Yesterday’s anarchy and what an anchor at CNN called an attempted coup at Capitol Hill, the seat of political power in the United States, realised the worst-case scenario of the failed Trump presidency.
To outsiders who have watched the rapid organisation of disparate groups of racists, rightwing malcontents and anarchists into a solid pro-Trump lobby, it was evident that a dangerously weaponised group had emerged within US politics. Since Trump’s defeat, the question has been whether the political centre would hold long enough to secure a successful transition to the Biden presidency. Yesterday, things fell apart in a manner that stunned the world and traumatised the population of the country that had been the world’s most vocal flag-bearer for democracy.
It was evident that having been defeated, Donald Trump had no intention of going softly into the night and was intent on making as much trouble as he could. What was stunning, however, was the extent to which he was enabled by the most senior leaders of the Republican party and assorted interests, including religious and business leaders. While few respected Trump, all were prepared to risk the danger of riding the tiger to get into power and stay there. In the end, as invariably happens, Trump proved to be a tiger they could not control.
If it had been denied before, it should now be clear that the US political system is broken. Whether it is irretrievably so remains to be seen. As disgraceful as Trump has been, a sturdier political system would have withstood presidential peeve and malice and moved on past him. Many democracies, including T&T, routinely manage the discontent of defeated leaders. However, when the leadership at every level fractures along the fault lines of partisan interests, opportunity is created for exactly what occurred in Washington yesterday as extra-parliamentary forces step in to fill the vacuum.
This is the lesson that T&T learned in 1990 when the weakness of the political system carried the country to the cliff’s edge to an attempted coup. We were lucky to have retreated without much permanent damage to an admittedly weak political system. That experience underscored why a country needs responsible leaders at every level and in every sector who can rise above self-interest to stand on the side of the national interest.
In the US, that has clearly not been the case. The failure of Republican leaders to stand by the constitution and speak truth to Trump was largely responsible for enabling the mobilisation that erupted on Capitol Hill yesterday. In due course, the money trails that financed the assault of the US institutions of political power will also be revealed.
Notably, on a day when the risk of violent disruption would have been elevated by the outcomes of two decisive run-off elections and the certification of the election establishing Joe Biden as president, the security at Capitol Hill was weak enough to be overpowered by pro-Trump supporters. This alone warrants investigation.
We hope the US finds its feet quickly, puts down this attack on its democracy and begins to work its way to the more perfect union that it aspires to be.