Forget the Cost to the Candidates. This Campaign’s Cost America More. –

Forget the Cost to the Candidates. This Campaign’s Cost America More. –

The world, too, is waiting anxiously for this election to be over:

In India, right-wing Hindus who pray at their temple for Donald J. Trump to defeat Islamic extremism. In Saudi Arabia, a crown prince who engaged in a Twitter war with Mr. Trump. (“Dopey Prince,” Mr. Trump called him.) In Mexico, economists who predict that the peso will plummet if Mr. Trump wins. In Japan, a generation that has taken United States military protection for granted, but worries that it might no longer be able to do so.

But regardless of who wins, after a presidential campaign marred by scandal, political violence, allegations of corruption and fears of voter fraud, America’s image stands tarnished in the eyes of its own people and the world.

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The podcast that makes sense of the most delirious stretch of the 2016 campaign.

The United States has always attracted its share of international criticism on foreign policy, especially during the Iraq war. But rarely has its political system been subjected to such widespread scorn and ridicule. Eight short years after the nation was lauded for overcoming its deepest prejudice by electing a black president, this campaign has laid bare an ugly underbelly of American politics. And it has exposed the capacity of a nation defined by its democratic ideals to fall victim to the same antidemocratic forces that have stymied third world countries.

How much luster the American brand has lost is hard to quantify. Global polls, taken largely before the campaign’s worst moments, still find the United States the world’s most admired country. Tourism and foreign direct investment are down, but not shockingly so.

But the shift is clear nonetheless. In interviews, Americans who travel overseas and foreign observers say that tourists who once felt themselves the envy of the world now feel the sting of embarrassment. Businesses that once marketed their jeans and fleece jackets internationally as tiny pieces of the American dream are being advised to revamp their ad campaigns.

United States diplomats more accustomed to mediating other countries’ disputes are now being called on to defend American democracy in the face of allegations that the election is “rigged.”

“I think it has affected the way that people see us,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a veteran diplomat who was under secretary of state for political affairs under President George W. Bush. “They don’t expect that from the United States. We are the people who go and monitor other people’s elections.”

Across the planet, people are contemplating the possibility that the United States might not be so exceptional after all.

“Much of the world is no longer in awe of you,” said Lyall Mercer, managing director of a public relations company in Australia.

Mr. Mercer noted that state lawmakers in Sydney had recently adopted a resolution by unanimous accord that described Mr. Trump as a “revolting slug.”

“Of course I understand this is about the candidate and not the country,” Mr. Mercer said. “But the very fact that they were willing to do this, with not one M.P. speaking against it — despite knowing they were ridiculing someone who could be the next president of our most important ally — I think speaks to the diminishing awe, or even respect.”

In Lebanon, where the United States’ image had already been battered — first by the 2003 invasion of Iraq, then by President Obama’s disengagement from the region — its staunchest defenders have been quieted.

“Even during the worst days of anti-Americanism in the Middle East, there were always pockets of people who had studied in the U.S. who still looked up to the United States,” said Hisham Melhem, a correspondent for An-Nahar, Lebanon’s leading daily newspaper. “Now, many of them have given up on the United States as a beacon of progress and enlightenment.”

Arabs skeptical of the United States’ efforts to promote democracy in the region have eaten up allegations of sexual misconduct and embarrassing email leaks in the campaign, Mr. Melhem said: “They are mocking the American democratic process in ways that I’ve never seen before, and I’ve been covering elections since the early 1980s.”

In Africa, where political contests combining ethnic divisions, violence and the possibility of a challenge to the election’s result are not unfamiliar, some have made snarky suggestions that the African Union broker a “unity government” in the United States, using the Twitter hashtag #Nov8AfricaEdition.

The United States’ image abroad has fallen so much that trusty Canadians have begun their own campaign of reassurance: #TellAmericaItsGreat.

“The French fry is an American invention,” read one cheerful post. “Thanks America!”

Adversaries are also at work, trying to magnify the impression that American democracy is a sham.

In Russia, which is accused of hacking into the emails that have dogged Hillary Clinton’s campaign, newscasters portray the United States as under the control of dark, secretive forces. Vesti, a nightly news program in Moscow, reported that the firebombing of a Trump campaign office in North Carolina was an example of “attempts to kill those who have different views.”

