Trump's election antics weaken America — at home and abroad

Trump's election antics weaken America — at home and abroad
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Ben Franklin famously replied to Elizabeth Powel’s question about whether the Constitutional Convention had produced a republic or a monarchy by saying, “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Events since voting ended Nov. 3 suggest the real loser in 2020 may not have been a candidate for office, but could instead be the American approach to self-governance, which has underpinned political and economic progress at home and American power abroad.

Let me explain.

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As a career diplomat, I worked in or with countries that had a range of views about elections. Some took elections seriously, with leaders being voted out of power as a matter of course. Others managed elections carefully, ensuring the outcome desired by those in power, regardless of what the popular will might have been. And still others did not bother with elections at all.

Regardless of how they viewed their own elections, people, officials, and leaders in all countries — including those with patently undemocratic governments — followed American presidential campaigns closely.

Citizens in other countries marveled at how open the American electoral system was and how leaders needed to win support to gain and then retain office.

Many foreign government officials and leaders could not understand how the most powerful leader in the world would have to stand for re-election — and might lose. The more cynical foreign observers thought American elections were more about theater than substance and invariably were decided by money.

But all foreign observers I interacted with in over 35 years as a diplomat were impressed by how America and its leaders came together once the elections were over and a winner was declared, including after the hanging chads of Florida in the 2000 election. This attribute of American political life impressed foreign leaders and citizens because it was an unmistakable sign of America’s strength as a nation.

Americans competed hard during elections, but afterwards they rallied to support the Constitutional order that had helped produce the world’s leading power — and most prosperous economy.

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Foreign respect for American political institutions and processes is a source of power that is hard to quantify, but it’s very real. 

The transparency of the American electoral system and the unfettered reporting of the vast majority of the American media buttress the case that the 2020 elections were conducted freely, and the counting of votes was done fairly.

There is no doubt: Joe Biden won the election, and Donald TrumpDonald TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race MORE lost.

But Trump finds it financially rewarding to fundraise by continuing to feed baseless conspiracy theories about the election, and his lies have gained traction among his supporters, with polls indicating a majority of Republicans believe Trump won, not Biden.

Election officials of both parties, as well as judges appointed by presidents of both parties, have resisted pressure and threats, showing the kind of courage the Founders would recognize and applaud.

But Trump’s ongoing lies and unwillingness to accept his electoral loss is undermining the fundamental source of America’s strength and standing in the world, even as it fuels division at home.

Foreign leaders may feel less pressure to listen to American concerns about how they conduct their domestic and external affairs because of the example we’re now setting. Foreign investors may approach investments in America more carefully if its domestic politics are increasingly bitter and divided — and potentially unstable.

There is no challenge facing the American people today that would not benefit from bipartisan approaches. To paraphrase Lincoln, a house divided against itself cannot prosper.

To keep America strong both at home and abroad, Republicans need to meet President-elect BidenJoe BidenTrump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race GOP lawmakers request Cuba meeting with Biden For families, sending money home to Cuba shouldn't be a political football MORE at least halfway by acknowledging he won the election and then holding him to his commitment to be the president of all the American people.

Doing so will help keep the American republic strong, here at home and around the world.

Kenneth C. Brill is a retired career Foreign Service Officer who served as U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA in the George W. Bush administration and as a senior intelligence official in the Obama Administration. He was founding director of the U.S. National Counterproliferation Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (2005-2009). He was involved in international environmental issues and negotiations in both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.