Barack Obama and Donald Trump shake hands during a transition planning meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in 2016. After the 2020 election, signs of a smooth transition from Trump to Joe Biden are yet to be seen. Photo: AFP / Jim Watson

US President Donald Trump has refused to concede his electoral defeat to his opponent, Joe Biden, alleging widespread voting fraud.

He has initiated many lawsuits against the election result. He has also ordered the General Services Administration not to smooth the presidential transition process. The GSA is responsible for releasing the US$6.3 million allocated for the transition process and signing the necessary legal documents for a hassle-free transfer of power from Trump to President-elect Biden.

This was not unanticipated. Trump had already hinted that he might rebuff the result if he lost the presidential election. He said this in an interview with Fox News Sunday hosted by Chris Wallace some three and half months before election day, November 3. Trump has repeatedly made false claims that mail-in ballots are inherently “rigged.” He is “not a good loser,” he told Wallace in the interview.

“The biggest problem we have is if they cheat with the ballots. That’s my biggest problem,” Trump told his supporters again at Phoenix Goodyear Airport a few days before the election. He added, “That’s my only thing– that’s the only thing I worry about.”

Therefore Trump’s refusal to concede his electoral misfortune cannot be taken as a merely a spontaneous reaction, but should be seen as a predetermined plan of action.

As well, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a baseless claim in a news conference at the State Department that “there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” Such remarks indicate that the Trump team had already decided not to admit electoral defeat.

However, Trump’s refusal to accept the result of the presidential election has considerable repercussions on America’s global prominence as it is seeking an alliance to reverse its losses in its trade and tech war against China.

The US has been using two crucial political and economic tools to expand and strengthen its sphere of influence abroad. The political ideal is the institution of democracy. The US democracy is the world’s oldest in modern times. Meanwhile its economic dream is a “free market.”

Trump had already done serious damage to the American ideal of free-market capitalism by imposing tariffs on Chinese goods and those of its own allies and partners such as Canadian and European steel and aluminum. Trump’s protectionism and anti-globalization rhetoric have damaged the US reputation as a global promoter of the free flow of goods, services, capital, ideas, and talent.

By refusing to concede the election loss, Trump is killing the United States’ other ideal, the long-cherished institution and process of democracy.

These institutions, democracy and a free-market economy, are the two instruments the US has used since the end of World War II for intellectual and mental conquest and to legitimize its global domination. They are considered the crown jewels of the United States’ supremacy in the world.

The Harvard scholar Joseph Nye, who introduced the idea of “soft power” in international relations for the first time, underscores the importance of enhancing the attraction of the US political institutions globally. He believes that democracy is an important soft power to persuade the United States’ friends and allies to support its policies abroad.

However, the US cannot preach democracy as a governance system abroad when it fails to abide by it at home. Therefore international-relations analysts like Nye underscore the importance of making a strong and amicable domestic foundation of US soft power that can be exemplary abroad.

The integrity of democratic institutions and processes at home matter very much in giving substance to US foreign policy and enhance its ability to spread its influence abroad.

The late Hans J Morgenthau, an American scholar who is considered the founding father of the discipline if international relations in social science, has been quoted as saying, “Influence can persuade, but power can compel.”

However, more recently, Nye has regarded soft power as “co-optive power that has the ability to shape preferences of others with attractiveness and persuasion.” Thus soft power plays a more crucial role than hard power in diplomacy these days.

Therefore, democracy is the most valuable soft-power asset of the US globally.

Democracy is a shared value of the US and its friends and allies. For instance, for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, democracy was a salient selling point to forge the alliance. Democracy is a political norm, and a value that has gained roots in promoting the United States’ image worldwide. The US uses democracy as key tool to build up international coalitions and networks to expand and strengthen its power and posture in the world.

How do people worldwide think of the US, the world’s oldest democracy, when its leader refuses to concede his electoral defeat? What message does the US send when its sitting president is reluctant to hand over power to his opponent when he is defeated in an election? What do America’s friends and allies think about the democratic values that they believed their partnerships or alliances with the US were based on?

The current stalemate in the transfer of power from Trump to Biden makes US democracy look like a very immature.

With periodic elections and the subsequent smooth transfer of power in a democracy, many political-science scholars claim that it is a better governance system than any other, although it is a debatable subject that democracy contains many weaknesses.

Therefore, Trump’s behavior and activities have made it difficult for the US to expand and export democracy abroad.

How can US leaders and diplomats put pressure on foreign leaders to accept their electoral defeats in the future? Do they have moral authority to call any country’s electoral process illegal?

They also lose their moral ground to persuade other countries’ leaders to accept their own electoral defeats.

The trade and tech war against China that Trump initiated is in full swing. It looks like it was instituted without any planning or anticipation of possible unintended consequences that could cause a significant loss of US hard power in the world. And now, Trump’s refusal to admit his defeat is eating away at the US soft power as well.

The US cannot build an alliance based on democracy with like-minded nations globally by making democracy a joke domestically. The time is coming when the US will not be able to persuade any country with its soft power.

The delay in transferring power from Trump to Biden keeps the US internally divided as Democrats and Republicans. It equally leads the US to a situation in which it is rapidly losing its pride of place as a superpower and the reputation of an advanced economy and a mature democracy.

By putting off accepting the election defeat, Trump is accelerating the decline of US supremacy.

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Bhim Bhurtel

Bhim Bhurtel is visiting faculty for a master's in international relations and diplomacy, Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, and faculty for a master's program of Development Economics, Nepal Open University. He was the executive director of the Nepal South Asia Center (2009-14), a Kathmandu-based South Asian development think-tank. Bhurtel can be reached at bhim.bhurtel@gmail.com.