A crowd of hooligans storms the U.S. Capitol. Four people died, including a police officer.
It’s a coup!
It’s an insurrection!
It’s also democracy.
Hours after the pro-Trump mob was peacefully pushed out, the duly-elected politicians returned to conducting the people’s work they were doing before they were rudely interrupted. And in the wee hours of the night, ending a very long day, they ratified the people’s will by confirming Joe Biden as the next president of the United States.
Like many, I was horrified watching what unfolded Wednesday in Washington. It made me sad, angry and worried about the fate of democracy in the nation where it was born in the modern era.
I turned to the book I’m reading – Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum – for perspective.
After a few pages, I put the book down and took a deep breath.
Her insights on authoritarianism are insightful but, like so many, she mistakes democracy’s fragility for weakness, its flexibility for vulnerability, its endurance against enormous odds as mere good fortune.
What looks the exact same as twilight? The morning dawn, of course.
Democracy, like all of humanity’s great ideas and inventions, is a genie that can never be returned to its bottle. It will suffer setbacks here and there, of course, but its return, somehow and some way, is inevitable.
Dictatorships have no tolerance for talk of democracy. Conversely, democracy not only tolerates but even encourages discussion and consideration of anti-democratic concepts. Choosing democracy must be an ongoing act by all free citizens, not something done once and then taken for granted as the way it will always be.
The deepest fear of every dictator, past and present, is losing power when the people rise up. The deepest fear of all democratically elected officials, past and present, is losing the confidence of the people who elected them before completing the work they set out to do to benefit the people.
Despite the roar of adoring crowds, politicians and dictators both know the people will eventually reject them in favour of others. Politicians, regardless of their stripe, ultimately accept this. Dictators and would-be dictators, including the ones who first rose to power in fair elections, cannot accept such rejection.
The thugs who occupied the Senate floor and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office didn’t know what to do when they got there except to pose for pictures and write cryptic messages.
“We will not back down,” somebody scrawled on the front of a folder on Pelosi’s desk.
They left as soon as the National Guard showed up.
If these hoodlums were serious and actually wanted to protect the country they say they love, they would have been willing to fight and die in that place. Faced with real people who took real oaths to fight and, if necessary, die to serve and protect their fellow citizens, the mob folded.
Sadly, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, the mob wins, the dictator seizes power and democracy falls.
Just because democracy came to its full fruition in America doesn’t mean the United States remains the bastion of democracy. Wednesday’s incident is proof that democracy is in far better health in Canada and in many other countries that rejected autocrats and aristocrats, whether peacefully or violently.
Wednesday’s incident is also proof that every democracy requires constant rebirth. Every new generation in every democratic state must make its own choice to embrace the democratic principles of fair elections, individual freedoms and justice for all.
The alternative is the abyss.