World on edge as US election reaches last day

Up in flames: Some Bonfire Night effigies show the disdain for Trump outside the USA. © PA

America’s election tomorrow belongs to all of us, for all of us will live with the consequences. Just how much does modern global security and liberty still flow from ‘the land of the free’?

‘Hillary off the hook’ bellowed the headlines last night as America’s security service announced it will not charge Hillary Clinton with any crimes over the latest investigation into improper use of a private email server.

Until then the most widely-read story yesterday about the American presidential election told how Donald Trump was rushed off stage during a gun scare by security officers during a campaign address in Reno, Nevada.

Crime and guns.

Even though arguably both stories contained more than a touch of ‘much ado about nothing’ it neatly sums up what much of the world thinks about modern America.

Of the two candidates battling for the most powerful elected role in the world, Hillary Clinton is widely accused of corruption, greed and lying.

Donald Trump is widely accused of mocking the disabled, inflaming racial tensions, abusing women and conniving with Vladimir Putin.

And accusations are drowning out all else, as the polls tighten and the rival campaigns become increasingly bitter.

It is a far cry from President Reagan’s 1989 image of America as ‘the shining city upon a hill’, a beacon of hope to those who loved democracy around the world.

Or the nobility of President John F. Kennedy’s message to America half a century ago. ‘Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country’.

Many eminent voices are warning that the whole world suffers if America’s next presidency goes belly up because the USA is the globe’s only effective policeman. We desperately need a strong America to ensure global peace and security.

Decline and fall

In yesterday’s Sun, Tim Montgomerie, the co-founder of the Centre for Social Justice, argues that three presidencies in a row have now failed. Bill Clinton’s years saw little done while al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Islamic extremism grew in strength. Bush’s years produced Iraq and the financial crash. ­History will ­remember Obama for Syria’s civil war, Putin’s invasions and an ­Iranian resurgence. The world can’t afford another failure, he suggests.

Forget foreign policy, say others. There are much bigger things at stake. The very democratic model we take for granted is in peril. Just look how parliaments, elections and politicians generally are making the West weak. In our individualistic age, few ask what is necessary to make any nation great. All we care about when we vote is our own pensions, ­benefits and tax rates. Neither Trump nor Clinton are likely to inspire any change to this direction of travel.

You Decide

  1. Do you admire the United States?
  2. Is the democratic system in peril?


  1. Work in groups of three. You are in charge of setting up a new society for 100 people on a desert island. How will you decide who is in control? How will you make and pass laws? Discuss and explain to the class.
  2. Identify one crucial moment in the history of democracy. Prepare a one-minute talk explaining its significance. Then, as a class, discuss which moment you think mattered most and why.

Some People Say...

“Democracy survives all challenges eventually.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Does America really matter that much?
The principles which the USA was founded upon are among the most significant the world has seen. The US constitution made clear, for example, that the government’s powers should be limited, and individuals had rights which the government could not take away. The USA has not always been true to these ideas, many of which had roots in Europe in any case. But they have changed societies worldwide.
But isn’t politics a bit removed from reality?
It certainly can be. But democracy allows freedom to think, do and say what you want. It also stops governments from taking action without the consent of voters — and you will be one soon. Democracy is highly imperfect and can be frustrating. But without it, societies such as the USA and UK would be unrecognisable.

Word Watch

Improper use
The FBI confirmed its earlier conclusion that though Clinton had been ‘extremely careless’ with classified information there were no grounds for prosecution.
Gun scare
The USA is notorious for shootings, where the constitution’s second amendment protects the right to carry weapons. Trump has been accused of hinting that Clinton could be the next victim. Fears of a gun aimed at Trump in his rally in Nevada proved unfounded and he completed his speech.
The world thinks
In Australia claims of diminishing awe or respect for the USA; in the Arab world a veteran correspondent reports that sceptics ‘are mocking the American democratic process’; people in Ghana complain about unfair treatment of Clinton’s Democrat rival Bernie Sanders; US companies trading overseas warned to ‘avoid marketing an idealised version of America’. (See Become An Expert — the first The New York Times article.)
Effective policeman
The USA played a vital role in winning first and second world wars and the cold war. More recent attempts to ‘defend freedom’ in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria have met with less success and acclaim.

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