From the Twin Towers to the Capitol

From the Twin Towers to the Capitol

The attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, taught Americans and the world in the most dramatic way that the only superpower was part of the world, that it did not stand apart, that it was just as vulnerable to attack from an outside enemy as any other country.

The storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021 by fanatical followers of Donald Trump proved that even the mightiest democracy is exposed to domestic dangers. Like every other country. Democracy, though, depends not on the actions of extremist groups but on a nation’s political culture. Beyond the shock caused by the attack on Congress, what is more important is the discussion regarding the causes of the uprising and how it is handled by politicians, the state and society. And by what comes next.

As soon as the invaders had left the building, the senators and representatives resumed their meetings, and, as scheduled, ratified Joe Biden’s election as president.

This was the proper, institutional response to Trump and everyone who supported his cynical attempt to overturn the election result. The storming of the Capitol may reveal criminal negligence on the part of security officials but it does not imply that democracy is collapsing: Democracies do not shoot their citizens with the ease of other forms of government. The fact that a woman was killed inside the building shows how dangerous the situation was, suggesting that many more could have been killed.

The much noted opinion that if Black Lives Matter protesters had tried to break into the Capitol they would have been met with much greater force will be part of the debate on discrimination that is expected to be held in the next few years and which will determine the quality of American democracy.

Trump bears the greatest responsibility for the unrest. Instead of serving the US Constitution, he nurtured the dangerous paranoia of a section of his followers, he widened the political and social rifts in the country. With no plan other than to provoke turmoil and undermine institutions, he relied on senior members of the Republican establishment to get as far as Wednesday’s insurrection.

Strengthening democracy will demand justice and the rule of law. Not only must Trump and his enablers be punished, but citizens and the polity must be protected. After Trump, no one can undermine the magnitude of the domestic threat to the United States.

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