What Consequences Will Capitol Takeover Have for US and Rest of World?

“Just like everyone, like everyone, like everyone,

I walk, I walk along the ground”

— Leonid Derbenov, Soviet songwriter

The most notable thing about the recent events in Washington is the reaction of people who ask how something like this could happen in the United States. Behind that reaction, one can discenr the assumption that in spite of all the social and political problems that have accumulated in recent years in the U.S., just as they have throughout the world, the thesis still holds true: there’s America and then there’s the rest. Among the rest, the flaws are natural and expected, even if they are well-established democracies. America has no such flaws, for it is by definition a model that doesn’t have the right to “screw up.”

A perception that it is an exceptional power lies at the foundation of American political culture; the society and the state arose a couple of centuries ago out of such self-identification. That’s how Americans are raised. And this phenomenon makes itself felt at literally every step. Even Donald Trump, asking his supporters to leave the Capitol, emphasized, “You are special.” Don’t even get me started on the liberal part of the political spectrum, which is convinced that the United States, by virtue of its exceptionalism, is simply obliged to bring light to humanity. Hence the shock: How has it come to this? And hence the wave of explanations about why the rioting took place near and inside the Capitol, although similar to events in other countries, is in fact something totally, totally different. The CNN website devoted special commentary to the latter idea. Although some see “superficial similarities” to events in other countries, “what’s happening in America is uniquely American. It is that country’s monster,” it reported.

It’s easy to understand the anxiety if we relate the problem of exceptionalism to the world system of recent decades. Following the end of the Cold War, the U.S. occupied a truly unique place in the international hierarchy as a global hegemon. No other power in history has achieved such power. A pillar of this position, in addition to enormous military and economic power, was the role as one who bore the adjustment of the worldview. From it flowed the right to certify the form of government in other countries and to influence them with the aim of correcting their behavior; to influence, as is well known from practice, by various means up to and including direct military intervention. We won’t analyze the pros and cons of such a world order now. What is essential is that a “dogma of the infallibility” of the world leader was an important element of it. That’s why American observers are so concerned about the impact of the events at the Capitol and, in general, the Trump presidency, on America’s international standing.

If we take a step back from these points, there’s nothing surprising about the post-election riot. Moreover, in part from the magic touch of the U.S. itself, a kind of new political tradition has emerged in the 21st century. The election saga doesn’t end when the votes are counted and the winner is declared. It ends after the side that lost has, at the very least, tried to challenge the result with the help of street politics. And Western capitals, first and foremost Washington, have consistently emphasized the legitimacy of such behavior for those who believe elections were “stolen.” Yes, this concerned mainly countries with shaky institutions and unconsolidated democracies. But where are institutions in any other condition and democratic foundations not being tested for their strength today? The whole world today is so unstable that no one is immune from shock.

There’s a second reason for the increasing instability of traditional institutions. They worked effectively in a situation where information was unambiguous, either on account of reliable control over the flow of information, or because people trusted the sources of information. Now both are under increasing scrutiny. Media technology dramatically increases the transparency of everything around us, but it creates multiple realities and makes endless room for manipulation. Institutions must have indisputable credibility to withstand the new environment. And it cannot be said that these institutions are being completely destroyed, but the pressure on them is so great that it’s pointless to demand impeccable work.

The U.S. is coping with the challenges posed by the modern environment no better and no worse than others. To be more precise, in some areas it’s coping better and in some areas worse. And that would be perfectly normal if America didn’t feel the need for constant affirmation of its exceptionalism, that it is special. And when it turns out the opposite is true (the United States is like everyone else, albeit with its own particular characteristics), one reacts with shock. And immediately thereafter comes a burning desire to find and punish the perpetrators, and it’s highly desirable that in the process, it turns out that the perpetrators are fulfilling a foreign agenda. We are very familiar with the way it works from experience in Russia, but it has a stronger and more impassioned motivation: At stake, after all, is not simply a desire to get away with failure, but a need to prove that one is blameless.

A period of full-fledged revenge by the Democrats has arrived in American politics, in particular for the next two years at least until the 2022 midterm elections, as the Democrats won complete control of the White House and Congress. The Trumpists scared the hell out of the ruling class and in the end, they were even set up by invading the Capitol, so there is a perfect pretext for a purge. The No. 1 target is Trump himself, who must be demonstratively destroyed politically, and better yet economically as well, in order to keep others from encroaching on the sanctity of the establishment. But it won’t work to stop at Trump; something must be done with his many supporters. The clumsy end of his presidency allows the Trumpists to be attacked as enemies of the republic and democracy. The Democratic Party will use every means to demoralize its most diehard opponents, especially since the Republican Party itself is in deep disarray. In the end, Trump pushed away almost all of his supporters within the top ranks of the party, although he remains popular among ordinary supporters.

In any case, the country will conduct a demonstrative “putting things in order” and restoration of the foundations of democracy to regain its status as a standard bearer. The argument is already clear: We managed to escape a terrifying combined threat to our democracy from outside and from within, and now we have earned the right to show everyone how to stand against the enemies of democracy itself. Joe Biden’s idea of convening a “summit for democracy” this year is taking on the characteristics of an extraordinary congress for rallying the troops against the enemies of progress.

Here we return to foreign policy, since it need not take long to guess who’ll be the main enemy. The image of Vladimir Putin as an all-powerful puppeteer who controls all the anti-democratic forces of the world (and, in particular, Trump) is a recurrent theme, from Hillary Clinton’s campaign speech in Nevada in August 2016, to the statement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the day after the invasion of the Capitol. China, of course, isn’t much better than Russia when it comes to how the Democratic top ranks perceive things,, but here, for the time being, there are constraints in the form of economic interest.

The inevitable U.S. ambition to restore exceptionalist position will face off against the trends of global development. International politics is diversifying in all directions, from economics and security to ideology and ethics. Attempts to divide the world according to the principle of democracy versus autocracy — that is, to return to the agenda of the late 20th and early 21st centuries — are doomed to fail since the world is already divided in a different way. Yet these attempts will be made just the same, and assertive actions in the spirit of “spreading democracy” can’t be ruled out — simply to prove that the Trumpist episode was an embarrassing misunderstanding. And this idea, by the way, is capable of temporarily uniting the motley crew within the Democratic Party, a part of which is made up of representatives from the previous generation, while another other part is an energetic and burgeoning collection of leftist convictions.

In general, the new administration doesn’t bode well for the world. Even if we assume that the advent, together with Biden, of solid international professionals who refused to work with Trump is capable of stabilizing the already familiar American turbulence in world affairs, yet another wave of fanaticism will erode even this advantage (though it’s debatable whether it’s an advantage at all). The intention of proving, whatever the cost, that America “isn’t like everybody” will run up against universal material resistance. And this will only exacerbate an already dangerous situation. As for Trump, at least, we knew he didn’t like a fight. The 45th president didn’t start a single new war. Biden has a different history.

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About Jeffrey Fredrich 199 Articles
Jeffrey studied Russian language at Northwestern University and at the Russian State University for the Humanities. He spent one year in Moscow doing independent research as a Fulbright fellow from 2007 to 2008.

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