democraciaAbierta: Opinion

The good, the bad, and the ugly of the US Capitol insurrection

The scenes of the insurrection in the United States Capitol last Wednesday, January 6, will go down in history as the moment when the oldest and most "exceptional" democracy in the world trembled.

Daniela Sánchez
8 January 2021, 7.47pm
Jan 6, 2021; Washington, DC, USA; A person holds up a noose displayed in front of the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.
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Trevor Hughes-USA TODAY/Sipa USA/PA Images

We are all already familiar with the images of the moment when Donald Trump's supporters violently stormed and took over the house of democracy in the United States, the Capitol, during the ratification of Joe Biden's victory. For about two hours, the world stopped to watch the country that prides itself on its democracy see it crumbling before its eyes. Although the institutions withstood the coup and "order" was restored at night, these scenes leave us with much to analyze and understand.

The good

Little has been said about the good that happened just before that inconceivable insurrection broke out.

But before chaos took over, two Democratic senators won runoff elections in the state of Georgia, putting an end to the election cycle that started on November 3. Their victory represented not only the confirmation of the Democratic Party's control of the nation's legislature, but also a historic milestone: Reverend Raphael Warnock became the first Black Senator from the southern state of Georgia. In addition, Jon Ossoff, another member of a minority, in this case the Jewish minority, and a young investigative journalist, will accompany Warnock to Washington.

This victory is fundamental for the presidency of Joe Biden, as it ensures a legislature dominated by his party, which will allow his administration to pass legislation more smoothly through an increasingly polarized and gridlocked Congress. Although the Biden administration will not be immune to the infamous filibuster of the US Senate, Barack Obama's first term (2008-2012), when the president also had a Democratic majority in Congress, suggests the reach that Biden can have. It was during this period that Obama was able to pass legislation such as the Affordable Care Act and the economic Recovery Act.

Furthermore, this is historic victory: since 1984, Georgia had been a red state (except for the 1992 elections). This adds up to eight election cycles in which Georgia voted for Republican candidates. In this 2020 election cycle, Georgia turned blue by a small margin, though wide enough to take two Democrats to the Senate. Of course, this victory had been in the making for years, with forces like that of Stacey Abrams, an activist and former House representative, who had been building a platform to enfranchise Black and other minority voters in the state.

The bad

As democraciaAbierta's Director comments in an article, what happened on Capitol Hill is a strong warning about the dangers of far-right populism, which is on the rise around the world. Following the well-known “they against us” rhetoric of identifying enemy groups, the president himself incited his followers, blinded during his four years in office, to violence, intolerance, authoritarianism, fascism, violence, misogyny, racism, hatred. And all of this culminated in the insurrection we all witnessed last Wednesday.

The democracy that prided itself on being exceptional fell into the hands of its own nightmare. The conversation should not be around whether there was a coup or not, or a self-coup or not, although this is very alarming. The conversation should be around understanding the forces that weaken a democracy: the discrediting of elections, a pillar of democracy; the concentration of power in the hands of a person with disabling traits, such as pathological narcissism and intolerance, which weakens the checks and balances inherent to democracy; framing the opposition as enemy and as fake; or the systematic accusation of the press as the enemy of the people.

What happened in the US Capitol is one more wake-up call about the fragility of democracies and about the work involved in keeping them standing; a job that should never be taken for granted

These are all toxic ingredients that fueled the disaster we are witnessing, and they were all incited and led by the President of the United States. An I told you so is useless. Rather, this is a lesson about what not to do in the future; what to avoid in other democracies.

The ugly

Unfortunately, the insurrection we witnessed brought to light, without doubt and among other degrading issues, the discrimination suffered by different minorities, but especially by Black people, in the United States. Contrasts have flooded social networks: the police deployment to protect the Capitol was incomprehensibly weak. The police handling of the insurgents – mostly white men – highlights the systemic racism inside the police forces, especially when compared to the treatment of protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement during last year's protests .

As of today, January 8, 2020, not a single insurgent has been prosecuted by justice and no single person was removed in handcuffs from the Capitol on Wednesday. The Black Lives Matter protesters did not receive this treatment, as they ran into riot police in every protest, tear gas, degrading treatment and hundreds of detentions.

The wave of resignations in the administration and the denunciations of Republican congressmen and women are not and will not be enough. They were complicit in this abuse of power and racism for four years, exacerbating the discrimination that Black people in the United States face every day and that has occurred for centuries in American society.

In the end, what happened in the US Capitol is one more wake-up call about the fragility of democracies and about the work involved in keeping them standing – a job that should never be taken for granted. Confronting populist forces, both on the far-right and far-left, on the rise around the world, is a first step. The important thing will always be to keep an active watch on the quality of democracy in our political systems and those who lead them, taking into account that our vote is, in a democracy, our most powerful tool.

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