Every time the United States wants to give lessons on democracy, we should raise our hands and say: January 6. It’s almost one year since one of the biggest threats to democracy in more than two centuries.
The US government recently held the digital Summit for Democracy, with representatives of more than 100 countries considered to be democratic by the Biden administration. Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, El Salvador, Russia and China were among the countries not invited.
Democracy, President Joe Biden declared from the White House, is “the defining challenge of our times.” And he explained his goals: “In the face of sustained and alarming challenges to democracy (and) universal human rights all around the world, democracy needs champions.”
But how can you claim to be a champion of democracy when millions of U.S. voters do not recognize the results of the recent presidential elections, and when the losing candidate, Donald Trump, has never publicly acknowledged his defeat.
This is the story of that fateful January 6.
That was the day when a mob of Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol. Five people died and more than 700 have been accused of violence, conspiracy and other crimes, according to an NPR tally. At least 140 police and guards were injured.
It was so grave that even the son of the former president, Donald Trump Jr., texted the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to get his father to call off the attackers. “He’s got to condemn this s—t, ASAP,” Trump’s eldest son wrote. But the president did not do it.
On the contrary. Congress members accuse Trump of promoting the attack in order to annul the election and remain in the presidency illegally. “What happened here today was an insurrection,” said Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, “incited by the president of the United States.”
More than an insurrection, it was “an attempted coup.” That’s the way Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger put it in a Tweet. And former Rep;. Will Hurd, who left the Republican party because of differences with Trump, posted a Tweet saying that “this should be treated as a coup led by a president that will not be peacefully removed from power.”
It is impossible to know what was in Trump’s head. But his words just before the attack on the Capitol were incendiary, totally rejecting the results of an election he lost to Joe Biden. In a 70-minute speech to thousands of followers gathered at the National Mall, Trump uttered the following phrases:
*”We will stop the steal.”
*”We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen.”
*If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
*We’re going to walk down the Capitol.
A Congressional investigation is trying to determine if there was a conspiracy by Trump and his team to remain in power illegally. Trump’s own words leave no doubt. But he could not cheat. The democratic system, in the end, won.
But the cost to US democracy has been extremely high. More than half of Republicans – 53 percent – believe Donald Trump won the elections and is the legitimate president, according to a Reuters poll. Only 3 percent of Democrats believe Trump won. In other words, the United States are not so united. It is politically split in half. And Trump is guilty of fomenting that division.
The US cannot be a champion of democracy.
China, which was not invited to the summit on democracy, declared through a statement from its foreign ministry that the “gunshots and farce on Capitol Hill have completely revealed what is underneath the gorgeous appearance of the American-style democracy.” And Russia, which also was not invited, said it was “pathetic” that the United States had assumed the right to decide which countries could call themselves democratic.
Independently of the foreign criticisms, this is not the United States that I know. When I came to this country in 1983, I came from a savagely authoritarian Mexico, where presidents were selected, not elected, where there was official censorship and where any kind of dissidence was repressed. And that’s why I admired a system established in 1776, where whoever had the most (electoral) votes won and the losers wished the winners well.
I clearly remember how Al Gore acknowledged his loss to George W. Bush in 2000 after the Supreme Court stopped a vote recount. They were separated by only 537 votes in Florida. Gore could have rejected the results, but he did not do so, out of respect for the rules of democracy and for the good of the country.
And that’s the way it was, until Trump showed up. Of course we cannot blame one man for the erosion of democracy in the United States. His supporters and several Republicans in Congress also bear part of the responsibility for refusing to accept the official results of the elections. But the other side has not mounted a vigorous defense of democracy. It is a mistake to believe that the United States will survive Trump’s anti-democratic designs. That is why we must publicly denounce those who still refuse to recognize Biden’s legitimate victory.
The “Big Lie,” is the tag for Trump’s failed attempts to declare himself winner of the 2020 elections. He and many ultra-conservative politicians are still repeating and expanding that lie. And millions of Americans believe it. That is a real threat to the country. The 2024 elections will be an acid test. As long as this issue is not settled, and the intellectual authors of the Jan. 6 insurrection are not condemned, the United States cannot give lessons on democracy to the rest of the world.