Damage done

Why the insurrection in Washington DC on 6 January surprised people is surprising.

The fire of discontent has been around for decades and fuelling it was part of Donald Trump’s strategy of dividing and ruling and undermining the democratic system of government.

An insurrectionist in the Speaker’s Chair in the Senate chamber. From the January 9 2021 weekly edition
of
The Economist.

Reputation damaged

Seeing armed people waving Confederate flags and running rampant in the Congress building was sickening. It was an insult to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who died in wars fighting for democracy and undermined the United States’ reputation as a beacon of democracy. Such scenes were unthinkable before Trump. To some, they were unthinkable last week. 

The insurrectionists, incited by President Trump,  who had sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution, stormed the Congress to prevent the ratification of the election for president and subvert the will of the people. Eighty-one million of the 158 million of cast votes electors voted for Joe Biden, 51.3 percent of the vote and Trump 46.9 percent. The popular vote and Electoral College result of 306-232 was clear.

The people responsible for counting the votes say the election was fair and secure. Trump challenged the Pennsylvania result, but Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said her state “held a free, fair, and secure election, with extraordinary transparency at every stage.”

Another State in which Trump alleged ballot fraud, Georgia, its Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said: “We had fair, honest elections in Georgia.”

Split

Eleven Republican senators, led by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, staged an ill-fated attempt to have the election result overturned because of “unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities”. The attempt was a stunt Cruz knew would fail. Its purpose was not its stated intention but to signal Cruz will be a candidate for Republican Party nomination for president in 2024. He is making a bid for the Trump base driven by alienation, distrust of government and belief rather than facts.   

On the other side, representatives of what the Republican used to be, exemplified by Senator Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 candidate for President. These Republicans deal in logic, reason and facts.

Legitimacy

One unpalpable fact is 70 percent of Republicans don’t think the election was free and fair.  Voters who don’t have faith in the electoral system, which is what Trump wanted, casts doubt about the election result and the legitimacy of President-Elect Biden.

President-Elect Biden has an enormous task to unite the Disunited States. The Administration, Congress members, and Senators must address the concerns of the alienated. They are not going away.

A parallel

In another country at another time, a group of insurrectionists attempted to overthrow a government. They failed and the legal authorities charged their leader with treason. He defended himself in court, which he used as a platform to propagate his views that propelled him overnight from a small-time state political player to a national identity. He was sentenced to five years’ jail but released after nine months. He wrote his memoir during his incarceration.

A decade later, in 1933, Adolf Hitler was the Chancellor of Germany.

His opponents and even right-wing political leaders did not take him seriously, right up to the eve he became leader of his country. When a colleague warned Franz von Papen, Hitler’s deputy chancellor, Von Papen said: “You are mistaken. We’ve hired him”.

Hindsight isn’t available when we make decisions, but the lessons of history are and we ignore them at our peril.

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