US Capitol Invasion: Between Accepting Defeat and Safeguarding Democracy

US Capitol

Since the conclusion of the presidential election in America, the political class in the US has been deeply divided between those in the quest to uphold the provisional results of the elections that favoured Joe Bidden and the Pro-Trump supporters who want to “stop the steal”. The climax was what happened two days ago which sent shivers down the spines of the global audience. No one could envisage that this could happen in a country that is considered a bastion of democracy.

The whole world was left agog, in total shock as thousands of Pro-Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol while legislative proceedings were in session. The protesters breached four layers of security and entered the buildings at a time when the US congress was set to certify Joe Biden as the next US President.

What was equally very worrisome was that is that it was carried out at a time when the surge of the novel coronavirus was at its peak: no social distancing or COVID-19 protocols were observed. This has led many world leaders to condemn the violent attack. The bulk of criticisms are summarised in Sweden’s Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven’s statement:

“Deeply worrying developments in Washington DC. This is an assault on democracy. President Trump and several members of Congress bear substantial responsibility for this development. The democratic election process must be respected.”

One thing that is particularly notable is that until now, the world has always seen remarkable unanimity among voters in the US immediately the outcomes of elections are announced. Americans may differ pre-election and election period based on choice candidate, but when the results are announced, they always seem to unite, fully aware that rigging and politicking cannot undermine the democracy upon which her country stands. But the last election was different. When Joe Biden was announced President elect, several Republican Party members led by President Trump himself pointed vociferously that the election was characterized by voter’s fraud. Imaginary enemies like the business elites and “fake media” were labeled as prime perpetrators of the electoral fraud.

For many who have berated Donald Trump following the invasion, it is imperative to note that this is largely not just about him even though it involves him as an electoral candidate. The invasion appears to be about the future of the American society: about a style of democracy that has become archaic. According to one of the protesters who spoke on live TV, “The faulty electoral system did these to us. We were good, law abiding citizens until they did these to us. They stole our votes. We are protecting our freedom. That is what this is about.”

Many of the protesters felt there was a huge dose of unfairness in the presidential polls. They felt it was exacerbated by a bias media that resented Trump and his administration: a media that has helped spread false representations of the incumbent president which equally undermined the chances of their preferred candidate. This explains why Russia said the politicisation of the media was specially to blame for American divisions and unrest in Washington. This is captured in the words of Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, who described the storming of the US Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump was “an internal US affair”, but that blame rested with the US system:

“The electoral system in the United States is archaic, it does not meet modern democratic standards, creating opportunities for numerous violations, and the American media have become an instrument of political struggle.

“This is largely the reason for the split in society now observed in the United States.”

A large number of Americans sincerely feel their voices are underrepresented in the presidential polls. As the mother of modern democracies, the American leadership should work towards building more trust in the system. Many countries of the world look up to her because it has long charted the idea of a democracy that represented the people in equal rights and opportunities at all levels. Lincoln believed it was up to the people to decide who and what formed government. A government that reflected the will of the majority is thus the pinnacle of true representation, which for Lincoln, is the essence of democracy. The protesters represent their choice of Trump irrespective of who he is and the bias that have surrounded him since assuming office.

Eventually Donald Trump capitulated. In his words, “Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th. I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to make America great again.”

Despite this, several individuals, organizations and media houses have continued to lampoon Trump, accusing him of inciting a mob to overturn the US election result in which he failed to secure a second term. This is further heightened as he has been suspended from Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and other social platforms to give the lie to these claims. Trump however came out to personally condemn the attack on live TV. His words:

“Demonstrators who infiltrated the capitol have defiled the seat of American democracy. To those who engage in the act of violence and destruction you do not represent our country, you will pay.”

Formally announcing the transitioning of his government, Trump stated:

“Now Congress has certified the results, a new administration will be inaugurated on January 28. My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power.

“This moment calls for healing and reconciliation. 2020 has been a challenging time for our people. A menacing pandemic has appended the lives of our citizens, isolated millions in their homes, damaged our economy, and claimed countless lives, defeating this pandemic and rebuilding the greatest economy on earth will require us working together.”

Nevertheless, there is always a good side to every story. Voters should not always accept the outcome of elections, hook, line and sinker especially when there are strong and clear allegations of voter fraud, and when media bias has helped undermine the chances of particular candidates. They should rally round their trusted candidates to work on results that are contestable, instead of leaving the candidate who has the goodwill of the people to walk alone. Everything however must be done within the ambit of the law.

Another issue is the importance of an unbiased media. The media is an important aspect of national life with the capacity to make or destroy. So politicization of the media and the bias that comes with it should be discouraged in any society that wants to achieve real dividends of democracy. If all top media houses in America treated all the candidates equally, probably the global embarrassment witnessed in Washington DC would not have occurred.

Nelson Okoh

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