World

“I feel sorry for the Americans”: a confused scientist watching the United States

BANGKOK – Myanmar is a poor country suffering from open ethnic war and an outbreak of the Coronavirus that can burden shattered hospitals. That hasn’t stopped politicians from coexisting with a country they think has lost its way.

“I feel sorry for the Americans,” said U Myint O, a member of parliament in Myanmar. “But we cannot help the United States because we are so small.”

The same sentiment prevails in Canada, which is one of the most developed countries. Two out of every three Canadians live about 60 miles from the US border.

“On a personal level, 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 eat their lunch.

In the midst of this pandemic and in the run-up to the presidential election, much of the world is watching the United States with a mixture of shock, resentment, and most of all, bewilderment.

How did a superpower let it be shot down by a virus? After nearly four years, during which President Trump praised authoritarian leaders Ostracized some other countries Insignificant and full of crime, is the United States in danger of displaying some of the same traits it has underestimated?

“The United States is a first world country, but it acts like a third world country,” said U Aung Thu Nien, a political analyst in Myanmar.

To add to the perplexity, Mr Trump has it Refusal to adopt the indispensable principle of democracy, Evading questions about whether he would stick to a peaceful transfer of power after the November elections if he lost.

His objections, along with his frequent attacks on the poll, garnered a rebuke from Republicans, including Senator Mitt Romney of Utah. “A peaceful transfer of power is fundamental to democracy,” Romney wrote on Twitter. “Without that, there is Belarus.”

In Belarus, where tens of thousands of people faced police after the widely disputed re-election of President Alexander J. Lukashenko last month, Mr. Trump’s comments sounded familiar.

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“It reminds me of Belarus, when a person cannot admit defeat and is looking for any way to prove that they cannot lose,” said Kirill Kalpasenkau, 29-year-old opposition activist and actor. “This would be a warning sign for any democracy.”

Others in Europe are confident that US institutions are strong enough to withstand aggression.

“I have no doubt about the capacity of the constitutional structures of the United States with their system of checks and balances,” said Johan Wadvoll from Germany, a prominent conservative lawmaker led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

However, the President of the United States, the same country that nurtured the birth of peaceful democracy in Germany after the defeat of the Third Reich, hesitated about the sanctity of the electoral process, and was met with disbelief and dismay.

The United States’ global image began to diminish before the pandemic, as Trump administration officials ignored international agreements and embraced America’s policy first. Now, though, its reputation appears to be in freefall.

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

Historically, this universal rejection applies to countries with less open political systems and responsible powerful. But people from the kind of developing countries mocked by Mr Trump say the signs from the United States are ominous: a disease that has not been curbed, mass protests over racial and social inequality, and a president who seems unwilling to pledge to uphold principles. Electoral democracy.

Mexico, perhaps more than any other country, has been the target of Mr Trump’s ire, as the president used it as a punching bag in the campaign and pledged to make Mexicans pay for a border wall. They now feel a new emotion that has outweighed their anger and bewilderment at Trumpian insults: sympathy.

“We used to look to the United States for inspiration for democratic governance,” said Eduardo Bohorquez, Director of Transparency International in Mexico. “Unfortunately, that is not the case anymore.”

He added, “Being cool simply isn’t enough.”

In Indonesia, a more populous Muslim-majority country, there is a feeling that the United States has left the world aimlessly, even if its overseas application of democratic ideals is incomplete. For decades, Washington had supported some of Asia’s most ruthless dictatorships because they were considered important to stem communism in the region.

“The world is seeing the disintegration of social cohesion within American society and the chaos in the Covid administration,” said Yeni Wahid, an Indonesian politician and activist. “There is a leadership vacuum that needs to be filled, but America is not playing this leadership role.”

Ms Wahid, whose father was president of Indonesia after the country emerged from decades of strongman rule, said she was concerned that Mr Trump’s rejectionist stance toward democratic principles could legitimize authoritarians.

“Trump has inspired many tyrants, and many leaders interested in dictatorship, to copy his style, and he encouraged them,” she said.

In places like the Philippines, Mexico, and elsewhere, elected leaders have been compared to Mr. Trump when they have turned into divisive rhetoric, disregard for institutions, intolerance of dissent and hatred toward the media.

But there is also a feeling that Americans are now getting a glimpse of the problems that people living in fragile democracies have to endure.

“They now know what it is like in other countries: the violation of norms, international trade and its own institutions,” said Eunice Rendon, an expert on immigration and security and director of Major Agenda, a non-profit organization in Mexico. “Suddenly the most powerful country in the world appears under threat.”

Indeed, the American passport, which previously allowed easy access to almost every country in the world, is no longer a valuable passport. Due to the Coronavirus, American tourists from most of Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and Latin America are banned.

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Albania, Brazil, and Belarus are among a small group of countries that welcome Americans without restrictions.

The State Department has tried to play its role in fighting the Coronavirus abroad, even as the United States struggles to provide doctors and nurses with the right equipment early in the pandemic. In March, the United States provided 10,000 gloves and 5,000 surgical masks, among other medical supplies, to Thailand, which today recorded fewer than 3,520 cases of coronavirus and 59 deaths. Although the number of cases decreased, most Thais still wear face masks in public and the country has not experienced a shortage of masks.

A statement issued by the State Department said: “Through the generosity of the American people and the actions of the American government, the United States continues to demonstrate global leadership in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

In Cambodia, which has been reported largely spared the virus so far, there is some degree of gloating about the United States. Prime Minister Hun Sen has survived as the longest serving leader in Asia Suppress dissent and stick to China. He has turned his back on US aid because it often brings conditions to improve human rights. Now, he and his administration are mocking the United States and its handling of the pandemic.

“He has a lot of nuclear weapons,” said Sok Eisan, a spokesman for Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party. “But he is neglected due to an unseen disease.”

Azzam Ahmed, from Mexico City, contributed reporting. Melissa Eddy from Berlin; Saw Nang from Yangon, Myanmar; Ivan Nikiburnko from Moscow; Catherine Porter from Toronto; Muktita Suhartono from Bangkok; Sun Narain is from Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Harold Manning

"Infuriatingly humble social media ninja. Devoted travel junkie. Student. Avid internet lover."

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