They feel invested in this American presidential race, like no election before, and fret about its outcome — even if, for the most part, they don’t have a vote.
A current of helpless anxiety runs through hundreds of emails and Facebook posts from New York Times readers around the world since I arrived here in July to help cover the helter-skelter presidential election, now hurtling down its homestretch. Among foreigners, it boils down to a single question: How did it come to this?
“In one of the most mature democracies in the world, how does a campaign get so wild?” asked Manu Duggar, a Nepali living in Canada. “I’m afraid,” said Bernt Klein, a computer scientist in Germany.
Overwhelmingly, international readers say they are transfixed by the unorthodox candidacy of Donald J. Trump, the Republican candidate, and confounded by the strong emotions that Hillary Clinton evokes among many Americans, including Democrats.
Many see Mr. Trump’s campaign as an extension of the political tides that have buffeted their own countries. The French see shades of the hard-right nationalist Marine Le Pen. Britons see parallels with supporters of Brexit, the decision to leave the European Union. Arabs draw comparisons with popular support for strongman nationalists.
“What we Europeans, especially Italians, cannot understand is how the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower has declined so deep and fast toward Trump,” said David Cerri, an Italian lawyer. Sure, he conceded, Italians elected Silvio Berlusconi. “But frankly he’s not been a danger for democracy so conspicuous as Donald.”
America’s neighbors are just as baffled. Sharon Campbell, a self-described “nervous Canadian,” fears a victory for Mr. Trump on Nov. 8 would portend serious disruption between the two countries. “Treaties torn up, alliances ended, currency exchange proscribed, trade agreements abrogated and movement of people and goods between the borders of Canada and the U.S. at risk. That’s for starters. Wow!” she wrote.
American readers, intrigued to know what a foreigner makes of their country in this strange political moment, offered voluminous advice and urgent invitations to visit. Go to the border towns of the Southwest, they said, or to the back streets of Baltimore, or to the Midwestern heartland.
Come to Texas, wrote Diann Nicols, “to see what America looked like in the 1950s when the good ole boys talked politics after dinner and the womenfolk retired to the parlor to talk about recipes and household tips.”
A curveball election has thrown up curveball queries. For some, the extreme nature of the campaign rhetoric — which is already thick with insults and grumbles about possible vote rigging — raises questions about American law, during the election and beyond.
Will foreign election observers be deployed to monitor the vote, much as they do in elections in other countries? Given the president’s power to launch a nuclear strike, is there a legal entity that monitors his or her mental capacity?
“Can anyone restrain a president who is obviously not fit?” asked Ken Martin, a retired government official from New Zealand