Then there is Europe, where 85 percent of people in a recent Pew Research Center poll reported having no confidence in Mr. Trump to “do the right thing regarding world affairs.” There, his very popularity has tarnished America’s image.

“The overwhelming question that you get about the presidential election is ‘What are you people thinking?’” said Jeremy Shapiro, the Boston-born research director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. Although Europeans have been troubled by their own right-wing populists, “they expect the United States to be a rock of stability, a safety net they can rely on,” he said.

And the scorn does not fall solely on Mr. Trump.

K. Riva Levinson, who leads a boutique international consulting firm in Washington, said that during a recent trip to Ghana, people expressed disillusionment with what they saw as the unfairness of the Democratic primary contest between Mrs. Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

“America is not a monarchy,” she said people told her. “It is not an office you are entitled to, either by birth or by marriage.”

Others ask what has happened to the United States and its political talent pool, to result in two nominees so widely despised.

“These are the two best candidates they have to run the biggest economy and oldest democracy in the world?” asked Arvind Gupta, national head of digital and technology for India’s ruling party.

Perhaps the most important change in the image of the United States, however, is the one taking place within its own borders.

Americans’ trust in the political system has been shaken, whether because they believe Mr. Trump’s claims that it is rigged or because he has gotten so close to the presidency. Fifteen percent of voters have no confidence that their ballots will be properly counted, up from 6 percent in 2004, a New York Times/CBS News poll found.

“I believe, like Trump does, that the system is rigged,” said Ted Gregory, 79, of Camp Hill, Pa.

To Mr. Gregory, a retired business owner who travels abroad frequently, that loss of faith has gone hand in hand with what he sees as a decline in America’s stature, starting under Mr. Bush and continuing under Mr. Obama.

“I’m old enough to remember when you told someone that you were from the United States, they thought, ‘Lucky you,’” he said. “Now, I don’t know what they think.”

And so a Pandora’s box of unimaginables has been opened. America’s greatness, once considered a fact, is now a matter of debate. Its ironclad commitment to its allies seems less ironclad. Core values have been thrown into dispute. And for the first time since the republic’s earliest days, many wonder if there will be a peaceful transfer of power.

For months, many in government and business have sought to assess the damage. Big corporate leaders, including the chief executives of Starbucks and Wendy’s, have fretted about a tougher climate for American companies.

In July, Matt Levatich, the chief executive of Harley-Davidson motorcycles — featured prominently at rallies of bikers supporting Mr. Trump — blamed politics for sagging sales. “Our brand identity is connected strongly to the ideals of America, and when the ideals of America seem to no longer be our ideals anymore, it can’t help things,” he told

Ruth Bernstein, the co-founder of YARD, an ad agency known for its fashion campaigns, said she was advising American companies that sell overseas to move away from marketing an idealized version of America, because it no longer feels authentic.

“The brand of America relies heavily on the perception that the American dream is alive and well, that anyone can make it here and is welcome,” she said. The election has cast doubt on all that.

How long those doubts will linger is an open question.

Simon Anholt, an independent policy adviser who developed a poll of 25,000 people in 20 countries called the Nation Brands Index, said the United States had fallen to the world’s seventh-most-admired country after the Iraq war, but rebounded to No. 1 after Mr. Obama’s election.

Its image is unlikely to suffer lasting damage, he said, as long as the country does not carry out Mr. Trump’s promises to scrap trade agreements and military alliances.

“People don’t like countries that withdraw from the international sphere,” Mr. Anholt said, pointing to the tarnishing of Britain’s image after it voted to leave the European Union.

Even as the United States experiences an eye-opening look in the mirror, people in younger, shakier democracies are seeing a silver lining.

Amara Nwankpa, director of public policy initiatives at the Yar’Adua Foundation, which promotes good governance in Nigeria, expressed hope that “America will emerge from this experience a more empathetic partner” to third world countries.

“There’s some ironic reassurance in the fact that even the great United States of America could struggle this much with elections,” Mr. Nwankpa said.

If America can get it so wrong, he added, maybe one day Nigeria “could get it right.”

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