with an iron fist, others with insulting tweets.

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