The ordeal of democracy at Capitol Hill: Where is the end of this war?
Dr Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin
America encountered another difficult test of democracy. As US lawmakers sat on 06 January in a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill, the US House of Representatives, to approve Joe Biden’s victory in the November presidential election, hundreds of fierce supporters of incumbent President Donald Trump went there, broke down the security barricades of the building and clashed with police. They broke through the police barricade and entered the building, vandalized it. Police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse them. Massive riots and shootings killed at least five people, including a policeman. Police were forced to escort members of the House of Representatives out of the session. It took police three hours to evacuate Trump supporters from the Capitol building. When police finally declared the Capitol building safe around 5:30 pm local time, lawmakers were able to return and resume the session. Authorities in Washington, DC, had to impose a 15-day state of emergency.
It was the death-bite of outgoing President Donald Trump. He has been accusing of rigging since his defeat in the November election. He also filed multiple cases challenging the results of different states. But, nothing was going his way. The results of the election were so clear that no one except his staunch supporters agreed with him. But, it’s Donald Trump. He is not so easy to give up. Although the approval of the election results in this joint session of the Congress was just a formality, Trump might have wanted to find a way to seize power by disrupting this session. Thousands of Trump supporters gathered in Washington to protest the move hours before the session. In a fiery speech addressed to them at a rally not far from Capitol Hill, Trump declared that he would not accept defeat, citing electoral fraud in his style, and called on his supporters to march on Capitol Hill to demonstrate against the congressional session for the approval of Biden’s election victory.
This is where Trump might have made the last serious mistake of his life. If the United Kingdom were to be the birthplace of modern democracy, the United States would be called the lighthouse of democracy. Despite many ups and downs since its inception as an independent state, the country has been practicing democracy uninterruptedly under the same constitution. Capitol Hill has been a witness to this uninterrupted practice of democracy in the country for more than two hundred years. The infernal violence that took place on Capitol Hill that day, to disrupt its normal democratic activities, has never been witnessed by America in its more than two hundred years of history. It has pierced the heart of every self-respecting and thoughtful American. Democrat-Republicans, including former President George W. Bush, former President Barack Obama, outgoing Vice President Mike Pence, and newly elected President Joe Biden, have all spoken out in condemnation of the incident. It sparked the resignation of many Trump administration officials at the White House. Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, locked Trump’s account. Although he initially praised the attack on Capitol Hill, Trump himself changed his mind and joined in the condemnation to become a laughing stock. Not just in America, a storm of condemnation swept across the whole world. World leaders, including the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison, the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, and the Foreign Minister of Germany Haikou Maas, reacted to the incident.
The tricks that Trump used to climb to the top of America and the kind of personality that he displayed in his speech and mannerisms, starting from the first election campaign till today, is there anything to be surprised at all if something like the Capitol Hill riots happened at his persuasion? Trump cleverly used the popular ‘Make America Great Gain (MAGA)’ slogan to rise to power, awakening the wounded sense of superiority of angry and frustrated white supremacists as Barack Obama, a black man born to a Muslim father, ascended to the top of America. To raise anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments deeply ingrained in the minds of a large section of society, he raised his voice against terrorism and announced that he will erect walls along the Mexican border. His arrogant and impudent approach presented him to the white supremacists as a true genius in realizing their hopes and aspirations. During the 2016 election campaign, he never admitted that he would accept the election results if they went against him. In response to such questions during the 2020 election campaign, too, he said that there will be continuation, not transfer of power. A person with such an attitude would easily agree to leave an interesting and prestigious position like the US presidency and won’t want to cling to power by hook or by crook, what could be the reason to think so? So, even if it may seem inconsistent and shocking in terms of American history and tradition, it was not at all unusual for Trump and Trumpists to orchestrate events like the Capitol Hill attack.
The concern for American society and democracy is, Donald Trump is not just an individual here. He represents a large section of the society, who holds and nurtures a mindset just like him. Trump has polarized them through the last two elections. Keep in mind that even though Trump lost the election, he bagged about half of the total votes casted. You could say that he just narrowly missed the train. Maybe not all of these people who voted for him agree with this sort of activities of him. Many may have voted for him simply as a Republican candidate. However, if you keep a close eye on the post-election developments, you will understand that the number of violent, intolerant people like Trump is not small in American society. This is where the real cause of concern lies. On January 6, they landed on Capitol Hill in a decisive battle. Apparently, they have lost the battle this time. As outgoing Vice President Mike Pence put it: “To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win,”. (The New York Times, January 08, 2021) However, the days ahead will tell you where the situation is heading. If moderate American leaders cannot effectively address the deep divisions in society that have been uncovered and address the feelings of resentment and deprivation that exist in different sections of society, pro-Trump extremists could emerge stronger in the future and return to power heavily. This may create a great deal of rift in the harmony currently prevailing among various religions, castes, and ethnic groups in the United States. A volatile, unstable and conflicting situation can arise across the country. This will gradually weaken America internally and its push will have to go beyond.
This is the internal aspect of America. Let’s take a look at the impact of the Capitol Hill incident on the world. Democracy has turned out to most people in the modern world as a people-oriented system of government. This is because the system, on the one hand, allows ordinary people to express their support or resentment through elections, and on the other hand, ensures a peaceful transfer of power. As one of the world’s leading powers in the pursuit of democracy, the United States has made significant contributions to the practice and development of the democratic system across the world. Despite the absence of real democracy in many countries, they have been practicing democracy, at least on paper, because of being in the sphere of influence of America and its allies. You could rather say that if America played a more honest role here without looking at its own political and economic interests and there won’t have been interference from other competitive powerful states pursuing undemocratic authoritarian regimes, democracy might already have stood on a solid foundation in many other countries of the world. Whatever it is, the Capitol Hill incident has weakened the moral strength of America in playing its role across the world as a pioneer and guardian of democracy that it has apparently been doing so far. The dictatorial regimes, which have grabbed power by force and are ruling people against their will in different parts of the world, will now laugh at America sarcastically if it preaches democracy and will say utterly or in silence, ‘Sir! Fix your house first’. So, understandably, this incident could emerge as a huge blow to the practice and development of democracy around the world.
The war between truth and falsehood and the conflict of justice and injustice have been going on in this world since time immemorial. None of the social and political welfare schemes that have been introduced in different countries of the world have happened in a single day. They have gradually formed through various conflicts, blows and retaliations, day after day. The vested interests have always sought to deprive the common people of their just dues by shutting their mouths and misleading them with various tricks. However, it has been seen at various turning points in history that, when the people’s eyes are opened and they wake up, all the conspiracies float away like straws. This is how the world came to be today, this is how it will move forward. However, this war will never end. As long as this earth exists, the moon and sun will rise and set, this war will continue, will keep continuing.
Dr Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin, Professor of Pharmacy, Jahangirnagar University