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eyes on the U.S.

Trump And The Totalitarian Temptation

By prematurely declaring victory, while the counting of votes is still ongoing, Donald Trump is taking a leaf out of an autocrat’s playbook.

Enlightened despot? Trump at the White House on Nov. 4
Enlightened despot? Trump at the White House on Nov. 4
Dominique Moisi


PARIS — The Permanent Coup. This was the title of a controversial 1964 essay by François Mitterrand in which he denounced then President Charles de Gaulle's exercise of power in France. What words would Mitterrand choose today to describe Donald Trump"s anti-democratic practices?

For the first time in the history of the United States, a presidential candidate has announced his victory before the votes have been counted, and in a race so tight that it's impossible to predict which side will eventually prevail. Such a provocation comes as no surprise: Donald Trump warned us himself, "I'm not a good loser. I don't like to lose."

Unsure as he is (and with good reason) of his future victory, Trump intends — in a perfectly unconstitutional manner, yet with the help of the Supreme Court — to prevent any risk of defeat and preempt any form of opposition. "Frankly, we did win this election", "We want all voting to stop..." and "As far as I'm concerned, we already have won..." are but a few examples of his rhetoric.

The strategy for Donald Trump, in his venture to destroy American democracy, is to deliberately pit citizens against one another. For decades, America was considered the world's firefighter; but today, its own president keeps fanning the flames of conflict burning on its very territory, as if he wanted his supporters and opponents alike to face off on the battlefield.

America is not just picking its new president: It is choosing its political and moral identity.

How did we get to the point of such a catastrophic scenario for America and the world? Where is the blue wave that would have given Joe Biden a clear-cut victory? We can only speculate at this point: On BBC World, an exit poll concluded that 34% of the votes were determined by economic criteria, 22% by racial issues, and only 18% by health issues. Is it possible that Donald Trump has defeated COVID-19 both on a personal and political level? Are Americans even more materialistic than we thought, and voted en masse with their wallet? In other words, is 2020 a throwback of sorts to the motto of Bill Clinton's campaign in 1992: "It's the Economy: Stupid"?

We know this much is true: Trump's resilience and remarkable energy were underestimated. His ability to antagonize his rivals is matched only by his skill at galvanizing his supporters.

Protesters in Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 4 — Photo: Chris Rusanowsky/ZUMA

But that's not what matters the most. While uncertainty is likely to continue over the outcome of the election, America is more divided than ever. Right now, the U.S. is referred to more as an anti-model than a model. The fact is, in 2020, America is not just picking its new president: It is choosing its political and moral identity.

Will it emerge from this as a democratic reference once again, capable of reassuring the rest of the free world, and reigniting, to some degree at least, the American dream? Or, will it confirm its image as a country paralyzed by violence and distrust to the point of questioning the legitimacy of its democratic institutions? No matter who ends up winning, the "City upon a hill" is no more, and the country is starting to look dangerously like a large-scale banana republic.

Unbridled individualism is contributing to the country's accelerated decline.

Donald Trump's provocative behavior not only shakes America to the core: It plays in favor of the anti-democracy rhetoric coming out of China and Russia. Between Donald Trump's United States and Alexander Lukashenko's Belarus or Nicolas Maduro's Venezuela, the difference is one of degree.

Looking back, individualism has played a leading role in America's unique success story. But in the age of COVID-19 and Donald Trump, such unbridled individualism is contributing to the country's accelerated decline. It is too early to say who won this election. But, since the premature "victory speech" from the White House, it is safe to say that there is already one loser: democracy.

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A Refuge From China's Rat Race: The Young People Flocking To Buddhist Monasteries

Unemployment, stress in the workplace, economic difficulties: more and more young Chinese graduates are flocking to monasteries to find "another school of life."

Photograph of a girl praying at a temple during Chinese Lunar New Year. She is burning incense.

Feb 20, 2015 - Huaibei, China - Chinese worshippers pray at a temple during the Lunar New Yeat

Frédéric Schaeffer

JIAXING — It's already dawn at Xianghai Temple when Lin, 26, goes to the Hall of 10,000 Buddhas for the 5:30 a.m. prayer.

Still half-asleep, the young woman joins the monks in chanting mantras and reciting sacred texts for an hour. Kneeling, she bows three times to Vairocana, also known as the Great Sun Buddha, who dominates the 42-meter-high hall representing the cosmos.

Before grabbing a vegetarian breakfast in the adjacent refectory, monks and devotees chant around the hall to the sound of drums and gongs.

"I resigned last October from the e-commerce company where I had been working for the past two years in Nanjing, and joined the temple in January, where I am now a volunteer in residence," explains the young woman, soberly dressed in black pants and a cream linen jacket.

Located in the city of Jiaxing, over a hundred kilometers from Shanghai, in eastern China, the Xianghai temple is home to some 20 permanent volunteers.

Unlike Lin, most of them only stay for a couple days or a few weeks. But for Lin, who spends most of her free time studying Buddhist texts in the temple library, the change in her life has been radical. "I used to do the same job every day, sometimes until very late at night, writing all kinds of reports for my boss. I was exhausted physically and mentally. I felt my life had no meaning," she says.

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