‘I Feel Sorry for Americans’: A Baffled World Watches the U.S.


BANGKOK — Myanmar is a poor country struggling with open ethnic warfare and a coronavirus outbreak that could overload its broken hospitals. That hasn’t stopped its politicians from commiserating with a country they think has lost its way.

“I feel sorry for Americans,” said U Myint Oo, a member of parliament in Myanmar. “But we can’t help the U.S. because we are a very small country.”

The same sentiment prevails in Canada, one of the most developed countries . Two out of three Canadians live within about 60 miles of the American border.

“Personally, it’s like watching the decline of the Roman Empire,” said Mike Bradley, the mayor of Sarnia, an industrial city on the border with Michigan, where locals used to venture for lunch.

Amid the pandemic and in the run-up to the presidential election, much of the world is watching the United States with a mix of shock, chagrin and, most of all, bafflement.

How did a superpower allow itself to be felled by a virus? And after nearly four years during which President Trump has praised authoritarian leaders and obscenely dismissed some other countries as insignificant and crime-ridden, is the United States in danger of exhibiting some of the same traits he has disparaged?

“The U.S.A. is a first-world country but it is acting like a third-world country,” said U Aung Thu Nyein, a political analyst in Myanmar.

Adding to the sense of bewilderment, Mr. Trump has refused to embrace an indispensable principle of democracy, dodging questions about whether he will commit to a peaceful transition of power after the November election should he lose.

His demurral, combined with his frequent attacks on the balloting process, earned a rebuke from Republicans, including Senator Mitt Romney of Utah. “Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power,” Mr. Romney wrote on Twitter. “Without that, there is Belarus.”

In Belarus, where tens of thousands of people have faced down the police after the widely disputed re-election last month of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, Mr. Trump’s remarks sounded familiar.

“It reminds me of Belarus, when a person cannot admit defeat and looks for any means to prove that he couldn’t lose,” said Kiryl Kalbasnikau, a 29-year-old opposition activist and actor. “This would be a warning sign for any democracy.”

Some others in Europe are confident that American institutions are strong enough to withstand assault.

“I have no doubt in the ability of the constitutional structures of the United States with their system of checks and balances to function,” said Johann Wadephul of Germany, a senior lawmaker from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

Still, that the president of the United States, the very country that shepherded the birth of Germany’s own peaceful democracy after the defeat of the Third Reich, was wavering on the sanctity of the electoral process has been met with disbelief and dismay.

The diminution of the United States’ global image began before the pandemic, as Trump administration officials snubbed international accords and embraced an America First policy. Now, though, its reputation seems to be in free-fall.

A Pew Research Center poll of 13 countries found that over the past year, nations including Canada, Japan, Australia and Germany have been viewing the United States in its most negative light in years. In every country surveyed, the vast majority of respondents thought the United States was doing a bad job with the pandemic.

Such global disapproval historically has applied to countries with less open political systems and strongmen in charge. But people from just the kind of developing countries that Mr. Trump has mocked say the signs coming from the United States are ominous: a disease unchecked, mass protests over racial and social inequality, and a president who seems unwilling to pledge support for the tenets of electoral democracy.

Mexico, perhaps more than any other country, has been the target of Mr. Trump’s ire, with the president using it as a campaign punching bag and vowing to make Mexicans pay for a border wall. Now they are feeling a new emotion that has overtaken their anger and bewilderment at Trumpian insults: sympathy.

“We used to look to the U.S. for democratic governance inspiration,” said Eduardo Bohórquez, the director of Transparency International Mexico. “Sadly, this is not the case anymore.”

“‘Being great’ is simply not enough,” he added.

In Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority democracy, there is a sense that the United States has left the world adrift, even if its application overseas of democratic ideals was imperfect. For decades, Washington supported some of Asia’s most ruthless dictators because they were considered vital to halting communism in the region.

“The world sees the dismantling of social cohesion within American society and the mess in managing Covid,” said Yenny…



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