End of American innocence, naivete about democracy?

Editorial

End of American innocence, naivete about democracy?

Thursday, January 07, 2021

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Televised scenes yesterday of rioters storming the United States Capitol and the use of emotive depictions like “insurrection” and “attempted coup” by the American media, with President Donald Trump looming in the shadows, went past the surreal.

The world watched in utter stupefaction, many people saying, “Surely, not in America.” as the unthinkable unfolded in the world's strongest citadel of democracy and freedom for the first time in 200 years.

Capitol police frantically evacuated US Vice-President Mike Pence and others in the country's senior leadership from the building thronged by Trump supporters in a day of chaotic images flashed to an unbelieving international audience.

We, too, are in shock and disbelief that, as bad as things were, it could get this bad. Two days ago, in this space, we suggested that what happened on Tuesday and Wednesday in the US could plunge American democracy into “grave uncertainty”.

On Tuesday, run-off elections in Georgia selected two Democratic senators — Mr Jon Ossoff and Rev Raphael Warnock, the first black senator from the US south — giving their party control of the Senate.

Yesterday, a joint session of the House and Senate was supposed to routinely count votes cast by the electoral college, formally ending the constitutional election process for US president.

We expected trouble because, having lost the presidency to Democrat Mr Joe Biden, and given that the Democrats already control the House of Representatives, the Republicans saw a win in Georgia as their only firewall against the opponents.

President Trump had also been controversially pushing to overturn the November 3, 2020 General Election results, which gave the state to Mr Biden, on grounds that the election was “stolen” from him, albeit without providing any evidence.

Vice-President Pence was scheduled to preside over the count and had been resisting his boss's demands that he overturns the vote in his, Trump's, favour — a constitutional impossibility.

We had surmised that Mr Trump would continue his efforts at the joint session. It was that effort which was under way when thousands of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building, with some of the rioters breaching the building and sitting with fist raised at the Senate rostrum.

Just prior to the storming of the Capitol, President Trump had addressed demonstrators and urged them to march to the building where the counting was taking place, promising to join them there — he never did.

But, with hardly any resistance from a small police force, the rioters appeared to take over the building, smashing windows and barging into the chambers from which the leaders had been evacuated.

At the height of what CNN and MSNBC called an insurrection, President-elect Biden addressed the nation, saying: “This is not dissent, it is disorder, it is chaos” and an “assault on our democracy”. He also demanded that President Trump puts an end to “this siege”.

A few minutes later the president, by video, told his supporters go home, after praising what they had done and describing them as “patriots”.

The first casualty of all this, we fear, is that the US will no longer have the moral authority to insist on other countries upholding democracy and free and fair elections.

A day of shame, indeed.


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