I am sitting in my home across the proverbial pond in London wondering why a portion of White America violently stormed and sieged the heart of U.S. democracy last Wednesday. People who watched the violence keep saying: “This is not who we are!” But this phrase expresses their strange cognitive dissonance when it comes to racism and violence. When I hear it — which is frequently — it makes me spit out my tea every time.
Yes, actually, this is who “you” are. It took a deadly invasion of the Capitol building encouraged by President Trump and supported by some Republican party loyalists and law enforcement officials for White supremacy to become as terrifyingly real to you as it has always been to Black Americans.
I can imagine how hard it must be for the parts of White America struggling with cognitive dissonance to admit that they wrongfully thought Black people were exaggerating the threats against Black lives. It is very telling that they didn’t give a damn until their way of life came under threat by their own.
And now the FBI warns of more armed insurrections ahead of the January 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. This contradiction is not lost on the global audience and has cost America its reputation as the bastion of democracy and the moral authority that goes with it.
Leaders from Russia, Iran, and China are pouring scorn on the United States, suggesting it should not be the model for global democracies. Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s Federation Council, said, “The celebration of democracy is over.” Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ridiculed U.S values by tweeting: “Have you seen the situation in the U.S.? This is their democracy, and this is their election fiasco.” In China, reporters for state-owned media told a writer for the website Foreign Policy that were instructed to say the attacks meant a downfall for democracy.
Allies like Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel slammed Trump for the chaos and violence at the Capitol but applauded the fact that “Congress continued its work” after the riots, certifying Joe Biden’s election victory. And the U.K.’s Boris Johnson, who has crafted and used the same divisive racist and xenophobic narratives as Trump, even said the president was “completely wrong” to cast doubt on the U.S. election and encourage supporters to storm the Capitol.
And Black and Brown nations have plenty to say too. Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan, who was responsible for his country’s first democratic power transfer, rebuked Trump: “Nobody’s political ambition is worth the blood of any citizen, in any part of the world.” Jonathan honorably conceded defeat in 2015 as he clearly believes “it is better to gain honor at the cost of losing power.”
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was distressed by the “rioting” and “violence” but that “the democratic process cannot be allowed to be subverted through unlawful protests.”
Raoof Hasan, a special assistant to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, said, “If the United States saw what the United States is doing in the United States, the United States would invade the United States to liberate the United States from the tyranny of the United States.”
On Twitter, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa stated, “Last year, President Trump extended painful economic sanctions placed on Zimbabwe, citing concerns about Zimbabwe’s democracy. Yesterday’s events showed that the U.S. has no moral right to punish another nation under the guise of upholding democracy.”
A bit closer to home, Sylvia Taschka, a senior lecturer of history at Wayne State University, has told media outlets that Trump’s behavior proves he has fascist characteristics, which include extreme nationalism, the glorification of violence, and the cult-like adoration of anti-democratic leaders.
Trump’s attempted normalization of poisonous racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric also led actor and California’s former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s discussion of Kristallnacht in a viral video. “The Night of Broken Glass” references a night in Nazi Germany where almost 100 Jews were murdered, hundreds of synagogues and thousands of Jewish businesses were destroyed, and in the aftermath, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken to concentration camps.
Those countries willing to support the United States understand that a freer and more democratic world improves security and promotes stronger economic growth and durable alliances. Under these conditions, citizens have greater opportunities to thrive.
I note that American democracy is not a perfect system of government, and as Malcolm X said, it is “hypocrisy.” Despite all its protections it still disproportionately disenfranchises and seldom protects Black Americans. Nonetheless, Black Americans’ human rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women’s rights, gay rights, immigrant rights, and disability rights.
This ability of democracy to self-correct and make way makes it an effective tool for achieving social, economic, and political justice for all Americans, and that’s why the dream or promise of America should be protected and defended at all costs.