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An assault against US democracy

The storming of the Capitol building by a pro-Trump mob evidences the dangers of polarization

Supporters of US President Donald Trump protesting inside the US Capitol on January 6 after breaching security.
Supporters of US President Donald Trump protesting inside the US Capitol on January 6 after breaching security.SAUL LOEB / AFP

American democracy, with its admirable centuries of history and the honor of having produced the biggest world power of the last century, on Wednesday experienced one of its darkest days in decades. Pro-Trump protesters, incited by the president himself, stormed the Capitol building just as the representatives of national sovereignty were gathered in a joint session to certify the results of the presidential election won by the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden. It was the horrible result of years of systematic efforts by the national-populist business magnate to encourage polarization within US society. Years of consistently pouring fuel on the foundations of civic coexistence finally sparked a terrible blaze within the temple of American democracy itself.

The session that was being held within its walls evidenced the divisions within the Republican Party, which has yielded to the excesses of the outgoing president for the last four years, and which is little by little attempting to come out of the populist leader’s shadow. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, and Vice-President Mike Pence both refused to back Trump’s attempts to shortcircuit Biden’s official confirmation as the next president of the US following an election victory that’s been certified by scrutinies, recounts and multiple judicial decisions. Still, a few representatives of that once-respectable party kept trying to obstruct the process, following the dictates of the president. It was then that a mob overtook the premises.

Years of consistently pouring fuel on the foundations of civic coexistence finally sparked a terrible blaze within the temple of American democracy itself

Meanwhile, the country was also closely following runoff races in the state of Georgia for two decisive seats in the Senate. The first one had already been won by the Democratic Party and the second one was on its way to doing so by a small margin, when the mob attack took place. The Senate seat was awarded around two hours later, paving the way for a profound political change in a country that has given Democrats a majority in both chambers.

Against this backdrop of extreme political tension, Trump’s irresponsible attitude has led to an embarrassing climax with gravely undemocratic overtones. By questioning election results and democratic institutions without any rational basis for doing so, it is now evident that the outgoing president has created a terrible wound in American society. It is not just about the radicals who stormed the parliamentary premises, but about the millions of citizens who, while unwilling to go to such extremes, nevertheless have lost faith in democracy because of the blatant lies of a president who has been unworthy of the power he won at the polls.

A tough task of national reconstruction lies ahead. Because of his experience and disposition, Joe Biden appears to be a well-placed person to attempt it. But the damage is enormous. It will be fundamental for all democrats in the country to come together to isolate the democracy-eroding virus embodied by Donald Trump. It is up to the Republican Party first to completely sever its ties with that harmful individual and restore the nobility that has defined much of its history. Civil society as a whole must also cooperate in this effort.

The lesson could not be any clearer for Western democracies. The price of polarization is extremely high. It would be wrong to underestimate it.

English version by Susana Urra.

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