Iran’s president said it laid bare the “dire” situation of U.S. politics. Chinese and Russian commentators pounced on it as fresh proof of American incivility and Washington’s decline as a global political leader.
Among U.S. allies, the raw and angry tone of the first debate between President Trump and Democratic challenger Joseph R. Biden on Tuesday was a source of wonder and despair. But U.S. adversaries seized on the often chaotic clash as a reflection of America’s diminishing stature in world opinion.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry largely declined to comment, but the pro-Kremlin outlet NTV television described the debate as a “1 1/2-hour exchange of insults.”
“The rivals kept interrupting each other and instead of a balanced discussion, they chose the path of mutual insults,” NTV said.
Reviews in leading Western media were equally harsh, with the BBC reporting that U.S. voters had “endured” rather than simply watched the “chaotic event.”
China, which is engaged in an escalating rhetorical war with the Trump administration on a broad variety of fronts, took particular glee in the debate, one that even Mr. Biden on Wednesday would call a “national embarrassment.”
“This debate was like the [U.S.]: Everybody’s talking. Nobody’s listening. Nothing is learned. It’s a mess,” argued an opinion piece in China’s state-controlled Global Times newspaper, often seen as a mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party.
“We saw chaos and disorder,” wrote the op-ed’s author, Zhang Tengjun, an associate of the China Institute of International Studies. “Whether chaos and disorder will continue in the following debates is worth observation. It is unlikely that Trump will give up his personal attacks on Biden.”
Global Times editor Hu Xijin went further, writing that the “chaos, interruptions, personal attacks and insults” were a reflection of America’s “overarching division, anxiety and the accelerating erosion of the system’s original advantages.”
“I used to admire this kind of televised debate in American politics, but I have much more mixed feelings when [I] watch it again now,” wrote Mr. Hu.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told state media in Tehran on Wednesday that the debate debacle was akin to “Washington’s failure in handling domestic and foreign policy issues.”
Even in countries with a free press, the Trump-Biden brawl played to tough reviews. Many expressed fears that Mr. Trump’s questioning of the election process could mean further instability for the world’s leading superpower in the days ahead.
“The comments I’ve seen from various European press [outlets] are basically: ‘I’m happy I’m not an American voter this year.’ It’s just a mess,” said Jussi Hanhimaki, a Finnish Swiss professor of International History at the Graduate Institute in Geneva.
“That’s all extremely disturbing for many Europeans, who generally would think the United States would be a symbol of democracy … that has this long, long tradition of, yes, very acrimonious debate, but there’s always been a winner and a peaceful transfer of power,” he said.
Kenyan commentator Patrick Gathara tweeted: “This debate would be sheer comedy if it wasn’t such a pitiful and tragic advertisement for U.S. dysfunction.”
Canadian broadcaster CBC News quoted pundits who concluded it “was not a very good night for America.” France’s Le Monde noted many U.S. commentators are questioning whether to have more debates and observed: “We are in fact entitled to wonder what reason and democracy can gain from it.”
Moira Doneghan, a columnist for Britain’s left-leaning Guardian newspaper, concluded that “the coarseness, dishonesty and grandstanding on display was a mockery of the dignity of the electoral process and a slap in the face to the Americans whose lives will be shaped by the actions of the next president.”
Elected officials were equally critical of the format of the debate, which featured frequent interruptions and personal attacks, and few moments of sustained policy debate.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen wrote on Facebook that “interruptions and quarrels were allowed to fill up way too much [time]. Fortunately, this is not the case in Denmark. And I never hope it will be like that.”
Amanda Wishworth, a lawmaker in Australia’s center-left Labor Party, said: “A lot of people would be scratching their heads, especially here from Australia, where, believe it or not, our politics is a little bit more gentle than the U.S. of A.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.