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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