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American ‘Beacon of Democracy’ –the Capitol Falls

After two centuries, violent rioters once again stormed the US Capitol. In 1814, British troops fought their way to Washington, where they burned several American government buildings, including the Capitol. This time, however, the invaders are Trump supporters from different parts of the United States.

The Capitol, symbol of democracy in America, was built by united Americans, but overnight, it became the target of the mobs. Although people had long been aware that Trump frequently instigated his supporters to protest against the election certification, and the Mayor of Washington had announced a clear warning as well, they were still extremely astonished when the movie scene came to real life. Does this country still have a highly mature and stable democratic system which made its people so proud? What falls along with the Capitol is the so-called ‘‘beacon of democracy’’ that the United States has been striving to build.

The foremost force behind this riot came from the White House. Since the American elections on November 4, 2020, the White House has become the eye of the storm. Claiming voter fraud, taking legal actions, pressuring Georgia Secretary of State to recount election votes, calling for supporters to ‘march on Washington’, Trump did not perform like an incumbent president, but more like an opponent and rebel of the existing system. In the eyes of some Americans, the results of the elections are no longer important and credible, and their self-identification and self-admiration are the only truth. After the Capitol was cleared, Senator Romney blamed the riots on “a selfish president with impaired self-esteem and his angry supporters”. Such a scene has never occurred in American history during the transition of power.

The real booster of this farce is the serious political polarization of the United States. In such environment, to make different social groups reaching consensus is difficult. In face of almost all political, economic, and social issues, the American society is made up of evenly divided camps wrestling with each other. Tolerance and pluralism are no longer regarded as virtues, but as cowardice and surrender. Are those who captured the US Congress ‘thugs’ or ‘heroes’? After this election, the political worries caused by the torn-out American society aroused great concern among analysts, but at that time most people did not believe the disaccord could cause a serious public conflict. Now, the violent storm has turned political worries into a shocking reality.

For President-elect Biden, the impact could be huge. How to reconstruct the US political system and reshape US global leadership will become two major problems facing the new administration. To handle the America’s domestic situation, the key lies in whether the new American government can completely break from Trumpism, whether it can effectively respond to the pandemic, whether it can resume economic growth, and whether it can bridge the chasm in society. Good news for Biden’s team is that the Democrats will get command of both the White House and the Houses of Congress, while the top Republicans have changed their previous hesitation on Trump’s political legacy and quickly draw a line with President Trump after the violence in Congress. However, even if the White House changes hands, the situation of American political polarization will not disappear. Without Trump, Trumpism will still affect low-and-middle income groups and conservatives.

To rebuild American global leadership, establishment elites in the US have very high expectations on the Biden administration. It is clear the same difficulties will recur. One important factor is that the appeal of the American democracy to the world has been greatly damaged. The domestic situation of a country is the foundation of its diplomacy. This time, the storm in the Capitol has pulled the American political system off the altar. How can a country with many domestic problems be able to take the responsibility of a global leader?

After the riots, American politicians stood up to condemn violence and call for unity. The Republican and Democratic parties reached a rare consensus this time. The roots of the problem that caused the chaos have not been resolved. In fact, once the “beacon of democracy” falls, it will never be easily re-established again.

Contributed by Huang Haitao, Nankai University, Department of International Relations

Translated by Ren Meiqi

[ Editor: Zhang Zhou ]