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Russian and German elections highlight where America must not go | Trudy Rubin

Lessons from elections abroad of what U.S. must avoid: Putin's "managed democracy" controls the result of the ballot, while Germany's voters lose faith in two major parties

Chancellor Angela Merkel with Armin Laschet, her party’s candidate to succeed her, in Berlin on Sunday.
Chancellor Angela Merkel with Armin Laschet, her party’s candidate to succeed her, in Berlin on Sunday.Read moreMartin Meissner / AP

For those worried about the future of free and fair elections in this country, the Russian and German elections offer warnings of the future if GOP Trumpsters have their way.

The Russian example is a chilling preview of “managed democracy” where Vladimir Putin’s ruling party maintains a thin veneer of democracy but ensures it is the only possible winner. The German ballot illustrates what happens when the two major parties are so unpopular that voters scatter their ballots across a multiparty system.

Think these elections don’t have relevance? Think again.

Most Americans don’t want “managed democracy” in which a losing party can do an end run around the constitution. But, urged on by the former president, the GOP has made the Big Lie its rallying cry. Fake “audits” of clean and verified 2020 state elections have become its vehicle for rallying the base and donors.

This effort to fake election results is a less virulent version of Putin’s modus operandi. But it heads the country in a direction all too familiar to the Kremlin — i.e. controlling the vote.

» READ MORE: Biden-Putin summit, no lovefest, no illusions | Trudy Rubin

Of course, the Kremlin has powers that Donald Trump could never dream of. It can create fake parties, and tolerates the “opposition” Communist Party and the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party because they vote in tandem with Putin’s United Russia.

But any true opposition grouping is silenced. Most independent parliamentary candidates — for example, those who openly opposed the Russian leader — were kicked off the ballot for supposedly faking signatures to get on the ballot or being foreign agents.

And the strongest opposition candidate, Alexei Navalny, was not only banned from running for president, but poisoned, then jailed when he returned from treatment in Germany. Even Navalny’s anticorruption movement was banned as “extremist.”

And Russian authorities control almost all media. They also banned about four dozen websites affiliated with Navalny’s movement, that helped guide voters to coalesce around the strongest anti-Kremlin candidate (if there was one) in individual races.

As the final straw, the Kremlin forced Google and Apple to remove Navalny’s tactical voting app from their stores. Shame on them.

How does this relate to GOP maneuvers?

The Trumpist concept parallels the Kremlin’s goals, even if the means are far more limited. The aim is to ensure that the votes always favor a particular party that supports a populist leader.

We are learning more and more details about how Donald Trump tried to strong arm Vice President Mike Pence to unconstitutionally refuse to confirm the election result. In this, Trump was backed by the majority of elected GOP legislators.

Trump praised John Eastman, a conservative lawyer who spoke at the Jan. 6 rally. We now know that Eastman had proposed in a memo that Pence to declare electoral votes in seven states invalid and simply announce Trump had been reelected. Totally unconstitutional, didn’t happen. But next time, who knows?

Moreover, GOP legislators in at least 14 states are passing laws that attempt to undermine county election boards and strip secretaries of state of their executive authority. This comes after many honest Republican election officials, notably in Georgia, refused to bow to White House pressure.

And many state GOP officials, including in Pennsylvania, are demanding so-called “forensic audits” along the lines of the fake audit conducted in Arizona by Trump supporters with no experience with ballot reviews. Even in Arizona, the election was so clean that the audit couldn’t deny it, and even awarded Biden a few dozen more votes.

Yet Trump told his followers at a rally on Saturday that the Arizona audit proved he had won.

In other words, no lie is too grandiose in the pursuit of overturning election results to guarantee Trump doesn’t lose.

Clearly, GOP Trumpsters are laying the ground to claim fraud in 2024 if their candidate loses, and to manipulate electoral votes at the state level. That is the first step toward establishing “managed democracy” here.

Let’s hope our system holds, the Supreme Court does its constitutional duty, and voters who embrace democracy outperform those who seek to subvert it.

But the German elections, while thoroughly democratic, also foretell a direction in which America should not want to go.

After 16 years of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who headed the center-right Christian Democratic Union, her party won less than 25% of the ballots and was barely edged out by the center-left Social Democrats.

» READ MORE: Kudos to Biden for efforts to fight COVID-19 globally | Trudy Rubin

The big news was the fragmentation, with nearly half the votes divided among three other parties, including the Greens who nabbing nearly 15% of the vote, their highest ever. Building a coalition will be a massive challenge. At least for the foreseeable future, Germany will not exert the global leadership it did during the Merkel years.

If the United States made it easy to develop viable third parties (it doesn’t), we’d no doubt see a split into a leftist grouping, a centrist party (or two) and a right-wing populist movement. Given the current level of dysfunction in Congress, this would guarantee even more.

It has never been more important for disparate Democrats to pull together and for brave Republicans to challenge the Trumpists, or join in bipartisan efforts to get the country moving . That is the best way to push back against those who seek a “managed democracy” — in which only one side can win.