London (CNN)If you went to bed hoping it would pass, it was clear by the morning that it hadn’t.
This is now what American leadership looks like. The first Trump-Biden debate demonstrated what the world’s beacon of democracy resembles at the most public peak. A din, a cacophony of mistruths, self-aggrandizement and schoolyard bickering. It spoke of a superpower family cursing each other so loudly as they travel in in the car that nobody is driving or even looking at the road.And in Moscow or Beijing, or Minsk or Tehran, one thing should stand out. Foreign powers featured as influencers over the spectacle: China infecting the United States with the coronavirus, or Russia infecting the electoral campaign with dubious and unverified cash. The United States was the victim here, not setting global direction.Foreign affairs were not explicitly on the debate agenda but it was stark that, even if you could make out any policy amid the din, there was little about the rest of the world — for an Iran reeling under “maximum pressure,” yet enriching uranium fast, or for a resurgent China, or for a tampering Russia. In Trump-Biden debate chaos, China and other opponents of democracy are the big winnersThe debate touched on nuclear weapons once, but — and this is the bit where you need reassuring the next statement did actually happen — it was when Joe Biden said President Trump reportedly wanted to use them to obliterate hurricanes. Trump denied the claim.Read MoreRemember when George W. Bush couldn’t name the president of Pakistan? “The general”? (It was Pervez Musharraf). No, I can’t either. That was like decades ago. It seems like a daft question in 2020 anyway.The split-screen of America’s first debate played out globally. On one side, you had the irrational, angry rant of the last four years, in which the only saving grace of the United States’ potency was it was hard to know which way American erraticism would swing. Would they pull out of NATO, or kill Iran’s most prominent military commander? Rain fire and fury on North Korea or exchange fawning letters with its leader?On the other there was — brace yourself for some fleeting good news — a calmer, at times fumbling, but overall bemused and frustrated alternative. Biden, the older America most recognize. Inwardly focused, almost superannuated, occasionally stumbling, but broadly honorable and aware that facts matter when dictating a global reality. Biden briefly looked again like leadership, even if that was often hidden beneath a disturbed and baffled smirk at his opponent.But the split-screen only sustained on mute. Listen, and you heard the US shouting in pain and division. Its most powerful official dismissing the electoral process as likely corrupt. Its internal issues so intense, the rest of the world was an onlooker. Trump described a voting day you might recognize from an emerging democracy in the former Soviet Union of the 1990s, in which Trump urged supporters to enter polling stations and observe, and talked of ballots discarded in waste bins. Trump unleashes avalanche of repeat lies at first presidential debateIf you are trying to repress your citizens in Belarus, you heard the President of the United States suggest the Supreme Court might be needed to effectively alter the results of an election. If you are in Moscow looking to foment unrest on social media, the leader of the free world refused to condemn white supremacy. If you are in Beijing, looking to get a head start after the pandemic for your economy, it’s pretty clear the US will be cleaning up this mess for the next four years, or just piling more divisions and debt on it, depending on who wins.Europeans like to joke they should get a vote in the US elections, because of the outsized influence Washington has — still — on their daily lives. They shouldn’t, but here in Europe we still get to watch the process. And last night that process went a long way to declaring itself invalid. The US was a central pillar in how we lived our lives, and however much we disagreed with it, it’s unclear if it is still there now.Finally, it ended. “I hope neither of you will interrupt the other,” said the moderator Chris Wallace when he asked if the candidates would encourage his supporters to remain calm after the results. Biden said “Yes.” Trump said “bad things happen in Philadelphia.”Places that once seemed the oasis of calm and decency, now extolled as examples of chaos and misrule.