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The so-called “leader of the free world” has been rocked by the invasion of the Congress by Trump supporters.
A deluded mob, egged on initially by the president, pushed its way up the steps and into corridors and offices to try to stop Congress confirming Joe Biden as president.
The scenes are more like those from a “banana” republic than a long-established democracy. The peaceful and proper transfer of power is at the heart of democracy.
It is also scary all the living former secretaries of defence this week felt the need to write a letter saying the military must be kept out of the political process.
Lots of questions will need to be asked about the role of Trump and the whole incident. There must also be worries about Trump in his last two weeks in office.
There is, nevertheless, a silver lining — assuming the dust settles, Trump does nothing rash and the transfer of power takes place on January 20.
While Trump never alienates his core backing, his recent behaviour and his support for this protest, this “insurrection”, must appal even a good number of the more than 70million who voted him for president in November.
Although he could get away with endless lies and numerable misdemeanours, surely, his and the protesters’ actions this time have gone beyond the pale for another group of Americans. They take their Constitution and processes seriously.
It had been feared Trump’s hold over the Republican Party would mean its politicians would remain subservient to his bluster and bullying, to the Trump way. He could also, it was imagined, stand again for president in four years’ time.
Trump, however, backed even many of his most loyal supporters into a corner. Vice-president Mike Pence saw he had little choice but to defy his president when he refused to reject the Electoral College vote confirming Biden’s victory. Consequently, he, like many sacked or resigned Trump appointees, was excoriated.
Many Republican senators, including the leader of the Senate, have refused to follow Trump’s illogical and illegal demands to challenge state votes.
Trump was useful for the Republican Party in cutting taxes for the wealthy and appointing conservative Supreme Court judges. Many senior party members, though, will be pleased to see the back of him. Such is his current behaviour, they might get their wish.
The United States had a close escape when Trump was voted out. Ironically, Trump might well have won were it not for his handling of Covid. The Democrats, thankfully, choice a moderate who could win centre ground.
Imagine the damage to American democracy another four years of Trump would have wrought.
If democracy in the United States did not have deep roots, one wonders what Trump would have been able to do to maintain power and to repudiate the “stolen election”.
This has warnings for the rest of the world. The bombardment of lies, the attacks on the media and the creation of “fake news” promotes a setting where there are no basic shared facts, no shared standards and values.
Under such circumstances, the likes of Trump could get away with just about anything. Just, maybe, the circumstances of yesterday and last night are enough to convince enough Republicans to say enough is enough.
There are lessons, too, for New Zealand. Our democracy looks solid for now. But so had that of the United States before Trump came on the scene.
If a demagogue is elected, if the likes of free speech are curtailed, if a crisis is manufactured or taken advantage of, then our democracy, too, could be dangerously tested.