Fragile democracy

The world already knew the events of January 6 in Washington DC were horrific. Scenes from the attempted insurrection — yes it was a form of "insurrection" — were astonishing.

A violent mob broke through flimsy barriers and stormed the Capitol Building. Several people died and about 150 police officers were injured.

The US House January 6 Select Committee hearings last week reinforced that bedlam and danger. Witnesses — neutrals and Republicans, including Mr Trump’s daughter — testified to the sorry occurrences and what Mr Trump was told.

Mr Trump was out to do whatever it took to overturn the election result, including inciting the mob and trying to force vice-president Mike Pence not to certify the election results.

This week the hearings shifted to the requests and the pressure former president Donald Trump and close aides were putting on local and state officials in swing states. Audio at the hearing had Mr Trump asking officials in Georgia to "find 11,780" votes so Joe Biden would not win the state.

Meanwhile, his supporters harassed and intimidated officials. Mr Trump’s culpability was blatant.

Mr Trump called the hearings a kangaroo court. Democrats hope they can demonstrate to Americans the seriousness of what happened and Mr Trump’s pivotal role before the November mid-term elections.

They will also have an eye on convincing the Department of Justice that Mr Trump knowingly and illegally tried to subvert the result of the 2020 election in a swath of ways.

Apparently, intention could be a key. Was Mr Trump well aware he had lost the election and then proceeded knowingly to egg on the mob, pressure Mr Pence and election officials to act illegally and prime teams of false state electors etc? Or did he genuinely believe he had won, whatever the advice of his attorney-general, William Barr, and others in his inner circle?

One issue is that truth and lies have little or no meaning for a person like Mr Trump. In his delusional way, despite all the evidence and any rational calculation, he could "believe" the impossible. Many of his supporters certainly do.

Donald Trump. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Donald Trump. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
As Mr Barr said, Mr Trump became "detached from reality". ‘‘There was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were,’’ he also said.

Mr Trump has convinced many Americans that black is white and white is black. Society has become so partisan that it is debatable whether the hearing will move many from their embedded positions.

This is not to say all Mr Trump’s policies and positions as president were necessarily misguided. It is to say he has trashed any shared basis of facts and shown scant regard for right and wrong and, fundamentally, for democracy itself.

The United States, for all its manifest contradictions, hypocrisies and weaknesses, is a cornerstone of international democracy.

Yet, the system’s fragility was exposed by a bully, a liar and a wannabe autocrat — a demagogue who continues to peddle falsehood.

Frighteningly, there is talk he will soon announce he will stand again for the presidency. Chillingly, such is his support in a divided nation that a vile second helping cannot be dismissed.

Meanwhile, the gerrymandering of voting districts and the skewing of voting rules continue in strategic areas.

Although US democracy survived a severe test in the last presidential elections, it is shaky.

The "free" democratic world depends more than it would like on the superpower’s role and leadership. It watched January 6 itself with both surprise and horror.

The January 6 Committee hearings, by contrast, fail to elicit more disbelief because much of the extraordinary goings-on are already known. Worldwide horror at what happened and at Mr Trump, however, is unabated.

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