Capitol Mobs: A Threat to Democracy Everywhere
In the Season 1, Episode 7 of The West Wing, the White House holds a State Dinner for the Thai president. During the evening, senior aides to the U.S. president ask a Thai official if he would be able to help secure the release of a French prisoner. After all, America is a champion for human rights.
“Mr. Ziegler,” the official responds, “does it strike you at all hypocritical that a people who systematically wiped out a century’s worth of Native Americans should lecture the world so earnestly on human rights?”
The Thai aide, though fictitious, was right. Hypocrisy has always been one of the greatest handicaps on American international power, and if this week’s events served as any indication, such hypocrisy will not be departing our country any time soon. As reckless mobs stormed through our Capitol, the rest of the world watched. While it was not surprising that high officials in U.S. allied countries spoke out against the anarchy ensuing in Washington, it was mortifying to witness the leaders of countries historically condemned by the U.S. for unrest publicly castigate the domestic terrorism committed on January 6.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted, “The enemies of democracy will be delighted at these terrible images from Washington DC.” He may not have been wrong.
The same day, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, “We wish that the friendly American people will survive this dramatic moment in their own history with dignity.” In a televised speech the next morning, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said, “What we saw in the US last night and today really showed that first how brittle and weak western democracy is, and how weak its foundations are.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying likened the riots to Hong Kong protests, yet urged “people to reflect on why some people and media in US gave different narrative on social turmoil in Hong Kong in 2019.”
As if humiliation from Moscow, Tehran, and Beijing were not enough, Caracas also joined the chorus. Using language very similar to U.S. condemnation of international unrest, Venezuela’s government released a statement “condemn[ing] the political polarization and the spiral of violence that only reflects the deep crisis that the political and social system of the United States is currently going through.” The statement did not stop short of adding that “the United States is suffering the same thing that it has generated in other countries with its policies of aggression” and that “Venezuela hopes that soon the violence will cease and the American people can finally open a new path towards stability and social justice.”
This international humiliation is a slap in face to a country that has long claimed to champion diplomacy, civility, democracy, and, of course, a peaceful transition of power. It seems that the U.S. has spoken loudly abroad, only to be assaulted by people carrying big sticks within its borders.
As many in the United States have failed to recall, the United States is a global superpower — which means its actions, inactions, and unintended actions have long-term consequences. How can our diplomats advocate for democracy overseas when its own democratic system is flailing at the fringes, its own president and members of his party repeatedly give merit to destructive conspiracy theories for their own political advantage, and too large a percentage of the population decries America’s fair and free elections? How can other countries take us seriously when we acquiesce to naysayers, allow mobs to unabashedly interrupt constitutional proceedings, and fail to live out the example we hope to set for the world?
Both Republicans and Democrats know better than to shrug off this week’s disgrace, and it is time our elected leaders unite against this threat to democracy around the world. Lawmakers and private citizens alike must recognize that acts of domestic terrorism not only weaken the U.S. government from within, but also open our doors to international vulnerability (not to mention the effective nod to foreign adversaries about the security of our most revered building). Most disappointingly, the mobs that terrorized the U.S. Capitol and their supporters never considered how their actions have led to yet another loss in U.S. credibility abroad.
As we move forward toward Inauguration Day and beyond, let us remember to learn not only from the characters of political drama television series, but also from the history unfolding in front of our very eyes.