I am lost for words, so I will try and borrow 900 odd ones for this article.
Permit me to commence by using some of Ed Luce’s words, the Financial Times’ North America Editor. Luce had earlier opined that America’s staggering COVID-19 numbers and weak response to the pandemic could be ‘traced partly to post-cold war self-congratulation — the belief that they did not have much to learn from the rest of the world’. 1945 here is a good inflection point.
The post-war global economy saw the creation of the Bretton Woods system with Washington playing a key role in shaping multilateralism.
As I wrote earlier, “American foreign policy’s shibboleth has long espoused a sense of involvement in world affairs. If there was communism, it became Washington’s concern to preclude its pervasive effect; if there was lack of democracy, Washington got involved; if there was suppression of dissent, dictatorship brewing, rioting in political capitals, it meant it aroused Washington’s ire”.
But on Wednesday, 6 January, it was Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, the leader of the world’s largest democracy, but also an emerging market, who like many others, urged for ‘orderly and peaceful transfer of power’ and cautioned that the ‘democratic process cannot be allowed to be subverted through unlawful protests’ in Washington DC.
Historical and Political Irony
Irony is funny, historical irony is something even more profound. I lived my last two months shuttling between two political hotbeds. Washington DC, the political capital where I live and work, and Atlanta, Georgia, the state which was the political battleground for the Senate Runoff, two races that decided the outlook of the Senate and tilted the balance of power and in some ways the democratic win that ignited the incendiary spark in the ire of Trump’s core base.
As Congress commenced an exercise to determine the peaceful transfer of power, a deadly chaos ensued orchestrated by a pro-Trump mob (patriotic protestors if you’re Ivanka Trump, hooligans and rioters, if you’re going to call it as you see it) who stormed the Capitol, temporarily suspending the democratic process. Trump’s supporters who clamored for a wall to be built to keep people out, wasted no time in climbing the walls of the Capitol. political irony, there you are again!
Riot, fracas, melee, coup, dwell on the most pertinent adjective if you can, but while you do that, let me put the events into perspective. The last time and the only time before Wednesday’s mayhem, where the Capitol Building was breached and raided was during the War of 1812 (in the year 1814), and that too by the British. Let this sink in!
Like historical irony, political irony is both profound and cruel. The United States, which for so long has worried about strongman autocracies around the globe, has now witnessed its commander-in-chief display pathological tendencies of political fantasies, delusional hypothesis of rigged elections and innuendos of voter suppression. All allegations have been debunked by the courts, including in states governed by Republicans, and particularly here in Georgia, where Trump displayed temerity in asking the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to ‘find enough votes to overturn his defeat in the state’.
Trump was trounced twice in the popular vote and became the third President to be impeached. Even though the proceedings were initiated, Trump was acquitted on 5 February, 2020 with charges of ‘abuse of power and obstruction of Congress’.
The US Capitol Incident
He urged his supporters at a Trump rally earlier to ‘take back our country’. He said, “The weak Republican Senators (alluding to the likes of Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell and even Kelly Loeffler, who certified the electoral college outcome) needed the support.” The ‘strong ones’ according to Trump didn’t need allies. Strong being GOP Senators, such as Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, lawyers by training with educational pedigrees – Cruz from Princeton and Harvard and Hawley from Stanford and Yale respectively – have somehow eschewed both intellectual rationality and adherence to the law and helped perpetuate Trump’s chicanery on the electoral outcome.
As bullets took precedence over ballots in Washington, President-elect Biden said this was not ‘dissent, but disorder’. Trump, perhaps out of compulsion and in a faux sense of lachrymose grandstanding, urged peace and calm. The damage had been done; Trump was trying to lock the barn door after the horse had bolted.
Political irony once again, where social media behemoths (Twitter, Facebook and YouTube), long espoused to perpetuating free speech had to suddenly take down the video, with Twitter even temporarily suspending the account of the ‘leader of the free world’; the head of a country that’s based its geopolitical reputation on the proliferation of rule of law and order.
But policy took over from politics. Hours after the fracas, Congress reconvened into the dead of the night or early in the morning (3:30 am), based on your biological clock. Trump’s deputy, Mike Pence, as Vice President and ergo President of the Senate, in Harry Potter’s Snape style of redemption from erstwhile Death Eater to member of the Order, jettisoned his boss’ ululations of voter fraud, and went ahead with the procedure to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Thus bringing an end to President Trump’s tumultuous term in office, which metaphorically played itself out as an insurrection, in Senator Romney’s words, or perhaps while we’re on the Potter trail, let’s call it the Battle of Hogwarts?
Trumpism Will Live on
What was breached was not just the Capitol Building, but the whole idea of ‘American Exceptionalism’ and the sacrosanctity of peaceful transfer of power that Washington has long codified and belabored for other fledgling democracies to adopt and for autocracies to imbibe.
Donald Trump is defeated, Congress ratified that yesterday, but the events of 6 January, evince that while Trump will soon depart, Trumpism will live on, in one form or another.
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)