8 January 2021   Leave a comment

Robin Wright has written an essay for the New Yorker on global reaction to the assault on the US Capitol. That the assault occurred because of doubts held by some that the national election on 2020 was corrupted, and it is not at all unusual that such doubts arise every four years. There were serious questions about the election of 1960 in which John F. Kennedy became President even though there were concerns about the vote tabulations in Illinois. Similarly, there was great controversy about the election in 2000 which saw George W. Bush defeat Al Gore on the basis of contested votes in Florida.

But the sturdiness of the US system of election over two centuries is distinctive in political history. Having a regular procedure that is regarded as legitimate solves one of the most serious problem in politics: getting people used to holding power to give it up without a struggle. Political succession is more often associated with violence and it is the central problem facing most authoritarian regimes. The US example has been one of the most important attributes of American power in world affairs. It has conducted regular elections during the civil war, World Wars I and II, and the Great Depression. The election cycles persisted even when Presidents died, either from natural causes or assassination.

The attack on the Capitol has done irreparable damage to that asset. It may be the case that the US will return to its historical pattern, and it may be the case that the inauguration of President Biden will seem to some that the pattern was not in fact broken. But the images of the mob in the Capitol building will never fit that narrative, and those images are likely indelible. And those images delighted authoritarian regimes all over the world who no longer have to deal with the US example as a possible threat to their hold on power. Wright writes:

“Authoritarian leaders were gleeful about the chaos in the world’s most powerful democracy. As armed insurrectionists, white supremacists, and rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, the Foreign Minister of Venezuela—a failing state with rival claims to the Presidency, and shortages of power, food, and medicine—tweeted a warning about political polarization in the United States. With more than a whiff of Schadenfreude, Jorge Arreaza wished Americans well in finding ‘a new path towards stability and social justice.’

“Officials in Turkey, which has witnessed a dramatic erosion of democracy amid arrests of dissidents and journalists, called on all parties in Washington ‘to maintain restraint and prudence’—and then warned its own citizens in the United States to avoid crowded places. Iranian state television ran live coverage of the chaos at the Capitol, with a running ticker underneath, as Hossein Dehghan, a former Revolutionary Guard and a Presidential candidate in the upcoming June election, tweeted, ‘The world is watching the American dream.’ The Russian deputy U.N. Ambassador compared the turmoil in Washington, D.C., to the 2014 protests in Kyiv that toppled the Ukrainian government. On social media platforms like Telegram, supporters of isis and Al Qaeda celebrated the turmoil in the United States. An isis publication predicted that America would be consumed with turmoil for the next four years….

“America’s rivals cited the chaos at the Capitol as a sign that America has forfeited its claim to be a political model or world leader. ‘The celebration of democracy is over,’ Konstantin Kosachyov, the chairman of the international-affairs committee in the Russian upper house, said. ‘I say this without a hint of gloating. America is no longer charting the course, and therefore has lost all its rights to set it. And especially to impose it on others.’ In a televised address, on Thursday, the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, said that the unrest in Washington ‘really showed that first how floppy and weak the Western democracy is, and how weak its foundations are.’ From Zimbabwe, which last year appeared on the verge of collapse as unemployment hit ninety per cent and inflation neared eight hundred per cent, President Emmerson Mnangagwa tweeted outrage on Thursday that Trump had once criticized the African nation. ‘Yesterday’s events showed that the U.S. has no moral right to punish another nation under the guise of upholding democracy,’ he wrote.”

It is always a mistake to consider the US as an “exceptional” country, but its strong commitment to the peaceful transfer of power placed it in a very select group of countries. With the loss of that important characteristic, the world has lost an important voice for restraints on authoritarian rule.

Posted January 8, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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