6 January 2021 will be recorded as one of the darkest days in American history. American democracy was violently attacked. When the US Capitol was captured by a mob of protestors, the world was stunned. It was a coup d'état that took place at President Donald Trump’s instigation. Many people feel saddened, perplexed, and even angry. How could such a thing happen in the US, “a city upon a hill”?
As Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations pointed out, if the post-American era has a start point, it is almost certainly 6 January. The rioting at the Capitol will severely damage the global image of the US. From now on, no one in the world is likely to see, respect, or depend on the US in the same way again.
This incident leaves one with many questions. First of all, if the violent storming of the Capitol was premeditated, why were the police and security forces so unprepared and defenceless? The police had already known that there would be a large pro-Trump protest on 6 January. The Capitol police claimed unbelievably that they had not received any information in advance that the Capitol would be under siege. During the largely peaceful “Black Lives Matter” protests in June 2020 following the death of George Floyd, the Capitol and other key buildings in Washington, DC were heavily guarded with layers of police and security forces, even though Congress was not the target.
They lost reason and blasphemed democracy, attempting to change the election results through violence. They are a disgrace to the US and a laughing stock of the international community.
The US should have been better prepared
The purpose of the pro-Trump rioting on 6 January was to disrupt the congressional certification of the presidential election results, and the target was the US Congress. Why did the police not strengthen the protection of the Capitol and members of Congress? The mob broke through the defences easily and barged into the Capitol where lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence were meeting, posing a direct threat to the personal safety of Pence and lawmakers as well as national security. The vulnerability of security in key institutions of the US government has been exposed. What if spies and terrorists were among the rioters? Can Washington survive a surprise attack by domestic and foreign terrorists?
Secondly, over 74 million American voters cast their support for Trump during the 2020 US presidential election. How many of them would still support him after the rioting? According to a YouGov poll on 6 January, one out of every five US voters supported the violent attack on Congress. Among Republicans, this proportion was as high as 45%, which is truly shocking. As the Chinese saying goes, when the upper beam is not straight, the lower beam will be crooked (上梁不正下梁歪). Some rioters have been arrested and fired, but Trump is the culprit. Trump and his indiscriminate supporters have severely undermined the American electoral system and aggravated social division. They lost reason and blasphemed democracy, attempting to change the election results through violence. They are a disgrace to the US and a laughing stock of the international community.
In the aftermath of the rioting, some staunch Trump supporters such as Senator Lindsey Graham have criticised the violence and opposed Trump’s attempts to distort the election results. Although Trump’s days in office are numbered, some cabinet members and officials including Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and Deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger chose to resign to distance themselves from Trump.
Facing widespread condemnation and possible forced removal from office or impeachment, Trump changed his rhetoric about the mob, from tweeting his “love” of these “special” people, to accusing them of their violence. Clearly, in order to protect himself, he dumped the protestors who supported him.
Trump refused to attend Biden’s inauguration on 20 January. He and his fanatic followers will certainly not stop here. There may be more riots and violence in the days ahead.
Images from the scene show that some Asians participated in the storming of the Capitol. This will likely be portrayed by far-right media and politicians in the US as evidence of foreign (Chinese) interference in American internal affairs. Notably, there were also pro-Trump demonstrations outside the US recently, including in Tokyo and Taipei. Though these people have their freedom of speech, it is hard to understand why Trump, who is known as a habitual liar, is worth their support.
Thirdly, to what extent will Trump and his fervent supporters disrupt and sabotage the Biden administration? At the end of his presidency, Trump staged a botched performance like those by shrews and hooligans. He not only challenged the democratic system and incited populism, but also assaulted the international order during his term, leaving an extremely harmful impact on the world. Trump refused to attend Biden’s inauguration on 20 January. He and his fanatic followers will certainly not stop here. There may be more riots and violence in the days ahead.
Unrest now added to Biden’s full plate
Controlling the Covid-19 pandemic is supposed to be Biden's top priority, but now he must deal with the mess left behind by Trump and prevent more unrest, which obviously will distract the new administration’s efforts to combat the pandemic. On 7 January, the number of deaths due to the novel coronavirus in the US exceeded 4,000 in a single day, setting a new record. The pandemic is so severe, and Trump is still causing so much trouble, how can ordinary Americans take it?
People outside should not rejoice in America’s misfortune, nor should they underestimate America’s ability to repair and improve itself. The American society will enter a period of self-reflection and soul searching. American democracy, though tarnished, is not doomed.
Finally, what is the future of American democracy? It is encouraging that after the Capitol rioting subsided, Congress resumed operation the same night and officially confirmed the election of Biden. This is a manifestation of maturity and resilience of American democracy.
People outside should not rejoice in America’s misfortune, nor should they underestimate America’s ability to repair and improve itself. The American society will enter a period of self-reflection and soul searching. American democracy, though tarnished, is not doomed. The “beacon of hope” may not be as bright as before, but it will continue to shine and inspire. The US remains a solidly-founded democratic society, and the perverse actions of Trump and the mobsters cannot stop the progress of history.
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