Developments in Washington D.C. on Wednesday afternoon were shocking to people watching across the globe. The “beacon of democracy” suddenly looked more like a “banana republic,” the term used in a statement issued by former Republican President George W. Bush to express his disapproval over violent protestors told to march on Capitol Hill by outgoing President Donald Trump forcing and breaking their way into Congress. A woman was shot during the disturbance and later died, while the lives of law enforcement officers and others were put at serious risk.
They did so as 13 Republican Senators were trying to derail the certification of electoral votes confirming the November victory of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden who clearly won, based on Trump’s voter fraud claims rejected by every court where lawsuits were filed, state election officials, his administration’s own attorney general, etc. Even when he finally bowed to widespread pressure after several hours by telling the rioters, some in battledress and even carrying firearms, to go home, Trump repeated his meritless allegation.
What transpired had little to do with a normal, peaceful protest and was rightfully called a “shameful” chain of events, inspired by a man who cannot stand to lose and regularly bullies others to get his way. He is supposed to represent the “leader of the free world” but lately has been looking more like a dictator inciting supporters to keep him in power at all cost.
That obviously will not work, and this may have been Trump’s last political spasm, but America’s image abroad was significantly tarnished during his four years in office. That is why Biden saying Wednesday’s “assault” and “insurrection” did not reflect the country and its people was so important.
Although the latter may be true, there is nevertheless reason for concern about radical elements in US communities and their growing influence especially on younger persons, using false conspiracy theories on the Internet as a favoured tool. Fuelled by inaccurate and/or one-sided information, divisions regarding party affiliation and ideology, but also race, income, geographical location, religion, cultural background as well as between rural areas and cities deepen.
Extremism is always dangerous and seldom leads to anything positive. That is why members of both the executive and legislative branches of government should give the right example by seeking common ground rather than the kind of confrontational approaches seen over the past decade.
At the same time, the political establishment must take great care not to continue disenfranchising groups of people who felt left behind and expressed such by voting an outsider maverick lacking public service experience into the highest office of the land, with the consequences that have unfolded since.
Education and opportunity for everyone are crucial, but in general there is a great need for more compromise and less polarisation.