Please, no more rhetoric. Because at this moment there seems to be a gaggle of interpretations that tend to downplay this event, sweep it under the rug: the assault by American “patriots,” some with weapons, on the U.S. Congress.
Many U.S. and European pundits are insisting on saying that almost nothing happened, while many Trumpists from our own countries (such as Salvini, who walks around with a mask with the image of Trump) are now taking their distance. After all, they seem to be saying, Pelosi reconvened Congress later in the night, the certification of Biden as the new President finally took place, Trump himself said that the transfer of power will happen on January 20—while reiterating, however, that the outcome of the vote had been stolen and thanking the protesters with “love.” The Statue of Liberty, they say, is still there in its place.
While Biden accusing Trump of “domestic terrorism” fits with this argument, some of his other words don’t help: “The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America—do not represent who we are […] I am genuinely shocked and saddened that our nation, so long the beacon of light and hope for democracy, has come to such a dark moment.”
Beyond the veil of rhetoric now torn, the assault on Washington is instead an epochal turning point, not a TV show or a spy movie. And it happened—one should also recall—on the day in which over 4,000 people died from COVID in the U.S.
This January 6, 2021, in America is comparable only to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and is worse than September 11, 2001: the image and the content of what had been advertised as “the beacon of light and hope” have collapsed.
And the act of insurgent terrorism took place from within and against the founding symbols of American representation. This is indeed the real face of the United States: violence, in domestic social relations and international relations, under the facade of democracy.
Indeed, Biden is right to worry that “the world is watching us.” Everything is happening under the astonished eyes of the whole world. A world which is grappling with the construction of its own political model, continent by continent, but often devastated by the US protectionism of its “proprietary” system for at least 70 years. With coups, destabilizations, many wars still in progress, all passed off as interventions in favor of democracy—from Guatemala (as Vargas Llosa also reminds us), to Chile and the Balkans, from Iran to Iraq, from the support for Yeltsin who bombed the Russian parliament to Maidan Square in Ukraine, from Palestine to Venezuela and Cuba, and so on.
Alan Friedman, certainly not someone of the hard left, has said: “Now we can no longer be the model of democracy.” That’s the key point.
And no one wonders why 74 million people voted for Trump, why they follow him as an anti-elite guru—someone who is a Manhattan oligarch—while so many Republican voters approve the insurrection attempt incited by the sitting president, with the rallying cry of stopping “election fraud.”
If the Grand Old Party eventually blows apart, a part of it will end up in the hands of Trump, or a new subversive movement. Trump, the “nutcase,” as some Republicans are just now starting to call him, represents the social and political drift of the United States, which has been grappling for years with a creeping civil war, armed to the teeth by “constitutional right,” and where tens of millions of people, often dispossessed and miserable (across middle America), are following the now-impossible dream of the “Great” America, white, racist and supremacist.
For Biden, this time it will not be enough to unload this violence towards the outside world with more “humanitarian interventionism.” In a few hours, the world has seen a model crumble which it had been more or less forced to take as its standard, constrained by power or by desperation among the misery and the rubble of war.
The crisis of American democracy is reverberating across the world. Is there any hope left? There is: the historic victory of African-Americans in the Georgia vote, prepared by a vast social mobilization, the widespread protest of minorities and Black Lives Matter, the movements for women’s and social rights, the call for socialism, which is now at home among the Democratic ranks and also in Congress. This is democracy that can defend democracy. The kind that doesn’t depend on Marine rifles, neither around the world nor inside the United States.