The Pillars of Democracy Appear Fragile

The U.S. has come dangerously close to civil war. Donald Trump will soon leave, but the hatred he has fomented will remain, and continue to threaten the political system.

The halls of the U.S. Capitol are practically sacred to Americans; thousands visit every year and express awe and pride. The statues and paintings tell of the light and dark moments in United States history, but above all, they emphasize the positive. The building with its huge dome stands for a meticulously crafted system of government meant to bring people together, a government that, that grants power, but also controls how it is used and prevents its abuse. The Capitol symbolizes the dignity and dispassionate nature of the institutions that have endured, even in times of turbulence.

On Wednesday, an enraged mob stormed those hallowed halls in the temple of democracy. The intruders were egged on by the U.S. president himself. Donald Trump violated his oath of office and provided new reasons for immediate impeachment and criminal investigation.* Trump has tried on high to orchestrate a coup for months. And so, in the hours before sunset on Jan. 6 in Washington, everyone who stands for democracy looked into the abyss together. The warning of this event will be remembered for a long time: Even the oldest democracies can end when large groups of society no longer want democracy.

Trump Has Violated the Constitution and Tradition

The reassuring thing is that American democracy still stands. It was resilient enough to weather the recent attack in particular, and Trumpism in general, at least for now. Security initially failed, but order was restored.

In the meantime, Congress established by a majority vote that Joe Biden won the presidential election, something that has been indisputably evident for almost two months. Trump finally announced that he would hand over power in an orderly manner. However, he will not only leave as a loser, but as a man who has violated the Constitution and the norms of government. Something approaching normalcy should return to politics under President Biden; at least dignity, a willingness to talk, a civilized tone.

The worrying thing is that the United States, this longstanding and unshakable democracy, came close to suffering a coup, a civil war, during Trump’s time in office. Trump pressured the Georgia secretary of state and even his own vice president to falsify or simply disregard a legal election result. He lied to his followers and sent them to the Capitol in a frenzy. If it had been up to him, he would have ignored Biden’s multimillion-vote lead, something which would have led to riots and ultimately armed conflict.

Many Consider Being an Enemy of the State a Compliment

The ease with which his supporters invaded the Capitol, some with Confederate flags and without masks, shows how much contempt they have for the political system and how much they felt personally empowered by the president to violently act against the government.

This disdain is not new. It has been visible at least since the financial crisis and the initial success of the tea party. This radical element of the Republican Party was already acting as if the government in Washington was at least as bad as the British colonial power had been. It purported to recapture the country from a corrupt elite. To be an enemy of the state, at least an enemy of this state, was considered a compliment in these circles. The Republican Party has never managed to get a grip on this anti-establishment element.

Trump took advantage of the disgust for the Washington establishment, the allegedly inflated state, the self-serving elite and the political correctness. As so many cynics have done, he manipulated the potential for outrage within the party and on its fringes. Politicians like Trump, but also America’s right-leaning media, have hammered Americans for decades that something is fundamentally wrong in the country. That dark forces are at work in the financial world. That the Democrats were betraying the interests of white Americans. That the latest election was “stolen.”

The Current President Deserves To Be Criminally Prosecuted

Trump owes his presidency to this anger. He continued to fuel this anger to secure his office. He stirred up hatred for the establishment, the institutions, everyone who contradicted him. This policy ultimately and very predictably culminated in the storming of Congress.

The storm is over for now, and Trump will soon leave the White House in shame and disgrace. But the hatred will remain. There will be new cynics in the media and in politics who will fan the hatred with lies, conspiracy theories and agitation. But a democracy in which one political camp hates the other more than it loves democracy will always be threatened.

It is now high time to put an end to the excesses of the past few years. In the wake of the Washington uprising, a number of Republicans have already moderated their tone and pledged allegiance to the Constitution. This correction, which comes much too late, should be permanent. Respect for truth, decency and the law should become the core of political activity again. The courts need to prosecute e and condemn the intruders, but they must prosecute and condemn their leader, the sitting president, who deserves to be impeached and tried for his crimes.*

However, none of this will let us forget what became apparent on Jan. 6. The pillars of the U.S. Capitol suddenly appear to be fragile.

*Editor’s note: The House of Representatives impeached Donald Trump for a second time on Jan. 13.

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