Typically speaking, January 6 is supposed to be a day that while important for the American democratic process, is of little consequence to the public or the world at large. After an election year, Congress comes together to certify the Electoral College victory of the winning candidate in a procedure that is largely ceremonial.
This was emphatically not the case this time around. January 6, 2021, will live on in American history as a reminder of what happens when leaders forego their duties to hold back the worst excesses of humanity that surface in a democracy. It is a day which will forever be remembered with the vivid image of the US Capitol Building, the enduring symbol of American democracy, being desecrated by an angry mob looking to subvert democratic process in a misguided burst of 'patriotism'.Exploding police munitions framed the scene of anarchy, the Capitol Building bedecked with smoke and red Trump banners as a massive crowd of armed protestors raged against a system that they were directed to hate and mistrust. Such scenes of carnage in the heart of American democracy have not been witnessed since 1814 when the British burned down much of Washington DC. Yet for all the shocking, dystopic visions of anarchic America, few can claim that the general direction of these events was surprising.
There were indications for quite some time that the traditionally peaceful transition of power was not forthcoming. Trump and his allies had built up the day as the turning point, the last-ditch effort in 'preserving' American democracy and reversing the vote steal. On numerous occasions, Trump and his close circle had incited his support base to agitate, to 'fight' for their freedom against an enemy that would stop at nothing to take away their rights, their freedoms, their values of what America should be. They built up January 6 as a day to remember, They were not wrong. Thousands of supporters marched on the Capitol Building, smashing barriers, brandishing weapons and showing clear intent to use violence if their demands were not met. The US Capitol police were overwhelmed by the weight of numbers as assailants wearing body armour finally broke into the Capitol Building as US lawmakers were evacuated or barricaded and sheltered inside. While chanting that they were 'retaking' Congress, the rioters broke into offices, vandalised and ransacked with impunity and posed with a Confederate flag. In the chaotic melee that followed as the police attempted to keep lawmakers safe, four people lost their lives and many more were injured. Image after image showed a crowd that embodied anger, intolerance and absolute contempt for the greatest lawmaking body in America. Things became serious but they could have been worse. Atleast two pipe bombs were recovered from the Democratic and Republican headquarters.
And what was Donald Trump doing as crowds chanting his name ransacked the 'citadel of American democracy'? He tweeted unapologetically, refusing to take responsibility or condemn the rioters until he was forced to later on. When he did finally ask the rioters to stand down, it was in typical Trump fashion where he called on the 'good people' to return home and not sink to the level of their opponents. He also took to repeating his assertions of a stolen election in a video that has since been taken down. Indeed, Twitter and Facebook prominently suspended Trump's account for serious violations where he appeared to be inciting the violence. But it would be shortsighted and misleading to lay the entirety of the blame for what happened at the feet of Trump. The blaze that Trump continued to feed kindling to was already a smouldering fire when he came on the scene. An old curse of American democracy, partisanship had been growing increasingly divisive and toxic in American politics for decades. A purely political divide gave way to rhetoric of absolute political othering. Your opponent was no longer a detractor, he was your enemy, the enemy of your nation and an enemy that you must 'confront. This sort of black and white labelling has always been a convenient ploy for a politician, Donald Trump simply brought such practices further into standard convention in America. He normalised a political culture that accepts all extremes so long as they serve to keep one in power. This sin is one that rests with the Republican Party as well. As many commentators and late-night television hosts pointed out, the Republicans could see the tide shifting just as well as the other side could. The could see the damages of Trump's rhetoric but they let it pass for political power and the hope that they could somehow outrun the raging inferno that would engulf American democracy should the demagoguery of Trump be allowed to continue. They couldn't, a fact that is not lost to many Republicans that flipped on their support for Trump following the events of last night. They claimed that he had gone a step too far while ignoring that they had bandwagoned along for the entire ride. Their fears that Trump may have cost them much in terms of power have been realised as the Democrats seized control of the Senate and Presidency while retaining control of the House. Now they are in crisis mode.
For all the carnage, the day ended with Biden being declared the winner again and Trump reluctantly conceding the race at long last. But the turmoil doesn't end here. The anger and hatred that is dividing America is still there, Trumpism has not been shunned and buried. Ultimately, January 6 should be a warning to all democracies of the dangers of allowing our worst excesses to seep into our politics, of injecting our politics with the rhetoric of hate and absolute othering.