The scenes at the US Capitol should distress any supporter of democracy, and have rightly attracted condemnation across the globe. That people have died in the chaos adds to the distress felt, and it is good that there has been bipartisan condemnation of such actions, that much is plain.
There will be a debate as to what this means and how that conversation should be conducted, and in the world of digital communication the battle for the dominating narrative has already begun. In this piece, I begin with the plain statement in unambiguous terms that the preservation of free and fair elections, the respectful transition of power, loser’s consent, a free press and an impartial Judiciary are pivotal in the struggle for a civilised society.
There is considerable irony in some of the commentary that has already begun. Many of the countries which proudly assert democratic values root their claim to respectability in similar events to those seen at the US Capitol. One Irish politician condemning the actions of Trump supporters had to be reminded that she was the Vice President of Sinn Féin, which has never shied away from violence to achieve its aims. But even respectable supporters of our nations’ political settlements do need to remind ourselves of our own histories: American independence was forged in civil unrest and ruler overthrow; both England and France have their executed kings and glorious revolutions, and even as we heard President Macron condemning what happened in Washington, the friends of France – of which I am one – should gently remind him that the Parisian mob, of left and right, their farmers and fishermen, and the Gilets Jaunes regularly resort to civil disorder and yet are considered a quasi-respectable part of French society.
In the United Kingdom we have seen protest groups pushing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour without police challenge, and in Parliament a Speaker abandoning impartiality and actively siding with those intent on withholding loser’s consent and using every trick in the book to deny the expressed will of the people.
It was not Trump supporters who began the destructive meme ‘Not my President’ and dubbed themselves ‘The Resistance’. Equally there has been a flight from objectivity in the media on both sides of the Atlantic, all of which adds to the ‘them and us’ narrative. You cannot support rioting in US cities and then be shocked when it arrives at places you find uncomfortable. All this needs to be reversed.
Vice President Pence has shown statesmanlike, non-partisan authority, but now has sacrificed any prospect of leading those who harbour concerns about the probity of the election. Whether it be true or not (and let us remind ourselves that election fraud is also part of US history) as Texas Senator Ted Cruz reminded his colleagues, 39% of the US people believe that the Biden election victory was tainted by electoral malpractice: 31% of independents think that, as do an extraordinary 17% of Democrats. All is not well within the body politic when there is that degree of scepticism. This needs to be addressed in a bipartisan fashion.
Senator Cruz had proposed a 10-day adjournment of the session of Congress while a commission of five Republicans, five Democrats and five Supreme Court Justices reviewed thee concerns of electoral malpractice. He pointed out that a vindication of the legitimate winners was in everybody’s interests. Had he been heeded we might have been spared the disgraceful scenes we saw yesterday.
Despite media insistence of ‘no evidence’ of voter fraud, the persistence of suspicion is a fact and that needs to be addressed. Whether Joe Biden has the integrity to do so remains to be seen.