Mark MacKinnon analyzes the unusual post-U.S. election phenomenon of western democracies endorsing Mr. Biden’s victory, while more authoritarian states so far have not.

Getting Started

This lesson is designed for secondary level students, to be applicable to both online and classroom learning situations. Whether in one-on-one settings, in small groups or cohorts, or via a learning partner online, this lesson involves online research and a written report.

By now, everyone knows the winners and losers of the U.S. election. Of immediate concern to the rest of the world is how Mr. Biden’s administration will affect them. Mr. Trump infamously irritated and distanced himself from America’s closest democratic allies—e.g. Europe, Canada, Mexico–while openly admiring authoritarian states, like Russia, Turkey, and North Korea. Not surprisingly, the former welcomed Mr. Biden’s victory, while the latter did not. To find ways to better understand this turn of events, students will examine the differences between democratic and authoritarian political ideologies.

Subject Area(s) covered

Social studies, American studies, current events, media literacy

New Terms to explain

Authoritarian, regime, multilateralism, status quo

Materials Needed

Access to the article and the Internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Key things students can learn from this lesson

  • How to identify differences between authoritarian and democratic systems of government;
  • How to describe some features of an authoritarian cult of personality;
  • How to develop an informed opinion on why nations may have reacted as they did to the outcome of the U.S. election.

Action (here’s how we’ll do it)

Read the article by Mark MacKinnon. If you have an opinion on why the countries responded as they did following the U.S. election, write it down at the top of your report.

Using the article and these links (or others similar to them—list all the sites you use) to research:

The link for Democracy, above, lists four key elements of a democratic government.

  • Summarize them in your own words.

At the same link, under the heading “characteristics,” click on the maps.

  • Note the countries considered the most democratic and those the least. How does this compare with Mr. MacKinnon’s account?
  • How is Canada’s democracy represented in this map?

Read the definition of authoritarianism at the link above.

  • What does a rejection of “political plurality” mean?
  • In the U.S. election, which candidate stood more for strong central power and the preservation of the status quo?

Regarding the cult of personality, note part of the definition offered at the link, above: cult of personality, or cult of the leader,[1] arises when a country’s regime – or, more rarely, an individual – uses the techniques of mass media, propaganda, the big lie, spectacle, the arts, patriotism, and government-organized demonstrations and rallies to create an idealized, heroic, and worshipful image of a leader, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.”

  • As you read this, what images, if any, does it evoke based on your knowledge of the U.S. election?
  • Scan the remainder of the article on authoritarianism and the cult of personality. Do you think the United States flirted with this form of government under Mr. Trump? What are some examples that support your position?

Returning to the article, why do you think authoritarian countries are reluctant to congratulate Mr. Biden? Why do you think democratic countries are eager to support him?

Next, read your report to a parent or fellow student for their reaction. Note any changes you make as a result of their input.

Finally, revisit your opinion from the top of this sheet. Has it changed and, if so, how?

Consolidation of Learning

  • When they’ve finished their assignment, students will discuss it with their teacher before submitting it for evaluation.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria

Students can:

  • Name several key differences between authoritarian and democratic systems of government;
  • Suggest some features of Mr. Trump’s regime that mimic a cult of personality.
  • Present an informed opinion on why nations reacted as they did to the outcome of the U.S. election.

Confirming Activities

  • Students follow the aftermath U.S. election, noting changes in responses from world leaders to Mr. Biden’s election.

Helpful Internet Searches

  • See above

Activities to do together

  • Use the Internet to find and watch videos about the cult of personality;
  • Discuss your home in terms of its form of government, e.g.,: Who makes and enforces the rules?