Elite Enabling of Populist Tyranny Can Doom Democracy
Yesterday’s assault on the United States Capitol by a right-wing extremist mob may have only modestly damaged the building, but it gravely injured the prestige of American democracy. The United States’ authoritarian adversaries are gloating. China’s Communist Youth League, echoing U.S. reactions to the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, called the storming of the Capitol a “beautiful sight.” And America’s democratic allies, who well understand the importance of U.S. democratic leadership to the global cause of freedom, have been badly shaken by the images of ruffians rampaging through the world’s most powerful democratic assembly on the day of its most important deliberative task: certifying the results of the presidential election. In the wake of this calamity, American political and civic leaders now face an urgent imperative to repair the fabric of U.S. democracy.
The siege of the Capitol was a tragedy, but it was also a wake-up call. At this juncture, there is no evidence to suggest a carefully laid plot by organized or well-trained militias. One shudders to imagine what might have transpired had that been the case. If a ragtag band of the radically aggrieved and conspiracy minded could force members of the United States Congress to break off pieces of House furniture to defend themselves, and to evacuate their chambers in distress, what could a serious insurrection have done? The first imperative of any democracy is to physically secure and protect itself—its people, its public officials, and its institutions. Rudely reminded of that fact, the country could be spared a far worse tragedy in the future.