Editor’s Note: David A. Andelman, a contributor to CNN, twice winner of the Deadline Club Award, is a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, author of “A Red Line in the Sand: Diplomacy, Strategy, and the History of Wars That Might Still Happen” and blogs at Andelman Unleashed. He formerly was a correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News in Europe and Asia. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.
On newspaper stands across the French capital and online, the early results of America’s national elections were quite evident Wednesday morning.
The world – or at least the slice of it that continues to embrace the political system called democracy – has breathed a tentative sigh of relief.
While some key results may remain unresolved for some days, with the red wave reduced to a stream, America appears to have rejected the sharp turn toward the right that has marked so many other national elections this year.
Or as France’s leading newspaper Le Monde put the uncertainty over Congress: “A bad surprise for Republicans.”
In many cases, the political leanings of the various European media affected the way the results were played. For example, France’s center-right daily Le Figaro splashed across its homepage early Wednesday a victory photo of Donald Trump acolyte J.D. Vance in Ohio, while conceding, “Contrary to the expectations of Donald Trump’s party, a red wave does not seem to be emerging in the United States. The Democrats resisted, notably with a senatorial victory in Pennsylvania.”
In London, The Times, owned by one-time Trump ally Rupert Murdoch, led its homepage with a video of an exultant Democrat John Fetterman flipping the Republican-held Senate seat in Pennsylvania, observing: “Congress race goes to wire as Trump candidates falter.”
One central question on the ballot in a number of states – whether to preserve the right to an abortion in their constitutions in the wake of a US Supreme Court decision that many here in Paris have been telling me for weeks they find difficult to understand – was also noted in foreign media coverage of Tuesday’s elections.
As French television network TF1 put it Wednesday morning: “Three states inscribed the right to abortion in their constitutions.”
It’s worth pointing out just how far from the norm the American electorate seems to be veering in its absence of a strong right-wing drift Tuesday.
In such European nations as Italy and Sweden, right-wing parties have surged to power in national elections. Not to mention in Israel where Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu last week swept to a return in coalition with hard-right religious parties that gained historically large votes.
In France, while centrist President Emmanuel Macron managed to eke out a second term last Spring, he lost control of the National Assembly as the right-wing National Front won its largest number of seats in history. Indeed, the cover of this week’s French news magazine Le Point led with photos of France’s two politically extreme leaders – far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon and rightist Marine Le Pen, with the headline: “The Accomplices (And in the end, it’s Le Pen who wins).” In the blurb beneath, it added: “Spain, Sweden, Italy … the populist wave of the right.”
In Brazil, while leftist Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva last month won a narrow victory over far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, the outgoing president still managed to win control of parliament and the nation’s largest state governments.
Still, there were some international reporters prepared to see a glimmer of hope for Republicans and a brake on Democratic euphoria. Nirmal Ghosh, US Bureau Chief for Singapore’s Straits Times, pointed to the glass-half-empty scenario that even a slim “Republican majority in [the] House will constrain Biden, may set stage for Trump’s return bid in 2024.”
The greatest fear, especially in Europe, also seemed to be largely tamed – that a Congress firmly in control of Trump Republicans would abandon America’s unyielding and unequivocal support for Ukraine in its struggle with Russia.
Indeed, many of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s supporters in Moscow were hoping that, as Reuters put it, “US midterms will mean less Ukraine aid and more chaos.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky was direct. American politicians need to show “unwavering unity,” he said, at least “until peace is restored.”
As for the Kremlin, the first reaction from Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was, as he told reporters on Wednesday: “These elections are important, but the significance of these elections for the future in the short and medium term of our bilateral relations [cannot] be seriously exaggerated. These elections cannot change anything essential. Relations still exist and will remain bad.”
One clear signal that Russia will not be deterred from Putin’s confrontational approach to the US was the disclosure Wednesday morning that WNBA star Brittney Griner, imprisoned in Russia since February, is being moved to a penal colony. As the Washington Post reported, this is “a type of prison facility known for its brutal living conditions.” Indeed, especially given Peskov’s comments, it’s hard to see the Biden administration’s efforts to win Griner’s freedom bearing fruit anytime soon.
The election comes at a pivotal moment not just for geopolitics but the future of our planet. In Egypt, the global climate conference COP27 is underway, with tens of thousands of delegates from across the world attending. Now, new life has been breathed into Biden’s pledge that “the United States will encourage countries – particularly major economies – and the private sector to… help close the gap between current pledges and what the latest science tells us is urgently needed.”
The principal fear from most European officials I’ve talked with Wednesday morning, as it has been from the very moment of Biden’s victory in November 2020, is that his tenure may be simply a brief, if welcome, interregnum rather than a definitive change in direction from the Trump years.
Many Europeans in particular remain fixated on Trump’s remarks earlier this week that suggested on November 15 he would be announcing his candidacy for president in 2024.
It’s hard to see from this perspective across the pond that there will be any real relief until Americans have demonstrated they have really put behind them this era that has been so deeply destructive of the entire trans-Atlantic relationship.