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Debate leaves much of the world 'despondent about America'

Last night's debate seems to have done fresh damage to our global standing, leaving many to ask "fundamental" questions about the state of our democracy.
Image: Americans Across The Nation Watch First Presidential Debate
People sit and watch a broadcast of the first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at The Abbey in West Hollywood, Calif., on Sept. 29, 2020.Mario Tama / Getty Images

Late last week, the New York Times reported that much of the world "is watching the United States with a mix of shock, chagrin and, most of all, bafflement." The U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic has done extensive harm to our international standing, and as the article added, Donald Trump's refusal to honor a peaceful transition of power made matters worse.

The Times quoted a lawmaker in Myanmar -- a poor country struggling with open ethnic warfare -- saying, "I feel sorry for Americans."

Last night's presidential debate seems to have done even more damage, leaving many to ask "fundamental" questions "about the state of American democracy."

The unedifying spectacle of Tuesday night's presidential debate produced some shock, some sadness and some weariness among American allies and rivals alike on Wednesday.... Many, if not most, European analysts blamed Mr. Trump for the mess.

John Sawers, a former British diplomat, concluded, "My own response is that it makes me despondent about America."

Nicole Bacharan, a French-American historian and political analyst who lives in France, went on to tell the Times she was "dismayed," by what she saw in the debate, adding, "It sent a depressing image of the United States, of the American democracy and its role in the world."

One of the few countries that seemed delighted was China -- where there's an ongoing effort to convince its population that democracy is a bad idea.

At a campaign event in Ohio last month, Trump turned his attention to one of his very favorite falsehoods: "You know, we're respected again. You may not feel it, although I think you do. You may not see it. You don't read about it from the fake news, but this country is respected again."

As regular readers know, it is foundational to the president's worldview: the United States was an international laughingstock for decades, Trump believes, and thanks to how awesome his awesomeness is, our global stature has finally been restored. He brings this up constantly, seeing it as one of his most important accomplishments.

International surveys, however, have shown global respect for the United States falling to unprecedented depths. Last night served as a timely reminder that the damage is ongoing, and it'll be a while before our reputation will be restored.