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Image Credit: AFP

It is often said that one leads by example. The United States, as a global power, led by example for decades. Its democratic process has always been an example to others with a system that runs like a clock work. This has been the case for at least two centuries.

A perplexed world has been watching an interesting, but yet an awkward political melodrama developing in the US for the past five days, in which the two presidential candidates are claiming victory. And the perceived loser refuses to concede, threatening a prolonged stalemate that has never been seen in American history.

It is rare for Americans to wait more than a day to know the winner of the polls but there were some historical instances of contested results. Most famous is the 2000 election, won by George W. Bush after a court forced a recount of a number of Florida districts following claims of irregularities in the first round of counting which gave his Democratic opponent Al Gore an early lead.

This time around however it is a whole different situation. The President of the United States refuses to play by the rules. Looking increasingly like an authoritarian leader of some backward country, he is putting the entire American democratic system, which is always cited as the near-perfect system of governance, in peril.

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Fox News Network, usually an ardent supporter of President Trump and all right-wing things, reported on Friday that “he has no immediate plans to concede”. Despite the opinion of his most senior aides, Trump will be asking for a recount in the contested four states if he doesn’t win them all. “It appears he will almost certainly ask for a recount in Pennsylvania – in addition to the one announced in Wisconsin. He will also likely ask for a recount in Georgia as well, and if he doesn’t overtake Biden, Arizona, too,” the channel reported.

Trump may not concede

CNN too reported that “President Donald Trump offered little indication on Friday he was prepared to concede defeat, leading those around him to wonder who might be able to reckon with a leader who has given virtually no thought to leaving the White House.”

That would have suited a little dictator from some Banana republic. But Trump, apparently accustomed to get his own way most of his life, is willing to play by the rule only and just only if it suits him.

When Trump, being Trump, accused Pennsylvania state officials of conspiring to give Joe Biden a lead in the votes, the Mayor of Philadelphia Jim Kenney shot back with perhaps the best quote in the past week. He said Trump needs to “put his big boy pants on, he needs to acknowledge the fact that he lost, and he needs to congratulate the winner, just as Jimmy Carter did, just as George H.W. Bush did, and frankly just as Al Gore did.”

Fundamental rule of democracy

Two of those people served as president. Not exceptionally great presidents though. But they like the dozens of presidents who occupied the White House played by the rules. They understood the fundamental rule of democracy -- respecting the integrity of the system. However, Trump doesn’t seem to understand the seriousness of what he is doing. He is setting a precedent by casting an unnecessary doubt on the same process that got him the White House four years ago. This a slippery slope, and he knows it. Apparently, he doesn’t care.

For the past four years, under his watch, the US has given the world many reasons to question the leadership role of his country. The US has been playing that role since the days of Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president who served from 1913 to 1921. That role was never been questioned like it is today.

America’s allies increasingly lost confidence in Washington’s ability to lead in key issues like climate change, free trade and sustaining a multilateral global order. President Trump defied all conventional wisdom in all of those critical matters. He withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, declared a trade war on China and in the midst of a devasting global pandemic, that killed more than 1.2 million people around the world, withdrew from the World Health Organisation.

Far reaching consequences

Nevertheless, what he is up to today is a more serious and with far reaching consequences. By undermining the democratic principles in the US, he is leading by example in the wrong direction. If he is allowed to skew the system, he will be giving the Erdogans of the world, and there so many of them across the world -- in Asia, Africa and even Europe, pretext to skew the system too. Can the US continue to push other countries to adopt more progressive and democratic way when its own president shows such contempt for those ideals? The US may be risking its image as the beacon that people look up to.

The election drama in the US will certainly end sooner than later. But the damage is done. The Trump way of politics will surely not disappear on the day he leaves the White House. There will be other Trumps on the horizon. That has global consequences. The next time there is a statement by the US State Department urging political leaders in some country to abide by the democratic rules, I bet it may draw a snigger or two.