LOVERS of democracy and liberty watched in horror on January 6, 2021 as the misguided supporters of the United States President, Donald Trump, invaded the US Capitol in a bid to stop the certification of the Electoral College vote affirming the results of the 2020 presidential election won by the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden.
The US, which has for over 200 years been revered as the bastion of democracy, was shaken to its foundation as rioters danced to the tune of a demagogue notorious for promoting lies, hatred and appeals to primordial sentiments. In the aftermath, four persons were killed, while several others were injured in the violence, which was absolutely avoidable. Also, three improvised explosive devices were reported to have been found: one on Capitol grounds, and one each at the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee offices.
Trump, who was inaugurated as the 45th President in 2017, is not new to controversy. His entire campaign was propelled by right wing nationalism and disunity reminiscent of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. He promoted propaganda and described any information that was not favourable to him as “fake news.” He tore up the Paris Climate Agreement after calling climate change a hoax, implemented a systemic travel ban on Muslims from other nations and embraced dictatorial figures like Vladimir Putin of Russia. Dangerously, he stopped funding the World Health Organisation, placed a travel ban on officials of the International Criminal Court, who were investigating American troops for possible war crimes and isolated the US from its longstanding allies.
Even during his second campaign, Trump downplayed the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and encouraged his supporters to attend large gatherings in violation of the COVID-19 guidelines as the death rate continued to soar to a point that it has now killed over 360,000 Americans.
He was duly punished at the polls, suffering a crushing defeat in the hands of Democratic Party supporters, many of whom exploited the early voting and mail-in ballot system. Rather than be a statesman and concede defeat as is the norm, Trump discredited the entire electoral process and through his acerbic rhetoric, encouraged his supporters to take to the streets in protest. Armed supporters held the Arizona State electoral office hostage for hours when it was clear that the vote would not go in their favour. Rather than pull an already divided nation from the precipice, Trump continued to call the election a sham and tried every means possible to change the results. He refused to ensure a seamless transition to Biden as his predecessors had done, but spent time hurriedly pardoning his convicted allies.
Fortunately, the strong institutions that have stood for several decades acted as a bulwark against Trump’s antics. As he continued to press the Justice Department to discredit the election, his Attorney-General, William Barr, honourably resigned but Trump was not finished. A record 62 legal challenges were instituted by Trump’s campaign and Republican allies between them in less than 60 days, questioning the integrity of the election but America’s democracy proved sturdy even as Supreme Court judges appointed by Trump sided with the constitution and refused to be hoodwinked by his gimmicks. He pressured the Republican Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” the votes needed for him to win the elections in the state in a leaked telephone conversation, but he was rebuffed.
Trump, in a last bout of desperation, publicly prodded his Vice-President, Mike Pence, who as the ceremonial President of the Senate, was tasked with the job certifying the Electoral College votes at the joint congress. Pence, who had hitherto been loyal to his unscrupulous principal, finally showed courage when it mattered most by siding with the people.
History has shown repeatedly that empires are more likely to crumble from internal deficiencies than external forces. The inability of the insolent Presidency of Trump to bring America to its knees is evidence that strong institutions are the hallmark of stable democracies. Democracies are strengthened by the continuous emergence of statesmen and not strong men, hence the importance of electing the right leaders. A review of the 2016 US presidential election showed that 59 per cent of the voting population actually voted, which means the result could have gone against Trump and his disastrous Presidency would have been averted if more people had come out. Indeed, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
The role of the US military is also worthy of note. Despite being the most powerful force in the world, the men and women in uniform resisted the urge of intervening as is common in less developed nations. This is worth emulating and remains a silver lining in the cloud that has engulfed the last days of Trump’s Presidency.
The Republican Party that for years, continued to openly support Trump’s warped narrative for the sake of political survival also betrayed public trust. The party, which produced great statesmen like Abraham Lincoln, deviated from its core values to accommodate Trump’s lawlessness in order to retain power. Apart from senators John McCain (now deceased) and Mitt Romney who openly disagreed with Trump, most continued to tolerate his misdeeds. This saw the likes of once respected senators like Ted Cruz helping Trump to perpetuate his lies at the risk of burning down the country, forgetting as former President Ulysses Grant said after the American Civil War, “There are two parties: traitors and patriots.”
The US, which is the acclaimed conscience of the world, must also ensure that persons who took part in the violence and the instigators, including Trump, are brought to book. While it is true that no American President has ever been tried, including Richard Nixon, who was indicted for the Watergate Scandal, the US must begin to lead by example by ensuring that presidents who betrayed their oath of office face justice as has been done in Israel and Brazil. This will serve as a deterrent to future presidents, who may want to follow in Trump’s shoes and discourage world leaders from the temptation to sit tight. The US cannot continue to punish foreign leaders who interfere in elections while at the same time looking the other way when it happens on its soil.
Democracy is not always easy. The Economist (London) described the “Trumped” up protest as “at best a riot, at worst an insurrection.” But in the Federalist Paper 10, James Madison identified mob rule and the rise of political factions as the main causes of democratic failure, and so the framers of the US Constitution attempted to limit the power of factions by building checks and balances into their political system.
Trump was never fit to rule the least qualified democratic country. His role in the shocking riot can be compared to Adolf Hitler’s involvement in the Germany’s parliamentary building fire on February 27, 1933. He is more or less an American Führer while the heist lasted. He must be brought to justice. But the Republican Party should be jointly held responsible for Trump’s assault on democracy.
America should reinvent its democratic values and ideals. Luckily, while the Democratic Party has a majority in the House of Representatives, the Senate ended at 50-50 tie for both parties. That gives the vice-president-elect, Kamala Harris, the casting vote in the upper chamber.
To make any moral claim as a leader of the free and democratic world, Trump should be held and made accountable of his sponsorship of violence what has been rightly described as “textbook terrorism.”