Ronald G. Suny


The Mad King Departs

The sturdy democratic system in the United States withstood the attack, but it was evident that democracy is a fragile system always in danger from unscrupulous politicians, demagogues, and power-hungry opportunists.

January 6 is a holy day for many Armenians, the day we celebrate the birth of Christ. But from now on, in the United States, it will be remembered as one more “day of infamy.” Two months after the presidential elections of November 2020, in which more Americans voted than any other time in their history, Joseph Biden was about to be officially confirmed to be the next president, and the current president, Donald J. Trump, was to be declared defeated. Of the 239,000,000 people eligible to vote, about 158 million actually had cast their ballots in November. Biden received about 81 million votes, and Trump about 74 million votes. Yet Trump, who since the election has shown increasing signs of delusionary behavior and removal from reality, loudly and frequently proclaimed falsely that he had actually won the election by a landslide. In the intervening months from November to January, the mad king in the White House raged against the fair and free election and tried through the courts and the media to overturn the result.

Becoming ever more desperate, in the early afternoon of January 6, he spoke to a large crowd of fanatic supporters, who had gathered in Washington from all over the country, and urged them to march to the Capitol, the seat of the Congress where members were carrying out the formal ritual of certifying the election. He claimed that he would march with them, but instead he hid in his palace, while men and women with batons, knives, and guns, many in military uniform, made their way to a building that many consider the citadel of democracy. There they broke through police barricades and stormed into the chambers, driving the panicked congress people to rush to cover. Five people died during the assault, and military forces had to be deployed to restore order and allow the confirmation ritual to be completed.

The sturdy democratic system in the United States withstood the attack, but it was evident that democracy is a fragile system always in danger from unscrupulous politicians, demagogues, and power-hungry opportunists. The world has witnessed in the last decade the failure of elective democracies in countries throughout the world – in Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Russia, Venezuela – and the rise of more authoritarian and repressive governments. Trump has represented a serious threat to American democracy as he used his office recklessly to favor his friends, corporate allies, the rich and powerful to the detriment of the ordinary working people who have followed him into the political swamp. His inflammatory rhetoric divided the country, encouraged racism, and promoted antagonism toward the press (which he labelled the “enemy of the people”). He flagrantly broke the law when he tried to entice the Ukrainian government to initiate an investigation of the Biden family and again in a recorded telephone call when he pressured election officials to find him votes that did not exist in order to be called the winner of the presidential election. Like other charismatic false prophets, Trump was able to mobilize deluded followers who believed in his dark vision about evil forces threatening the United States. His favorite foreign leaders were, like him, ambitious autocrats who also attacked the press and jailed their critics.

The mad king’s successes would have been impossible without his loyal followers, who believed in his mission to make America great again – which translates as making it more white, less egalitarian, more male-dominated, less ecologically sensitive, more selfish and arrogant. The more conservative of the two dominant political parties in the United States, the Republicans, had become the Trump party, obsequiously excusing his attacks on the norms of democracy. Political scientists maintain that the first requirement of democracy is that losers of an election recognize a peaceful transfer of power and that the winners of an election make sure that their opponents can in time, though the people’s choice, return to power. Democracy is about deliberation, debate, negotiation, and compromise. It is not about coercion, arresting political opponents, manipulating elections, and stifling the media. Trump was a natural-born autocrat, but his ultimate ambitions were thwarted by the normal workings of a democratic system. Americans came close to losing their democratic rights, but they dodged multiple bullets, first in November by exercising their votes, and then in January by stopping the haphazard insurrection of Trump loyalists.

The videos of armed intruders rummaging around in the hallowed halls of the Capitol shocked the nation, shaking their confidence in the country’s future. But I believe that something good has come out of the events of January 6, 2021. Trump has been dramatically exposed as the fraud he is and shown to be a man willing to overthrow democracy in order to stay in power. His Twitter account through which he had spread lies and conspiracy theories has been permanently suspended. Many of his Republican enablers have turned in disgust away from Trump, though the mad king’s influence among many others remains, a virus that could be revived once memories of the January days fade. Trump is more than a danger to America democracy. He has global reach and has propped up autocrats around the world. The threat of the ambitious to hold on to power will not disappear, while the struggle to preserve or to revive democracy remains with ordinary people. Only with democracy can politicians be held accountable. But there is no guarantee that the struggle against the Trumps of the world will end as well as it did on January 6.