US Election: What really is at stake

14.10.2020, Germany, Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland

Peter Kleim, journalist at NTV and RTL Germany, reports exclusively for Backstage about his fifth election as a US correspondent, and what is at stake of the electoral outcome.

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Who would have thought that a White House correspondent would suddenly find himself putting his own health at risk by reporting? But since the main subject of the reports is Donald Trump, everything is turned upside down, a fact that most people are probably aware of by now.

This is not only because, as the only German journalist in the foreign press pool, I am regularly close to the President or his staff (and thus close to potential carriers of the coronavirus). But also because, as we are approaching elections, we have to deal with potential scenarios that could resemble a coup. What would happen if armed Trump supporters could blockade polling stations, or if states with Republican governors or Republican controlled state parlament didn't give their electoral votes to the candidate who had gained the most votes in that state?

This is my fifth US presidential election, and the most depressing I have experienced so far. Cotton swabs from White House medical staff up my nose instead of travelling to Presidential TV debates. Doctors instead of spin doctors. Health bulletins are suddenly as important as election polls. The pandemic and Donald Trump's crisis management are shaping the electoral race and its topics. 

At this point, my fellow correspondents are already quite nervous. Everyone can see how Donald Trump seems to be causing problems for himself - and yet everyone recalls that this time four years ago, the favourite was not Donald Trump, but Hilary Clinton. So, everyone is waiting  - with bated breath - and keeping a close eye on Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. Ultimately, nobody wants to get it completely wrong again.

Donald Trump is great for TV ratings. In both the US and Europe, this self-promoter in the White House elicits a profound fascination. He demolishes all norms. Without a doubt, reporting on his election, his period in office and - as it currently looks - his electoral defeat, would be a milestone in any correspondent's career. But would it be a milestone anyone would be happy, one day, to look back on?

I was the first and last German RTL correspondent in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). I reported on the upheavals in Poland and the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (CSSR). Even in those days, we had the main story in the news broadcasts regularly. But at that time, we reported on the resurgence of democracy. On joy and hope.

On election night on 3 November and, and if Biden doesn't win a landslide victory, probably in the following days and weeks, there is going to be more at stake than just the question of whether the next US President is Joe Biden, Donald Trump or - in a stalemate - Nancy Pelosi.

What will be at stake is the future of liberal democracies, something I have taken for granted my whole life.

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