Unity at the top can begin America’s healing process
The world will take time to internalize and digest the events on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Anyone who was shocked has not been watching. Did they forget the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017? There was no shortage of warnings.
The assault on the Capitol could have happened earlier. It could have been far more violent. Two pipe bombs were found in Washington and thankfully rendered safe. What if the protesters had used firearms? It is a salient reminder that most acts of terrorism in the US are perpetrated by far-right groups, not Muslims. Imagine what the reaction would have been if black or Muslim groups had stormed the US Capitol, as opposed to the scenes of police calmly escorting the thugs out of the building seen this week.
This matters. Washington has acted as the lodestar for democratic countries since at least 1945. The images of thug-like far-right extremists carrying Confederate flags and sporting Nazi emblems should be seared in our collective memories.
This may inspire more copycat movements, such as branches of the Proud Boys or Oath Keepers in Europe. Far-right groups may consider seizing centers of political power in their own countries. Will parliaments start to look like military camps rather than centers of democratic life, where elected politicians commune with voters?
Dictators will be purring. President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China will be thrilled. Many states will point to these scenes as justification for ignoring future American criticism of their practices.
This was a colossal failure of the entire American political class and much of its media. It is a failure that did not start in 2016 and it will not end on Jan. 20, 2021. Yes, President Donald Trump was the cheerleader for this movement. But he was not a lone actor. An entire ecosystem backed him up.
Out of this mayhem, the US could head in any number of directions. It could continue along this path of violent division and polarization, which would suck the oxygen out of the incoming Biden administration even as it struggles with a pandemic.
The media and social media worlds could continue to foment these divisions, with different segments of the population remaining in silos listening only to themselves. The media has to restore trust in its reporting. Truth and facts have to recapture some value. One is minded of George Orwell’s warning: “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.”
Storming of the Capitol could become a seminal moment, preventing anything similar from ever happening again.
But the more optimistic outcome is that the American people will wake up and take action. It could become a seminal moment in US democratic renewal, preventing anything similar from ever happening again.
This will require leadership and a colossal national bipartisan effort. It will not involve the use of the 25th amendment to remove the president — unless matters deteriorate — nor will any move for impeachment prosper. The likes of Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell have to get the message to the Republican heartlands that the election was not stolen. It requires legal processes to re-establish the rule of law, starting with those who breached the center of American democracy and ransacked the offices of elected representatives.
The Democrats must also play their part. Having won control of the Senate following the Georgia runoffs, they now have the grave responsibility of power. They may feel bitter about the Republicans’ behavior in enabling what has happened, but the bigger picture must be clear: America needs healing. It is time for its leaders to unite and work together.
- Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding. Twitter: @Doylech