democraciaAbierta: Opinion

Donald Trump, the scorpion, and the assault on the shining city on the hill

The assault on the Capitol shook American democracy for a few hours. The lesson democracies should learn is: Beware of voting for a scorpion because it will end up stinging you.

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Francesc Badia i Dalmases
8 January 2021, 4.11pm
January 6, 2021, Washington, District of Columbia, USA: Security forces respond with tear gas after supporters of President Donald Trump violated Capitol security.
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Probal Rashid/Zuma Press/PA Images

Wednesday, January 6 2021 was a day that will live in infamy in the history of the United States. The culmination of the assault on the temple of American democracy by hordes of fanatics spurred on by a demented egomaniac exemplifies how liberal democracies can be killed without the need to be shot down by an outside enemy. The most cynical and self-destructive national populism seen since the Russian Revolution and the rise of fascism in Europe attempted to assault American democracy and forcibly reverse the legitimate outcome of democratic elections. It almost succeeded.

This is unheard of in a republic that has been, since its foundation, the world reference for a system of government based on the constitutional order, which consecrates the people as sovereign, the rule of law, separation of powers, and which free, direct, periodic and transparent elections are the basis of its legitimacy.

During the 20th century, putting an end to liberal democracy as the worst system of government, if we exclude all the others (Churchill dixit), was a task to which first Hitler and Nazism, and then the late USSR, applied themselves with determination. For the Soviets, Western-style democracy was nothing more than a corrupt, bourgeois order designed to shore up the capitalist system based on capital's exploitation of the working class. But the USSR failed, and the wall came tumbling down.

The vacuum left by the USSR collapse was filled by al-Qaeda when it symbolically attacked the heart of capitalism represented by New York's Twin Towers. That catastrophic event gave rise to the first decade of the 21st century marked by the war against Islamic terrorism whose fantasy was the establishment of a Universal Caliphate, which would, at last, put an end to the great Satan, personified by the United States.

For the American empire, having an external enemy as clear as Bin Laden justified continuing its overwhelming global military deployment and spending trillions of dollars on wars it could not win, but which continued to enrich an American industry in the hands of a few unscrupulous businessmen.

His Republican colleagues heard him shout his attacks on democracy, and they fell silent. That is why they are also guilty of what happened now.

But given that, in the end, Al Qaeda and its people had no real capacity to overthrow Western democracy, seeking a new enemy was the solution proposed by far-right populism, a rising political movement around the world, which took advantage of the mature phase of globalization and the great financial crisis of 2008 to deepen the resentment of those left out.

China was to blame for the ills of globalization and the lack of jobs, and the migrants were also targeted as responsible for steeling jobs, especially Latino migrants. But, to these external enemies we had to add an internal enemy, and Donald Trump, an outsider who won the elections in 2016 against all odds, found it in his political rivals: the Democrats.

Trump, a dubious and abusive character who grew up in the shadow of real estate scams and television fame, embodies a perverse part of the American dream that claims that anyone can become rich and famous in the land of opportunity and that there is nothing perverse about conquering power for your benefit and that of your family at any price.

Trump handled the immense power given to him by the White House arrogantly and disdainfully, and dazzled millions of Americans with his lying and manipulative rhetoric, using any means to exalt his figure above everyone and everything. But his transactional view of human relations, based on a ruthless epic where anything goes in a zero-sum game, and where lying at all costs and crushing people is part of the progress in business and life. That can serve to build a real estate empire, where speculation and massive tax evasion is the engine of profit, but it does not serve to govern a country.

It is not understood how the Republican Party, the "Great Old Party" of Abraham Lincoln, could have been thrown into the hands of such a psychopathic character and not see the danger that it represented for democracy and its institutions. During Trump's four years, we have witnessed the worst of politics, which consists of blindly flattering the leader with unwavering personal loyalty, with the sole objective of thriving and retaining the position.

But, when the moment of truth came in a democracy, represented by the ballot box and the possibility of alternation in power, all the masks fell. And Trump said, as he did say in the 2016 election, that if he were not the winner, there could be only one reason why: massive fraud. His Republican colleagues heard him shout this attack on democracy, and they fell silent. That is why they are also guilty of what happened now.

A Donald Trump supporter climbs the walls of the United States Capitol during the Trump inspired insurgency.
Un partidario de Donald Trump escala los muros del Capitolio de los Estados Unidos durante el mitin pro-Trump. | SOPA Images/SIPA USA/PA Images

And the election results came in on November 3, 2020. Trump lost the popular vote in a landslide. He got 7 million fewer votes than his Democratic rival and 74 fewer electoral votes. I won! Massive fraud! Our elections were stolen! he shouted at once, in what some thought was the tantrum of a badly losing egomaniac. But it was not a simple tantrum, but the flagrant demonstration that the character, a caudillo in form and substance, never believed in democracy. Trump ruled as an autocrat and ended his mandate in the worst way possible.

By calling one of his show rallies in Washington and inciting his most fanatical followers to march on the neighboring Capitol on the same day the people's representatives formally ratified the ballot box's verdict, Donald terminated the most dangerous presidency in the history of the United States. He attempted a fringe coup d'état and got away with it. This is something that American administrations have encouraged many times in Latin America (and beyond) but never imagined could happen in their home.

It's a spectacle worthy of a banana republic! said many congressmen and television commentators as they watched the unworthy spectacle of hundreds of trumpeters vandalizing the Capitol. But that resonated offensively in many corners of Latin America, which know well that the banana republic is a medicine that Americans have hypocritically applied by blood and fire to those they have always considered morally inferior to their sacred America, that shining place on the hill.

January 6th, 2021 was undoubtedly one of the darkest days in the century-old history of American democracy and showed how democracies could die from within. And while the institutions have proven to be robust, the lesson learned for democracies can only be one: beware of voting for a scorpion because it will end up stinging you.

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