Updated: January 16, 2021 9:19:11 am
Outgoing US President Donald Trump must take a large share of the responsibility and blame for the violence unleashed by the mob at the Capitol in Washington DC on January 6. He continues to deny that he has lost the presidential election and directly incited his supporters on the day Joe Biden’s victory was to be officially confirmed by Congress. As such, the US Congress’s decision to serve him with Articles of Impeachment — for an unprecedented second time in as many years — is an important moment. At least 10 Republicans in Congress broke ranks and voted for impeachment. While his trial in the Senate may not conclude before he demits office on January 20 — the Republican-majority upper house meets for a full session only from January 19 — the impeachment carries great symbolic value. However, the focus on Trump and the impeachment must not distract the world’s oldest democracy from a reckoning with the deeper, systemic issues that led up to the Capitol siege.
The complicities and failures of political parties, institutions of state and American civil society in the face of the Trump disruption cannot be brushed under the carpet once he demits office. The Republicans supported a leader who lied repeatedly, often ruled by executive fiat, undermined institutions at home and did his best to dismantle the US’s role and commitments in the international arena. The role of law enforcement agencies in the attack on the Capitol stands in sharp contrast to the way they dealt with the Black Lives Matter protests — some policemen were seen taking selfies with those who stormed the legislature on January 6. The role of social media, which amplified Trump’s voice and where algorithms reward controversy and encourage polarisation, must also be examined.
The charge against Trump is “inciting an insurrection”, but the conditions that made that incitement possible will not disappear without serious work and dialogue, in society and politics. The US, which has often sought to “export” democracy and lectured others on the merits of a liberal order, must realise now that democracy is not just hard won but also hard maintained. And it must face the fact that the divisiveness that Trump exploited is embedded deeply in American society and politics. In 2008, when Barack Obama was elected, there was a feeling in the US that America had turned the corner on racism. That, as the White supremacist crowd at the Capitol showed, was not the case. It would be a mistake to think that Trump’s loss — or even his impeachment — alone can address Trumpism, that toxic mix of populism, executive high-handedness, and bigotry.
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