Democracy Debased in the District of Columbia | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 10, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:57 AM, January 10, 2021

Democracy Debased in the District of Columbia

To write off the acts of anarchy and insurrection that was being played out live inside the Houses of the United States Congress on January 6, as that of a few deranged, rabid, racist individual Americans would be a disastrous mistake. It was in effect, the reflection of the toxic mindset of a growing number of Americans who see Donald Trump as the torch bearer of their version of America and what it should look like. These anarchists, all waiving Donald Trump flags, are part of the seventy-four million Americans who voted for him on November 3, believing firmly in his bellicose narrative that "their" country is being stolen away from them and it must be regained at any cost. 

The acts of terrorism happened shortly after Donald Trump himself addressed this very crowd not far away from the US Capitol, openly instigating them to march to the Capitol to force, or at least, intimidate the lawmakers who had assembled there to certify the results of the Presidential elections held more than two months back, an outdated and redundant step in itself, to overturn its result. In other words, repudiate the will of the people. In the process, four people lost their lives. It was, in the end, an abortive bloody coup. But then Trump was not alone in this. The likes of Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Hawley, along with a whole lot of Republican Members of the House of Representatives were openly and unabashedly complicit in this criminal act, as were members of Trump's own family. And then there was the caricature of an attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who actually called on the anarchists to launch a "trial by combat". While the violence was on in full swing, Trump publicly expressed his love for the anarchists, calling them "patriotic and beautiful people and very special".If such acts are not considered acts of treason and their perpetrators do not face legal actions, one wonders what does? In this particular instance, Donald Trump stands as the number one accused and the prime instigator of actions that verged on sedition.

I do not feel it necessary to recast here the graphic acts of anarchy; the whole world witnessed with horror all of that first hand. What perhaps would be more relevant here is to take stock and try to assess and analyse the deeper reasons behind all this and what it can mean looking into the future of America's body politic. Donald Trump maintained after the Joint Session of the US Congress reaffirmed Joe Biden as the next President of the United States and Kamala Harris as his Vice President, that although he did not accept the result, there will be an orderly transition of power but warned that "it's only the beginning of our fight to "Make America Great Again". He reiterated this very line at a recorded more sober message in a more formal setting subsequently, implying that he does not intend to leave the turf anytime soon.

There are already talks on Constitutional ways to ensure that Trump is not allowed to govern for the remaining days of his term. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has formally called on Vice President Mike Pence for invocation of the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution, which will enable the Cabinet to declare the president unfit to govern. She has also kept open the option of impeachment, although that may be too far-fetched. However, legal actions against the perpetrators of this anarchic act need not be hindered by any statute of limitations; Trump and his cohorts can still face legal actions after January 20.

The weakness of the American Constitution when it comes to true accountability is that it is applied more in its letter, and much less so in its spirit, and the absence of accepting moral and ethical responsibility when things go wrong. In developed democracies, heads of government had left office for far less. In the 1960s, British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan resigned after the Profumo scandal broke out although he had no role in it himself but took moral responsibility. In 1974 Willy Brandt of Germany, one of the greatest political leaders of our time, had the integrity to resign as the chancellor on ethical and moral grounds at the height of his popularity after allegations of there being an East German spy in his office. In 2016 British Prime Minister David Cameron stepped down from office after taking responsibility for the outcome of the Brexit referendum, even when the Conservative Party under his leadership had won a thumping majority in the House of Commons just a year back. The list goes on. None of them needed any written Constitutional article to act with courage and integrity even when not pressed to do so.

It can be said with certainty that Donald Trump feels no such compunctions because it is he himself who had instigated this insurrection, one that President-Elect Joe Biden rightly described as an "assault on democracy". Trump's belated condemnation of the violence sounds hollow when seen in the broader context.

Donald Trump also does not seem to care what his act of insurrection has done to America's image and its standing on the global stage. It stands seriously damaged and the stain may remain for long. Not surprising that world leaders, including close allies of the United States, have rushed to strongly condemn the traumatic events.

The big question that remains unanswered is how deep will be the impact of Donald Trump's toxic and sharply divisive political narrative, that took on a violent shape on Wednesday, on America's polity. Can the Republican Party take a hard look at the dangers of a continuity of Trumpism as their political platform from here on? Will there be a serious post-mortem of the results of the Senate elections in the State of Georgia as a case in point of the harm that Donald Trump has done to the party and its politics? Only time will tell. To quote Edmund Burke ad nauseam, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing".


Shamsher M Chowdhury, BB is a former Foreign   Secretary of Bangladesh and Ambassador to the United States.

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