COMMENT

Trump not alone in attacks on democracy, but he is now beyond the pale

John Kane-Berman writes on the outgoing US President's incitement of the Capitol riot

If last week’s invasion of Capitol Hill was an attempted coup, then it ranks as one of the most inept in history.

The reaction to the storming of the American legislature was of course rich in irony: when mobs go on the rampage in the name of Black Lives Matter (BLM), they are generally described in the communications media as “protestors”; when they stage an assault on Congress, on behalf of Donald Trump, they suddenly become “rioters” or “fascists” or, in Joe Biden’s phrase, “domestic terrorists”.

Democratic Party politicians who last year endorsed or condoned BLM and other calls to “defund” the police may now turn down the volume a bit. Unlike the people whose property was destroyed by BLM “protestors” while the police were ordered not to interfere, the denizens of Capitol Hill suffered little personal property loss or destruction.

They are already demanding explanations as to how these particular members of Mr Trump’s fan club got into the Capitol in the first place. Police and other security heads have begun to roll. If lack of funding is found to be a problem, Congress will not hesitate to vote more money for the police charged with protecting the legislative seat of government. Prosecutions will no doubt be pursued much more vigorously than has sometimes been the case with the BLM mobs, thanks to political interference by Democratic politicians sympathetic towards those rioters.

In an editorial denouncing Mr Trump’s behaviour, the Wall Street Journal said: “He has refused to accept the basic bargain of democracy, which is to accept the result, win or lose.” That is the essential point. However, if Mr Trump, millions of his followers, and many of his fellow Republicans have rejected that “basic bargain”, they are not alone.

In some respects, they have their counterparts in Europe. As this column pointed out last week, the European Union (EU) used the Treaty of Lisbon of 2007 to introduce a European constitution that French and Dutch voters had decisively rejected in referendums two years earlier. The Irish were bullied into endorsing the treaty in a second referendum, reversing their rejection of that treaty the first time round.

Demands for a British referendum were rejected by one of the country’s ministers for Europe, Denis MacShane, as “an opportunity for populists”. And, of course, when the British finally voted to leave the EU, the “leave” winners were widely denounced by The Great and The Good as dupes, populists, ignoramuses, idiots, and the like. Mobs of remain “losers” gathered outside the British parliament to scream at the winners and demand a second referendum.  

Genteel, bureaucratic, and insidious rather than violent, the European project has indeed all along been an exercise in the stealthy erosion of democracy. In Europe: The Shattering of Illusions published in 2011, Václav Klaus, one-time president of the Czech Republic, records a telling remark by Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of what is now the EU: “Europe’s nations should be led towards a superstate, without their people understanding what is happening.” That was as long ago as 1952, but it is an accurate description of what has in fact transpired.

The invasion of the Capitol last week is not without precedent elsewhere. The Hungarian parliament was attacked in 2006 and the German one last year.

The defining difference, of course, is that the assault on the American legislature was incited by the president of the United States. That puts it in a class all on its own. One commentator on social media expressed the point precisely: “You do not go about storming the Capitol to keep your guy in the White House. It is profoundly wrong and incredibly dangerous. And it’s no use pretending he did not incite it. He did.”    

To make things worse, Mr Trump then condoned what his followers had done. “We have to have peace, so go home,” he told them. But then he added: “We love you. You’re very special.”        

Mr Trump won 74 million votes in the recent election. The question now is whether his behaviour last week has caused sufficient horror in the Republican Party to deny him nomination as presidential candidate in four years’ time. His presidency has clocked up some important achievements in both domestic and foreign policy. But his menacing behaviour has now finally put him beyond the pale.  

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by clicking here or sending an SMS with your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.