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Trump’s election falsehoods ‘put a smile’ on the faces of dictators, observers warn

LONDON — Accusations of vote-rigging, protests at counting centers and false declarations of victory from an embattled incumbent. President Donald Trump’s baseless claims in the wake of the election are a gift to the world’s dictators and undermine American efforts to call out antidemocratic behavior abroad, experts have warned.

Since the election, Trump has launched a rhetorical assault on the basic tenets of American democracy. He urged officials to stop counting votes when his lead in several battleground states began to narrow; he alleged widespread voter fraud without evidence and wrongly labeled mail-in ballots illegal; and he repeatedly accused the Democrats of trying to “steal” the election.

Even after a first term in which the president has repeatedly undermined democratic values, his comments this week have caused a whole new level of alarm. This only increased when his supporters, some of them armed, began crowding polling centers during knife-edge counts in Arizona and Michigan.

But independent observers have also warned of damaging consequences abroad, where the United States has spent decades — and millions of dollars — on democracy building efforts.

“He very clearly crossed a line by saying votes should stop being counted,” said Michael Link, the leader of an electoral observer mission to the U.S. by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “To use a sports analogy, when you’re in the middle of the game and you’re leading with 40 minutes to go, you can’t stop the game just because you want to win.”

The OSCE, a large international organization that monitors elections around the world, found in its preliminary report Wednesday that the U.S. vote was largely “competitive and well managed.” But it said it had been “tarnished” by Trump’s “baseless allegations” and warned his comments would “harm public trust in democratic institutions” globally.

Watching from Malawi, authoritarianism expert Nic Cheeseman said he was already witnessing first hand the real-world damage wrought by Trump’s remarks.

“This weakens the moral authority of the U.S. when speaking out about other countries’ elections, and that will embolden dictators around the world,” said Cheeseman, who is temporarily based in East Africa but is a professor of democracy and international development at England’s University of Birmingham.

Anyone wanting to subvert democracy in their own countries will now be able to “take advantage of the fact the U.S. now has a weaker voice on these issues,” he said.

The past four years have seen strongmen — from Syria to Turkey, and Hungary to Thailand — adopt Trump’s “fake news” mantra to dismiss factual journalism that they don’t like. The fear now is that autocrats will be able to directly reference Trump’s antidemocratic rhetoric to justify their own actions. Or they may just feel that the U.S. is more likely to let them off the hook, Cheeseman said.

“The U.S. is the leading democracy in the world,” former British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC on Wednesday.

“If we have people talking about stolen elections left right and center, then we are only going to put a smile on the face of people like President Putin, President Xi,” Hunt said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, “who will look at their own people and say: Aren’t you pleased you haven’t got any of this mess?”

Even after a presidency in which Trump has shocked the world with his norm-busting style, for many observers at home and abroad his comments have found a new nadir.

“People here are looking at America in disbelief,” Cheeseman said. “America is becoming an electoral laughing stock around the world, and the long-term damage to America’s democratic reputation will be profound and last long beyond Trump.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden has predicted victory, and called for unity as the final vote was counted. According to NBC News, he has received 253 Electoral College votes, compared to 214 for Trump. His election lawyer Bob Bauer, did receive some criticism for saying that “we’ve won the election, and we’re going to defend that election” in response to Trump’s remarks. Read from source….