Election personnel sort ballots at the Voter Registrations and Elections offices on November 7, 2020, in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Photo: AFP

The stakes in these days of vote counting and conflicting protests in America are as high as ever in the history of the country. It is about the political moral authority of the United States of America in the world.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month called into question the religious moral authority of the Vatican because of its ties with China. The Holy See took the issue very seriously, as it went to the heart of its being, and tried to explain its position to the guest who came to Rome. Then Mr. Pompeo, his administration, and thus also President Donald Trump knew clearly that the centrality of “moral authority” can’t be trifled with.

A free, transparent, democratic process is the ultimate marker of legitimacy for the US global order, which can claim to be better and fairer than others. If this fails, the rest of the train starts tweaking and shaking, until everything ultimately will fall apart.

Now, whatever one may think of the two political contenders in the US, Mr. Trump and former vice president Joe Biden, the issue is not so much about who will be the next president of the United States, but how he will be chosen, the democratic process. This will uphold or damage the moral authority of the state.

Without shared values about the system and the democratic process of voting, the most important element for peaceful political authority and legitimization to rule is undermined. Without it, there is only use of brute force on a small or large part of the population.

Presently, stopping the count of ballots or dismissing part of the votes without sufficient cause calls into question the political moral authority in the United States and thus also its political moral authority to lead the world.

This political moral authority must be well looked after to preserve the present international order. Before the end of the Cold War, there was an alternative to the US leadership, the USSR. One may or may not have liked the USSR, but it could in theory have replaced the US. Now there is simply nothing to supersede the United States.

China and Russia may wish to try to carve out a larger space for themselves in this world, but they are simply no alternative, and neither do they claim the ambition to swap places with America. Therefore, the failure of US moral authority could bring about the unravelling of the present order with unfathomable consequences. The gates of chaos could open with no winners.

In other times polls were disputed, as in the 1876 election between Samuel J. Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes, or as in 2000 between George W. Bush and Al Gore. But then the US was not as crucial to the world order, nor was the world in the middle of an unprecedented triple crisis because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the economic crunch, and the massive trade and political tussle with a rival, China.

Moreover, in those past cases, there was a controversial theme: one candidate had won the popular vote while the other had collected the most votes in the electoral college. In 2016, Mr. Trump won the electoral college but lost the popular vote, and yet his opponent, Hillary Clinton, easily conceded defeat to save the unity of the country.

Of course, if there has been fraud, if ballots have been tampered with, courts will judge and will decide.

However, if armed and masked people are trying to stop the count of ballots by threat of force, this is against every grain of the democratic process. This must be stopped in its tracks soon, for the sake of America and the sake of the world.

Conversely, the ability of the United States to face and overcome this challenge will make the nation stronger and its order stabler. It will prove to the world its strength and resilience.

The people who appealed to the Pope for moral authority can’t and won’t turn their backs on moral authority where it counts most for them, at home.

This article originally appeared in Settmana News. Asia Times is grateful for permission to republish it.

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