Head-scratching perplexity about U.S. democracy in Australia and Denmark. Disdain for “chaos” and “insults” between America’s presidential contenders in a Chinese Communist Party tabloid. A European market watcher’s warning of a “credibility deficit” in U.S. politics amid fears that a long tradition of peaceful, amicable transfer of power could be in jeopardy.
Many across the world looked on largely aghast as the first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden devolved into a verbal slugfest short on substance but heavy with implications for America’s international image.
Emotions and adjectives ran the gamut but few observers appeared to come away thinking that the last remaining superpower could rise above its bitter partisan rancor as the election looms barely a month away.
“If last night’s presidential debate was supposed to inform and educate, all it did was merely confirm the credibility deficit in U.S. politics, as President Trump, and Democrat nominee Joe Biden, engaged in what can only be described as a fact-free, name-calling contest,” wrote Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK.
While many in Europe fondly recalled the more even-keeled America of yesteryear, others in Asia were monitoring the markets — which were little changed mostly. Share prices slipped further in Japan and the dollar weakened against the Japanese yen and the euro. European bourses showed few initial tremors.
But one major worry to emerge from the debate was whether the election results might be challenged or delayed, in part because Trump raised concerns about ballots and possible vote-rigging that his critics say are a ploy to tamp down turnout or scare people away from the polls.
“A highly polarized and possibly legally contested U.S. election is just around the corner,” said Stephen Innes of AxiCorp, a foreign exchange trading services provider. “With mail-in votes likely to be too high (and potentially questioned), there is a chance that we still will not know the result by Inauguration Day, with constitutional chaos ensuing.”
Europe and Africa woke up to reports about the cacophonous showdown overnight.
“The comments I’ve seen from various European press (outlets) is basically: ‘I’m happy I’m not an American voter this year.’ It’s just a mess,” said Jussi Hanhimaki, a Finnish-Swiss professor of International History at the Graduate Institute in Geneva.
“That’s all extremely disturbing for many Europeans, who generally would think the United States would be a symbol of democracy — that’s been the oldest democracy in the world — that has this long, long tradition of, yes, very acrimonious debate, but there’s always been a winner and a peaceful transfer of power,” he said.
Kenyan commentator Patrick Gathara quipped on Twitter: “This debate would be sheer comedy if it wasn’t such a pitiful and tragic advertisement for U.S. dysfunction.”