What citadel of American democracy?

  Members of the New York National Guard  on the East Front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC. on Monday following the attack on the Capitol last week as lawmakers worked to certify Joe Biden as the next president. EPA PIC
Members of the New York National Guard on the East Front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC. on Monday following the attack on the Capitol last week as lawmakers worked to certify Joe Biden as the next president. EPA PIC

This article first appeared on New Straits Times

THERE has been so much hogwash commented and written on the attack a week ago on the Capitol in Washington incited by President Trump that I begin to wonder where everyone has been.

Did not the Republican-majority Senate, which is housed in the Capitol building — “the citadel of democracy” — vote to acquit President Trump in his impeachment trial last February of two clear charges: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress?

Is not that same Senate in that Capitol building against a move to consider impeachment even now after the invading rioters had sent them scampering to hiding places behind locked doors and under any table they could find?

Under Nancy Pelosi, the only man in Congress, the House of Representatives is proposing that Trump be impeached after moves to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him because he was unfit to hold office, met Republican resistance.

If nothing is done against Trump, American democracy will be discredited even further, an indelible mark more real than the symbolic meaning of the storming of the Capitol everyone has been talking about.

The argument that any action will divide the country even further is feeble nonsense. The country is divided. Inaction will only encourage the insurrectionists into swirling more confederate flags the next time around. The other side, they will see, has no courage.

With impeachment now the only line of action, arguments are being made it would not be until President-elect Joe Biden has been sworn in before the Senate could consider the article of impeachment from the House.

So what? Constitutional lawyers are firm that an ex-president can still be impeached. There must be a marker. Something must be done against Trump. With impeachment, he will not be allowed to stand again for public office.

The reluctance to take any action against Trump as he violates American democracy with impunity continues. This condemns American lawmakers to being nothing but puny characters with no principles or scruples, who should shut up about democracy in their country.

Now they are safe, the Republican senators are thinking of their political survival again — as they did when they voted against impeachment last February, save for Mitt Romney.

Trump has been a tyrant and dictator who destroyed democracy in his time as president with the acquiescence of the Republican Party.

Only at the last call, when he sought to overturn by riotous force the result of a democratic election, did the Republicans realise democracy was at stake, when their lives was in grave danger from a mob set upon them by their very own president.

One wonders how many of the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump in the 2016 November election have now changed their minds, and are repentant after the insurrection against democracy. Certainly half a dozen Republican senators and many more members of the House of Representatives are not — also housed in that citadel of democracy, which they every day violate.

President Trump ruled with an iron fist riding roughshod over institutions that were supposed to check and balance in this American system of democracy. If that idyllic representation was never total reality, President Trump trampled on it some more in full glare of America and the world these past four years.

Now we are being asked to appreciate this building, this symbol, this citadel, when 47 per cent of the American electorate did not give a toss about his shocking transgressions and Republicans for reasons of politics alone supported him to the hilt — until now. Even now they are against him with prevarication.

Including Vice-President “after all that I had done for him” Mike Pence. Whatever little switch in allegiance there has been comes mostly not from principled belief in the tenets of democracy, but from a calculation Trump may have gone past his “sell-by” date when he overstepped the mark by setting his Rottweilers on the Capitol. Hence, some Republicans are saying Trump should just resign, wanting to see him in the “rear mirror” as the United States moves on ahead.

Yet there are many others, on both sides of the political divide, who know that the chasm in America which Trump exploited remains, and that that tribal constituency might yet be waiting for Trump, or someone of his ilk, to lead them to the “Promised Land” rather different from what former president Barack Obama depicts in his recent book, or indeed from what New York liberals write and say is America.

It is rather touching to read columnists in the Washington Post, for instance, imagining the siege of the Capitol to be the magic moment when America discovers, or rediscovers, itself, rather conversely like, I suppose, the storming of the Bastille in 1789 that brought down King Louis XVI and heralded the French Revolution.

How important American democracy is, and democratic practices are. What America stands for. The promise of this land of opportunity and hope. America will come out stronger.

Just like the symbolic appeal to the Capitol as the citadel of a democracy that has been disfigured, this wistful wish is more melancholic than it is hard-nosed reality. The US is sharply and deeply divided. The Constitution is not widely read or understood. The coastal areas may be well-tutored, but not the Deep South and Mid-West.

There is liberal worry whether Twitter was right to ban Trump from using it. On the contrary, he should have been banned much earlier from spreading his vermin and call to arms.

You do not give a platform to someone who uses it to cause mayhem and disorder and Covid-19 deaths. What gives him more space to do more harm than he has already? Hitler would have loved such licence to kill.

Reports that Trump has declared an emergency in the District of Columbia, where Washington is situated, in the run-in to Biden’s inauguration as president on Jan 20, as well as intelligence from the Federal Bureau of Investigation that plans are afoot to storm all 50 state capitals before the inauguration, show that there is still no end to the mischief the outgoing president can cause.

Is America going to be held to ransom by threat of internal violence, or will the laws in its democracy take their course?

On whose side are the forces of law and order? There are rednecks aplenty, who worry only about gun laws and rights, or when non-whites work harder and do better than them. Best to keep them out so that there is no competitive pressure. They are on a short fuse. Is the US about to descend into total chaos?

The causes to be deeply dissatisfied have come to a boil, fanned by the most evil president America has had in its history. Time is running out.

The disparity of wealth and income in America has reached unconscionable levels. The top one per cent of families in the US hold 40 per cent of all wealth, with the bottom 90 per cent holding less than one quarter. About 25 per cent of families have less than US$10,000 in wealth.

The US has the highest level of income inequality among developed countries. The top one per cent earning an average of US$1.8 million earn 30 times more than the middle quintile at US$59,100. The average after tax income for the lowest quintile in 2019 was US$12,336 and has been deteriorating. The Gini coefficient (which measures income disparity with one being the worst) was almost 0.5, having got worse in the last 30 years.

The plutocracy that is America has fomented a violent disorder against the ruling class snug in “their” democracy in the “swamp”, which Trump calls Washington. The division has never been so deep. Trump was able to feed it and feed on it. This huge American problem is not over with or without Trump.

Biden has his work cut out for him. Talking about healing, democracy etc. is well and good, but unless he addresses the real issues before America, he would only be scratching the surface.

He must give special attention to the underserved and to those who are alienated from the system. The Capitol is no symbol of democracy to them. Indeed the contempt with which the insurrectionists occupied Congress is palpable in the actions of the rioters.

There is a tendency for many in Asia to gloat over yet another demonstration of American decline. We should, however, be careful what we wish for.

We should be wishing that the US will get its act together. We need a strong America. We do not want a unipolar world. But America is slipping down a greasy pole right now. To arrest its decline, concrete actions must be taken to address real issues.

The writer, a former NST group editor, returns to write on local and international political issues.