The world watches American elections with intense interest, eager to know the future direction of the leading global superpower. So the perceptions of the D.C. diplomatic corps — the eyes and ears in Washington of their respective nations — are much in demand in their homelands.
This year’s election was particularly frustrating for Washington-based ambassadors, who found their ability to observe election processes and host embassy watch parties severely constrained by the coronavirus pandemic. But that did little to dampen their enthusiasm.
“I try and get as good a picture as I can without being able to go out and sniff the air,” said Irish Ambassador Daniel Mulhall, who told VOA he has relied for his insights on communications with reporters, think tank analysts and others he knows to be well-connected to the two major parties.
“People in Ireland, and in Europe, take American politics very seriously,” he said. “When I talk to Irish people on the phone, I realize they know a lot about what’s going on here. People are extremely well-informed, which makes my job easier. I don’t have to explain everything to people at home. They already have a good, basic knowledge.”
Zdenek Beranak, deputy chief of mission at the Czech Embassy, said his workday started early Tuesday morning and extended well past midnight as it became increasingly clear that the vote count would drag into the next day and beyond.
“I had a little break — I went running 6K listening to my favorite podcast, I picked up my son from school. I also drove by the White House to see how the situation was in downtown, pretty normal at around 3 PM, and visited 1 polling station in Maryland,” he told VOA in an email interview. “Exciting day – true festival of democracy!”
There were no watch parties with invited guests as many embassies have done in past years, but Beranak said essential staff were on the job Tuesday “watching TV and checking multiple online sources” while Ambassador Hynek Kmoníček spent much of the day giving interviews to media back home in the Czech Republic.
In the days before the election, Beranak said, he and some of his colleagues drove to Pennsylvania to “get a better idea about the dynamics in a crucial swing state.”
Other diplomats took to Twitter to describe their impressions of the fiercely contested election, an extraordinary exercise in democracy that featured an unprecedented turnout.
Danish Ambassador Lone Dencker Wis tweeted that she found it “fascinating” to be physically in the United States on November 3, and she shared her interviews with various Danish media outlets.
Ambassador of #Denmark to the United States, Lone Wisborg @DKambUSA, talking to @tv2newsdk about the #election2020 🇺🇸🇩🇰 #DenmarkinUSA#dkmedierpic.twitter.com/ajCW6B2mdo
— Denmark in USA 🇩🇰 (@DenmarkinUSA) November 3, 2020
German Ambassador Emily Haber tweeted Wednesday that after a long night of closely watching the state-by-state returns trickle in, the new day felt more like a continuation of the previous night.
A long night at the German residence: work, socially distanced pic.twitter.com/gTm1DKK7sQ
— Emily Haber (@GermanAmbUSA) November 4, 2020
A few embassy Twitter feeds were surprisingly silent about America’s quadrennial exercise in democracy.
On the Russian feed, there were postings about Russia’s role in defeating the Nazis, a dispute with Washington over the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, and U.S.-Russian cooperation on space exploration.
#ICYMI In 1942 Shostakovich appeared on July cover of Time magazine, wearing his Leningrad firefighter’s helmet and becoming, all at once, an international symbol for the #Soviet struggle against the invading German horde. https://t.co/laZ7EDg39Ipic.twitter.com/v2D7oK3Efq
— Russian Embassy in USA 🇷🇺 (@RusEmbUSA) November 3, 2020
The Chinese Embassy feed, meanwhile, was preoccupied with a speech by President Xi Jinping, a lengthy rebuttal to a New York Times article on Beijing’s relationship with the World Health Organization, and a denial that China suppresses the religious freedom of the Uighur people in Xinjiang.
Muslims in Xinjiang have been affronted by groundless fallacies from the US @StateDept. To set the record straight, they have issued a report to show the real situation regarding freedom of religious belief in Xinjiang. https://t.co/7J3OHnFEAz
— Chinese Embassy in US (@ChineseEmbinUS) November 3, 2020
In Ireland, however, the interest is so high that one could hardly tell it was not an Irish election, Mulhall joked in a telephone interview. He suggested that his countrymen find the American ritual more accessible partly because of the common language, although the electoral processes are very different.
“Our system is such that everyone votes in one day, no advance voting, all the votes are counted the following day, the day after the election is held. And it can take five or six days for the final result to be known,” he said.
He said the heightened interest in Ireland might also have to do with the fact that one of the candidates, former Vice President Joe Biden, is known to take pride in his Irish and Catholic heritage.
President Donald Trump can also claim Irish roots based on a study by the Trump-funded Boston Genetic Institute, which reported last year that it had traced some of his DNA to a small village near the Kerry town of Dingle that no longer exists.
Mulhall said a visit to Ireland by Biden, if he were elected, could give a huge boost to bilateral ties. “I still remember what a big deal it was when [Irish American former President] John F. Kennedy visited Ireland when I was a kid.”
But, he stressed, his country values its connections with Republicans and Democrats alike, pointing out the presence of Irish Americans, including Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, in the current Republican-led administration.
Mulhall said he was pleased to see that “a lot of the apocalyptic warnings” about potential Election Day violence “may have been a little over the top.”
“Everyone looks to America for inspiration and for example. I hope and I pray that that example will be forthcoming in the coming hours and days,” he said. “We want to see America do well. We want to see America be what it always has been — a stable and exemplary democracy which can be a leader in the global arena.”