French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy describes these times as a “pre-Columbian world,” a time when America didn’t exist in people’s minds because the continent hadn’t yet been discovered by Europeans. Can America reclaim its place as the leader of the democratic world or will it continue its exit from the world stage?

The Russians are working to ensure the latter. Last month, after three years of work, the Senate Select Intelligence Committee issued a thousand-page report stating unequivocally that the Russian government disrupted the 2016 elections to the advantage of President Donald Trump.

In July, William Evanina, appointed by Trump as director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, reported that those efforts are continuing into 2020. “Russia’s persistent objective is to weaken the United States and diminish our global role. Using a range of efforts, including internet trolls and other proxies, Russia continues to spread disinformation in the U.S that is designed to undermine confidence in our democratic process and denigrate what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment’ in America.”

In mid-August, Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken and powerful critic, suddenly became critically ill while on an airplane. The Russian doctors said it was a sudden drop in blood sugar. German doctors who are now treating Navalny agree with his supporters that the cause was poison, a favorite tool of Russian intelligence.

Trump refuses even to acknowledge Russian election interference and neither Trump nor Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has expressed any outrage about Navalny.

America’s democracy was the gold standard other nations aspired to. Now, thanks at least in part to Russian disinformation, democracy looks too messy and too chaotic to be emulated.

Add to that chaos an American president who cozies up to autocrats like Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, whose vigilantes have murdered thousands of alleged drug dealers on the streets, to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who attacked our Kurdish allies after we turned our backs, and to Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, whose refusal to even acknowledge the coronavirus has made his country second only to the U.S. in COVID-19 deaths.

American exceptionalism didn’t come from its military. Other countries can buy or build big guns. It didn’t come from its economy. China and other nations are finding their own power.

America was exceptional because it honored stable institutions and the peaceful transfer of power. Unless citizens still do, America will become just another rich oligarchy.

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