Analysis: Alabama election result seen as 'miracle' in Europe

President Donald Trump speaks at the White House on Oct. 23, 2017.


By RICK NOACK | Washington Post | Published: December 13, 2017

BERLIN — Roy Moore's defeat on Tuesday evening may have come as a relief to liberal Americans, but in Europe it was taken as a sign that the United States has not totally lost its moral compass.

Last year's election victory of President Donald Trump, who is deeply unpopular across Western Europe, appears to have severely damaged the United States' status as a role model in Europe. The defeat of Moore was interpreted by many as a reversal for Trump and a sign that all is not lost across the Atlantic.

Relief over the Alabama election result in Europe was far from being limited to liberal media outlets, and was widely seen as a "notable setback for President Donald Trump," as France's liberal Liberation newspaper wrote. Its center-left competitor Le Monde declared the Tuesday result a "referendum about Trump's political agenda" and Britain's Financial Times agreed that that it was "a big blow for Mr Trump."

That sentiment was perhaps most pronounced in Germany, where confidence in Trump has been even lower than in neighboring France and Britain. Center-left German weekly Die Zeit framed the defeat as "the miracle of Alabama."

Writing in Germany's conservative newspaper Die Welt, Clemens Wergin explained that the "victory of Jones shows that America has changed since Trump's election." Whereas many voters did not take the numerous sexual assault allegations against Trump seriously ahead of Trump's victory one year ago, there now appears to be a growing awareness which defied partisan lines," he wrote.

"Many people in Alabama want to send a message to the world: America is still able to show a tolerant and cosmopolitan face," wrote Jan Philipp Burgard, a Washington correspondent with German public TV station ARD.

European nations like Germany or Britain have long considered themselves close allies of the United States, but leaders here are finding it increasingly difficult to work with a president who has repeatedly lashed out at them and is deeply unpopular among European voters.

Trump's low approval ratings in Europe have defied partisan lines, as many conservatives as well as liberals have viewed Trump's remarks during his campaign about banning Muslims, building walls and pulling out of climate deals as populist and divisive.

Europe is also struggling with a populist, right wing resurgence of its own that has made electoral inroads in recent years in countries like Hungary, Poland or Austria, not to mention a second place showing in France's presidential elections. While the populist right remains restricted mostly to the political sidelines, it was encouraged by Trump's victory.

Moore's defeat was also interpreted as a sign of a revival of "decency" in the United States. Alabama's voters "have proved that politics is not just about party interests, but decency and morality as well," commented Alexandra von Nahmen, the head of German broadcaster DW's Washington bureau. (DW is funded by the country's Foreign Ministry but operates independently.)

To von Nahmen, the refusal of the majority of voters in Alabama to support Moore is not only an electoral but also a moral defeat to President Trump. "The Republicans' loss lies squarely with Donald Trump. He believed his support for a candidate like Moore would ensure victory. But Alabama voters did not allow the President to get away with this amoral behavior. That too is a good thing," wrote von Nahmen. That sentiment was widely echoed by other major European news outlets on Wednesday, who called the defeat a "black day for Trump," and proclaimed a "red line for Trump-style politics."

"Donald Trump chose to waste what little remains of his political capital on a man accused of being a sexual predator of teenage girls," wrote Guardian U.S. columnist Richard Wolffe.

Whereas most reactions here focused on the possible repercussions of Moore's defeat on a national level, one sentence from Democratic election winner Doug Jones stood out: "I have always believed that the people of Alabama have more in common than divides us," Jones said.

His words almost exactly matched those of slain British MP Jo Cox who died in an attack last year, committed by a perpetrator with links to a U.S. Nazi group.

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