Here are the latest developments:
- Trump repeated unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud and again prematurely declared victory as his lead in key states slipped away.
- The image of American democracy has taken a battering, as has the country’s image as a dependable ally.
- Germany’s foreign minister criticized Trump for “pouring oil on the fire.”
- China struck a conciliatory note toward Washington, citing “broad common interests and space for cooperation.”
- Some admired the resilience of the U.S. electoral system for ensuring that every vote is counted, in the face of Trump’s attacks.
With the world watching America’s painstaking vote count on Friday, many people recoiled at President Trump’s attempt to undermine the democratic process, and reflected on the deep divisions blighting the United States.
The damage to the image of America, a deeply flawed but nevertheless beguiling model of democracy, may not be easily undone. The country’s retreat into nationalism and isolationism under Trump will also not be soon forgotten in many capitals, whoever wins the contest.
In Germany, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas criticized Trump’s reluctance to accept the election results, and said the United States is not a “one-man show.”
“Anyone who continues to pour oil on the fire in a situation like this is acting irresponsibly,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Funke media group. "Decent losers are more important for the functioning of a democracy than radiant winners.”
Norbert Röttgen, the chairman of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said on Twitter that “Trump is disregarding the foundations of democracy with his behavior.” “Should he lose, he will not remain in the White House, but he also will not accept defeat. He cares about public opinion — he is ready to poison everything for that.”
And even a man who was among Trump’s closest allies, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, appeared to be watching with concern.
“We can say for the United States to get into turmoil and confusion because of the election is a minus for its allies and like-minded countries,” Abe said in an interview with Yukan Fuji, an evening paper.
News outlets abroad were similarly alarmed. Britain’s Economist newspaper said Trump’s shrinking path to a second term and his loss of the overall popular vote were “a repudiation of sorts,” but added that “the unexpected closeness of the vote also means populism will live on in America.” Even if a Biden administration were to restore alliances, it said, “everyone will know that it could all revert again in 2024.”
In a statement Thursday evening at the White House, Trump again claimed without proof that he had been cheated and leveled unsubstantiated allegations of widespread vote-rigging — remarks that threatened to further undermine the credibility of American democratic practices. His campaign has announced legal challenges to determine which votes will count.
And as the count showed his lead in Georgia and Pennsylvania evaporating on Friday, Trump tweeted more baseless claims of electoral fraud, and repeated his incorrect claim that he had won.
Newspapers in Britain took aim at Trump’s disinformation, with the Daily Mail writing: “White House shoot-out: Now Trump gets dirty,” while the Daily Mirror’s front page read: “America ripped apart as Trump fans the flames.” The i newspaper put it simply: “President in meltdown.”
The left-leaning Guardian reflected in an editorial on the “deep weaknesses” in American democracy, and the electoral college system that it called “an abuse that is ripe for the scrapheap.” And it painted a bleak picture ahead, suggesting that the possibility of a Democratic-controlled White House and a Republican Senate spelled more gridlock and acrimony.
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tried to draw a parallel between Trump’s reluctance to accept the election results and the British government’s refusal to offer Scotland a second referendum on independence.
“As we’re seeing across the Atlantic just now, politicians who rage against democracy don’t prevail,” she tweeted. “Let’s not dignify this rubbish. Instead let’s keep making and winning the case for independence. Power doesn’t belong to politicians — it belongs to the people.”
Regardless of the result, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper said the election exposed the widening divides in American society, based on race, religion and region. “It is as if the United States of America today is made up of two entirely different countries,” the front-page Vox Populi column said. “And the whole world, including Japan, is on pins and needles until it becomes clear which of these two Americas has won the 2020 contest.”
With Biden eroding Trump’s lead in Pennsylvania, and holding a slim advantage in Georgia, Nevada and Arizona, the Democrat’s road to the presidency was becoming more apparent. But in the absence of a clear victor or a court determination on legal challenges, many leaders were not inclined to weigh in to the fray.
In the Middle East, people across countries created entertaining memes and videos about the election, forwarded en masse to their contacts on WhatsApp. Various iterations of the same meme circulated: Arab men standing around, drably cracking sunflower seeds, overlaid with the text “Arabs following the U.S. election drama knowing whoever gets elected is gonna bomb their region anyway.”
China’s government, which has largely remained silent about the election in recent days, struck a conciliatory note. Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said he hoped the next U.S. administration would work with China on issues of mutual interest.
“Despite disagreements between the two countries, there are broad common interests and space for cooperation. Sustaining and moving forward a healthy and stable China-U.S. relationship is in line with the fundamental interests of the two peoples,” Le told reporters during an appearance at a Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Beijing. “We hope the new American administration will meet the Chinese side halfway to focus on cooperation and manage differences.”
The remarks from Le, a foreign ministry official who has been increasingly prominent Chinese voice on relations with the United States, were characterized by some Chinese state media as an olive branch to Washington.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam told a news conference that she hoped the United States could “come back to normalcy,” and repeated criticism of Washington for “interfering” in Hong Kong and China’s affairs. Lam is among officials under U.S. sanctions for eroding the rights of Hong Kong people.
And while some around the world poked fun at the slow-moving U.S. vote count, others appreciated the strength of the system. “We can all joke about how painfully long America is taking to count its votes. But it also underlines that every vote actually counts in their system,” said Nidhi Razdan, a journalist in India.
American media also drew praise in India from commentators for calling out Trump’s falsehoods about the election being stolen from him. “A media with a spine telling truth to power! Salute!” said journalist Rajdeep Sardesai. The decision by ABC, CBS, NBC news networks to cut out of Trump’s speech Thursday night for the falsehoods earned special praise with many lamenting that it would never happen in India.
Meanwhile, U.S. stock futures and European markets slipped Friday. Asian indexes were subdued after a strong week, as investors bet that a combination of Biden in the White House and Republicans controlling the Senate would close the door on any significant rises in corporate tax or massive rollout of new regulations.
Gerry Shih in Taipei, Niha Masih in New Delhi, Jennifer Hassan in London, Akiko Kashiwagi in Tokyo, Amar Nadhir in Washington, Sarah Dadouch in Beirut, Michael Birnbaum in Riga, Latvia, and Shibani Mahtani and David Crawshaw in Hong Kong contributed to this report.