PARIS — With all its historical warts, the United States has managed to hold on to its status as a model of a robust democracy. But the spectacle of Donald Trump's run for the White House is reminding the world just how fragile democracies can be. Trump has used his campaign for the presidency to lash out at immigrants, Muslims, the disabled and women. For the past week, the focus has been on Trump's words about, and behavior towards, women.
At a minimum, it is a display of how a powerful person feels entitled to have his way with those more vulnerable around him — hardly the democratic principles on which America prides itself.
French daily Libération's front page on Oct. 10
But beyond Trump's personal failings, the world has also taken notice of the Republican nominee's apparent willingness to discard the very tenets of democracy itself. The most extreme example (so far) may have been at Sunday's debate, when he threatened to jail his opponent, Hillary Clinton, if elected. Comments like that, analysts say, are part of why his chances for victory are sinking fast. But they are also leaving a lasting effect.
As election day nears, Worldcrunch continues to follow the global coverage of the U.S. presidential campaign.
In an article titled "Trump and the End of Democracy," Dominique Moïsi of the French financial paper Les Echos described the Republican candidate as an "American Mussolini" who represents the "biggest threat to the democratic world since the end of the World War II."
Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times expressed similar concern about Trump's authoritarian edge, calling the candidate not just as an embarrassment to the U.S., but a challenge "to the prestige of democracy everywhere." Trump's threat to prosecute and jail Clinton was a case in point, he argued. "Political rivals to the president get imprisoned in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe. America is meant to live by different standards," he wrote.
Other reactions to Trump's dictatorial tendencies came on Twitter:
More than a few observers — including a former Mexican head of state — argue that Clinton could have done more in the debate to damage Trump, who came into it reeling from revelations about raunchy remarks he made 11 years ago. "Clinton should have won by a knockout," Felipe Calderón said in an interview with Mexico's Radio Fórmula. "She had him. He was hers. And she let him go," the former president (2006-2012) added.
Luis Antonio Espino of the Mexican magazine Letras Libres had also hoped to see Clinton attack with conviction. "Trump is the first openly authoritarian and fascist candidate in U.S. history â€¦ and no one's doing anything about it," Espino lamented.
Letras Libres is the same magazine that, several days earlier, published this eye-catching portrait of the Republican candidate:
Even if Trump loses, as many suspect he will, the residual effects of his rise are likely to persist. A Clinton victory, in other words, won't necessarily solve the problem, more than a few analysts warn. "I don't think he'll win, but he won't be defeated either," wrote Luis Cárdenas of the Mexican daily El Universal. "This isn't about Trump. It's about his millions of followers who have woken up and won't be happy about losing."
Syria, Russia and Iran
While much of the post-debate talk was about Trump's threats and insults, or the fact that the rivals refused, at the outset, to shake hands, the candidates did in fact delve into some policy issues during their encounter. Most noteworthy perhaps were Clinton's remarks on Russia and Syria, which some saw as dangerously provocative. "What is at stake here is the ambitions and the aggressiveness of Russia," she said. "Russia has decided that it's all in, in Syria. And they've also decided who they want to see become president of the United States, too, and it's not me."
The debate, which was viewed by more than 66 million Americans, was also broadcast around the world.
Russia's foreign minister apparently has tuned in to the race as well:
Indeed, even as wars are raging the biggest story for the moment is Trump's stranger-than-fiction run for the presidency. With more and more of his fellow Republicans turning their back on the boisterous billionaire, Trump has declared himself finally "unshackled." Just exactly what that means — and whether someone ends up in jail — is anybody's guess.