Assault on Democracy in the United States

Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra
January 7, 2021


Image Courtesy: Reuters Photo, Leah Millis

Americans have always been proud of their democracy, and successive American administrations have adopted policies aimed at promoting democracy abroad.

But the attack on Capitol Hill by a large crowd of ferocious mobs when the US Congress was in session to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential Election has tarnished the image of American democracy beyond repair.

One can always argue that American democracy cannot be faulted by the savage attack on the American symbol of popular democracy by a mob of protesters. Some American analysts and commentators have called it an attack by domestic terrorists, while others have described it as insurrection.

But the fact that the American President reportedly incited the assailants has not gone unnoticed. President Donald Trump’s presidency has been mercurial for years, but his open call to a huge crowd of people on the 6th of January for defending his perceived victory in the 2020 election by use of brute force and show of muscular might has actually exposed the weakness of the American political system.

Many experts initially believed that Donald Trump Administration would be an anomaly in American history. But more than seventy million people who voted for him in the 2020 presidential election has changed the observation and opinion of analysts and commentators. Now it is believed that Trumpism will survive the exit of Donald Trump from the American White House.

Even after Donald Trump lost a series of legal cases his supporters filed with the contention that the 2020 election was “fraudulent”, “rigged” and “stolen”, a large number of Republican leaders, including lawmakers, sided with Donald Trump and attempted to obstruct the declaration of election results. By implication, they sought to prevent the inauguration of Joe Biden as the next president of the United States.

It is a relief to a certain extent that many influential Republican Party leaders, former cabinet officials, including defense secretaries and CEOs of the corporate world openly opposed President Trump’s allegations of voting fraud. But there is no doubt that the Grand Old Party of the United States is now fractured. The large number of Trump supporters are not going to disappear anytime soon.

The anguished American analysts, poll watchers, leaders, and many others have given a call for invoking the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution to remove President Trump from power as early as possible. A majority of Cabinet officers can write to the Vice President about the inability of President Trump to uphold the constitutional principles and provisions and recommend his removal. The Vice President then can accept the recommendation and become the President. Others have expressed their opinion in favor of Trump’s impeachment by the US Congress to save the democratic values and practices of the country.

While pledging peaceful transfer of power hours after the US Congress declared Joe Biden victorious in the 2020 election, President Trump reiterated his allegations of fraudulence and rigging of the election. He also expressed his determination for running for the presidency again in 2024. What does it mean? It indicates that he would continue to play victim, keep his supporters with him to exert influence even when he is no longer the President, and thus would keep promoting Trumpism.

The divisions in the American society along racial, class and ideological lines are not going to disappear anytime soon. It also means that despite the Democratic Party’s majority in both the houses of the US Congress, the White House would find it hard to tackle Trumpism during Biden’s presidency. Biden has spoken all that is necessary to signal that he would be the President of the United States and not that of the Democratic Party. He has reached out to the Republican voters notwithstanding the obstinate misbehavior of President Trump and his supporters.

Once in the Oval Office, nice platitudes and pleasing rhetoric would not be enough for Joe Biden to deal with Trumpism. He would certainly prioritize and focus on the health security of the American people, come to terms with the economic difficulties arising out of the pandemic, deal with racism and social discrimination against the minority communities and then confront head-on the multi-dimensional challenges posed by a new China.

The new China is assertive, aggressive, and ambitious to be the number one player in world affairs. As Biden would endeavor vigorously to restore US leadership in world affairs and repair bruised alliance relationships, China will stand on the way in practically every sphere and turn of events. America’s allies and strategic partners in the Indo-Pacific and Europe have closer economic ties with China with the signing of the RCEP and the conclusion of the China-EU investment accord.

While India will most likely stand with the United States at this difficult time, Biden Administration will have less time and resources to deal with the domestic challenges to its political values, democratic culture, and social cohesion.

At real stake will be America’s standing in the world both in terms of its hard power and soft power. American hard power will be under a challenge from a resurgent Russia and ruthlessly ambitious China. Its soft power has already eroded due to its domestic developments and dark spots in the functioning of its democratic institutions in the last several years.

The recent assault on American democracy thus will have domestic implications and international ramifications.