October was a busy month for the U.S. State Department officials who keep an eye on the integrity of elections abroad. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned multiple (unspecified) countries in Africa heading to the polls that “repression and intimidation have no place in democracies,” and raised the specter of possible visa restrictions on those who fuel election-related violence. He then congratulated Bolivia’s president-elect for victory in that country’s “credible process” selecting a new leader. And a State Department spokesperson offered praise for a “major milestone in Seychelles’ democracy,” as the island nation wrapped up its elections.
More recently, Tanzania has been criticized for holding elections with “widespread irregularities” and Côte d’Ivoire got a warning that it should “show commitment to the democratic process and rule of law.” Statements will likely soon be issued over polls in the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau, and the Caribbean archipelago of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Then, in the coming weeks, the Trump administration will adjudicate the transparency and fairness of Myanmar’s election, the second since the end of full military rule in 2011.
These statements, laden with scripted diplomatic jargon, don’t make for exciting reading, and they rarely, outside of local media or a total dressing-down of an electoral process, warrant much news coverage themselves. But they are a persistent reminder of America’s self-anointed position as an exceptional country, the administrator of the litmus test for the purity of democracies abroad. After the events of recent days in the United States, however, in which Donald Trump has made baseless claims of fraud, issued false proclamations of a victory, and launched questionable legal challenges, these pronouncements—always easy to scoff at—now look laughable. One must instead wonder: Who would now bother to listen to what Washington has to say about running an election?