The global community, often used to hearing sermons on democracy from America, watched in utter disbelief the ugly scenes of Donald Trump’s supporters storming the United States Capitol in an unprecedented incursion bid to subjugate democracy. The mob violence, instigated by Trump himself after refusing to concede defeat in the presidential elections and repeatedly fuelling conspiracy theories, was meant to stall the joint session of Congress to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the November polls. Laying siege to the Capitol Hill to scuttle peaceful transfer of power can only be described as a coup, a term usually reserved for the Third World. The shameful episode marks a black day in the history of America and will remain a blot on democracy with a profound impact on its future foreign policies. The only time the Capitol Hill was breached was in 1814 when British troops torched it and other buildings during the height of the war. The armed attack by Trump’s supporters, representing a loony fringe of white supremacists, was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the President’s addiction to constantly stoking division to negate a clear and unequivocal public mandate. Though it is heartening that several Republican Party leaders are now coming out openly against the violence and the naked attempt to obstruct a constitutional process, the Grand Old Party has only itself to blame for allowing the situation to come to such a pass. Now, the moment of reckoning has arrived for the party. It has to choose democracy over deceit, reality over fantasy tales and take steps to extinguish the raging flames.
The ugly episode was the culmination of massive institutional failures — the Republican Party embracing Trump’s racism and bigotry; social media platforms allowing him to spread bogus conspiracy theories widely; Trump’s destruction of trust in government institutions, science, and facts; and a failed police response. For months, Trump and his band of loyalists kept up a fake narrative of election fraud and continued to baselessly lie about the outcome of a lawful election. The armed mob had been openly planning the attack for weeks on social media groups. The siege is a fit case for sedition. Trump must face the consequences for instigating it. He needs to be held accountable — through impeachment proceedings or criminal prosecution — and the same should apply for his supporters who carried out the violence. The Republican Party leaders also bear a measure of responsibility for the attack because of their active participation in spreading lies about the election, undermining public confidence in democracy, questioning the legitimacy of Biden’s victory without providing any evidence. Their statements, including the one calling for ‘trial by combat’, incited some of their supporters to indulge in violence.
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