Finally President Trump has accepted the inevitable, but not before wreaking havoc, as we had predicted he would four years ago, both at home and abroad. The physical assault on the pantheon of American democracy described variously as a coup, insurrection and mob uprising, was not Trump's only parting gift to his country. He is leaving in his wake a dented democracy bereft of its spirit. It was an attempt to overturn the US election, by the US president himself, of all people. But it was not totally unexpected.
The siege has already resulted in the second impeachment of Trump, a unique distinction that only he could lay claim to. With every passing day, newer and newer information regarding the siege of the Capitol is coming to light. When Joe Biden says that those who stormed the Capitol are not the real face of America, he may be right, but one cannot deny also that they represent the views of a significant portion of Americans.
What one witnessed on January 6 was a third world script being played out on a first world stage by first world actors in the biggest democracy in the world. It could not happen in America! At least that was what the rest of the world was given to understand for so long, and that was what came to one's mind while watching the frenzied mob invading the US Capitol on television. Whoever thought that a day would come when Americans would see such an act perpetrated on their own parliament, something that their own government has instigated in so many second and third world countries in the past. In these countries, changes were manipulated by US intelligence agencies with the help of local quislings to overturn election results in order to put people of their own choice in power who would further US interest in that country and region; the so called regime change tactic.
The last time the US Capitol was stormed and burnt down was in 1814, by the British. This time the symbol of US democracy was stormed by an American mob, driven to frenzy by the sitting US president, spewing venom and lies which his gullible supporters believed too easily. According to some of the arrested arsonists, they were responding to their president's call, prepared to kill to "reclaim our country".
Trump has lived up to his promise to not let go of power come what may. And he exercised all options to cling to power till the very end; the last of his vainglorious effort was to set his supporters on the US Capitol. The attack was generated by the president himself, instigated by his words and actions since the end of the US presidential elections.
What is surprising for an outsider is that a country like the US, that boasts of its intellectual achievements and educational excellence should countenance a Goebbels-like propaganda of "stolen election", day in and day out, touted by its president, and believed too by a large number of Americans. Trump has destroyed democracy. By constantly questioning the election results and the election process he has caused a large majority of his supporters to really believe in his lies, and, more damagingly, lose faith in the democratic institutions. However, the institutions prevailed; the legislature, much to the dislike and in spite of the best efforts of the large majority of Republicans in the Congress to overturn the election result, certified Biden's victory.
It proves once again Goebbels' notorious statement that, "if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." And if it is uttered by the president of a country, all the more believable would that lie be. And so it was. He further said, "Truth is the mortal enemy of the lie" and thus a threat to the people in power. Trump could not accept the truth since it posed an existential threat to him.
The insurrection reveals a few other interesting aspects of US society and its state of governance. It has also several ramifications for the US, both at home and abroad, apart from it becoming a Black Day in US History.
After January 6, 2021, the US has lost all its ethical moorings to launch it armies against another country to "bring democracy" to that country, like it has tried, but failed so miserably, in Afghanistan. It has lost all moral authority to "fix" democracy in other countries. The various US NGOs, many of them appendages of the US intelligence agencies (not acknowledged openly though) would need to look inwards rather than sally abroad to "help" establish democracy and repair democratic institutions in other countries. It has much to worry about democracy on its own soil. This has been a classic lesson in radicalisation and extremism. And that is what the US shall have to focus on, rather than deploy its vast military machine outside its border to address extremism and radicalisation. Extremism and radicalisation comes in many shades. January 6 saw the manifestation of one such shade. American society is afflicted by fissures, and after more than 200 years of independence, America is in dire need of nation building which its leaders would do well to address urgently.
The US is literally under siege—from within. There are more troops guarding the Capitol, 20,000 National Guards, than there are presently deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria combined; the US capital resembles Kabul, according to journalists. All the other State Houses and capitals have taken similar measures in view of threat warnings from the FBI. America is on high alert for more attacks—not from al Qaeda or Taliban or the IS but from its own people—the far-rights, the QAnons and other radical groups and white supremacists. All because of a megalomaniac perpetuating a blatant lie backed up by the blind subservience and genuflection to him by the Republican Congressmen and women, barring a few brave and honourable exceptions.
It is time for reckoning. Welcome to the real world America!
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, ndc, psc (Retd), is a former Associate Editor of The Daily Star.