Rasheeda Bhagat

A Capitol jolt to democracy

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on January 11, 2021 Published on January 11, 2021

Egged on by the President himself, the attack appears to have been planned for weeks on pro-Trump social media sites

Parody messages on social media such as “Afghanistan and Senegal to send peacekeeping troops to US” after the attack on Capitol Hill in Washington, drove home the full impact of the blow on an icon of democracy in a country which has always taken pride in its democratic institutions. Another message said: “Now Mexico says it will pay for that wall. And Canada wants one too.”

Last week, we saw incredible images of US President Donald Trump’s supporters — incited by the man himself, asking them to “fight like hell” to overturn the results of the recent US election — pushing through barricades to cause chaos at this ‘citadel’ of democracy. After a wild “Save America” rally called by Trump, thousands stormed the building where the US Congress was meeting to certify Joe Biden as the 46th US president.

With a sense of disbelief, the rest of the world watched images of Trump’s supporters climbing on top of the Capitol, ransacking offices of Senators and Congressmen, waving Confederate flags, peddling Trump’s false narrative on election fraud and calling him the real winner.

Addressing a “Save America Rally” outside the White House, Trump had ranted: “Our election victory has been stolen by the bold and radical Democrats and the fake news media. Third World countries, their elections are more honest… it’s a disgrace. We will never give up, we will never concede.” This was sufficient instigation for the violence that followed.

Impending impeachment

There is likelihood of impeachment proceedings being initiated against Trump; the polls favour his removal, which is unlikely as it requires a two-thirds House vote. No US president has ever been removed thus, nor has one been impeached twice, as will happen if the impeachment is initiated.

For a couple of months now, Trump has been posting ridiculous and preposterous messages on social media, particularly Twitter, on how this election has been “stolen” from him by ‘fraud’. In recent weeks, many of his messages have been removed for containing falsehood, and now his account has been banned by both Facebook and Twitter. Notably, this has caused consternation in a section of our own right wing about the “danger” of allowing this kind of “freedom” to big tech companies!

But the attack on Capitol Hill, which left four people dead, did not just materialise out of thin air. It had been planned for weeks on social media sites such as Parler, Gab and other pro-Trump Internet sites, with his supporters posting messages of the impending “revolution”.

Some anonymous messages had talked about ‘dispatching’ Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Vice-President Mike Pence, and Supreme Court Judge John Roberts. And many of the rioters who were finally detained after the ruckus were caught with ammunition and hand-cuffs, apparently to “arrest” the Congressmen who failed to stop the ratification of Biden’s victory!

Different rules

That this kind of an assault would happen on one of the most iconic American buildings, which has long being touted as a citadel of democracy is more tragic than frightening. That security can be breached so easily in a building where US lawmakers were present, and in a country that has put in place so many layers of security after the 9/11 terror attacks, is really astonishing.

Also intriguing is the kid glove with which the security personnel dealt with the hooligans, most of them white supremacists. But, then, as the Black Lives Matter leaders pointed out, the mostly white American police force has different rules for dealing with whites, blacks and Asians. No prizes for guessing who the Trump supporters are.

In interviews with the CNN, the protestors struck a righteous note with most of them audaciously asking, “what other choice did we have to set right a fraudulent election” Another added, “We are doing this to save our freedom and prevent his country from becoming a socialist republic!”

While we in India can still be proud about our government falling by one vote as happened to the Vajpayee government in 1999, and Vajpayee accepting that verdict with grace, right now we don’t have much to crow about our democratic institutions. Least of all the media, which in the US doggedly and effectively did its job for four years, flaying Trump for both his arrogance and stupidity when warranted. In contrast, on home turf, the bulk of Indian media just crumbled and caved in when confronted by an authoritarian state machinery, and even bullying in the name of cow vigilantism, love jihad and such atrocities.

Will the fourth pillar of our democracy ever regain its spine and dignity is a moot question.

 

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Published on January 11, 2021
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