As the election campaign draws to a close, has it fundamentally damaged America’s moral standing?

Donald Trump Campaigns In North Carolina Ahead Of Election
Will the election make it harder for America to lecture despots abroad? (Source: Getty)

Brian Klaas, a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics, and author of The Despot’s Accomplice, says Yes.

Whether Donald Trump wins or loses tomorrow, he has already done tremendous damage to America’s moral standing in the world, and its ability to promote Western liberal democracy globally. His sexist, racist, and xenophobic rhetoric is worsened by his affinity for authoritarianism.

He not only praises despots like Vladimir Putin, but also is eager to falsely cast aspersions on the integrity of democratic institutions. Trump has said he would kill the children and wives of terrorists, which is a war crime. Words matter.

Internationally, Trump has made it exceedingly difficult for the US to lecture horrific regimes on the virtues of democracy. Recently, a general in Thailand’s junta told me: “If Trump is democracy, don’t sign us up for it.”

A victory for Hillary Clinton would stop the bleeding, but not heal the patient. Despots are now able to hide behind the failures of American democracy as a means to justify their own despotism, and the US is less equipped to claim the moral high ground.

Rachel Cunliffe, deputy editor of Reaction, says No.

In the eight years of George W Bush’s presidency, favourable views of the US from abroad dropped by almost half. After seven years under Obama, they were back up to levels not seen since the start of the Iraq War.

Granted, Bush wasn’t a pathological egomaniac with zero policy experience, but his decision to invade Iraq is generally considered the biggest mistake in US military history. If Hillary Clinton wins, none of the scandals dogging her compare to the damage Bush did to America’s reputation and that Obama nonetheless managed to repair.

And if the unthinkable happens and Trump wins? The Western world will go into shock. But in four years, either US institutional safeguards will have proved robust enough to weather the volatility of Trump’s temperament, mitigating the horror currently anticipated, or a challenger will emerge to cut through the polarising rhetoric and remind America what a true leader looks like.

Either way, the US will recover, and the rest of the world will forgive it.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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