“Coup!”, “Insurrection!”, “Anarchy!” scream the headlines, and the alarms have been rung around the world. The chaotic scenes from the US Capitol, as Congress began proceedings to confirm the election of Joe Biden as the next US president, have unleashed a fresh wave of panic about the supposedly fragile state of US democracy.
To many, it reinforced fears that four years of Donald Trump in the White house had inflicted permanent damage on the US body politic. To a few, with a more international and historical perspective, what happened offers but a foretaste of the terminal decline of the western world. Farewell, the United States as we knew it. Farewell, liberal democracy. Farewell, the familiar world order. China, Russia and the rest will have the last laugh. The autocrats and dictators, the populists have won.
Except that they haven’t, have they? A mob a few thousand-strong breached what now look like the scandalously inadequate defences of the US Capitol. Some of them ran amok. Many walked tidily between the ropes designed for tourists. They had been led to believe – by the protestations of the defeated president, by conspiracies disseminated by social media, but mostly perhaps by their own longstanding suspicion of the state – that the election had been subverted and that they were massing to prevent the last stage in the confirmation of a pretender. They failed.
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