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Friday, 22 January 2021

After the storming of Congress

In threatening to remove outgoing US President Donald Trump from power, the US Democratic Party is going against the principles of democracy

Saeed Okasha , Tuesday 12 Jan 2021
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Last week’s storming of the Capitol building in Washington DC by protesters contesting the results of the US presidential race was indefensible, but the attempt of the Democratic Party and its supporters to take advantage of the incident to settle scores with outgoing US president Donald Trump under the pretense of defending democracy is the type of hypocrisy usually practised by demagogues on both the right and left.

The victim will be democracy itself, with which Democratic Party supporters falsely commiserate.

At its core, democracy is founded on two key principles: freedom of expression and the rule of law. What the Democrats in the US have done is to void democracy as a concept of all its content. They have supported blocking Trump’s social media accounts and removing apps used by millions under the pretext of their being used to incite violence. This is a form of collective punishment exercised by the most despotic regimes. They have also called for Trump’s immediate removal from power, impeaching him without waiting for the results of the investigation into the riot.

These are all clear violations of the rule of law, which prohibits the hurling of accusations without evidence or investigation. How have the Democrats taken this path that contradicts the principles of democracy?

First, Trump did not tweet a single message inciting his supporters to storm the US Congress. In fact, he clearly said in an address to those same supporters shortly before the riot that he supported “peaceful” protests against the election results in an election that he lost.

Therefore, holding him responsible for the attack on Congress is contrived, and it distorts his words, which were that he doubted the integrity of the elections, in order to prove that he incited the attack. This is an unobjective conclusion, especially since those who raided Capitol Hill were only a few hundred out of the hundreds of thousands who heeded Trump’s call to protest against the election results. The majority of these people did not participate in the attack.

Democratic Party supporters earlier protested against the outcome of the 2016 US presidential elections and demonstrated against the results in several states. Some clashes occurred during protests in Oakland, California, where some demonstrators broke the windows of shops and clashed with riot police who responded with tear gas.

The protests were led by supporters of former Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who repeatedly said she doubted the results of the elections she lost, saying there had been Russian interference in them in favour of Trump.

Her claims could not be construed as an incitement to attack state institutions, however, and by the same token Trump’s claims of fraudulent elections in 2020 cannot be construed as the reason for storming Congress by some protesters.

An even more blatant violation of the rule of law by the Democrats came in statements by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has manipulated the emotions of the US public. She did not call for an investigation to find out the identities of those who raided the Capitol building or their ideology, amid suspicions that the rioters were from both the radical right and the radical left. Instead, Pelosi told the public she has asked the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to remove the “nuclear briefcase” from Trump’s reach to prevent him from using it to launch a war overseas that would pose an imminent threat to the country’s security.

In fact, she discussed nuclear codes and launch protocols not the “nuclear briefcase” itself, which makes this point moot. Perhaps Pelosi does not understand the meaning of “nuclear briefcase” and thought that this term means an actual briefcase that only one person controls.

Perhaps she does not realise that “nuclear briefcase” and “nuclear button” are just expressions and that the US president, even as commander in chief, cannot simply open the briefcase and tamper with it any time he pleases. Pressing the nuclear button comes at the end of a complex technical protocol in which the president plays a secondary role, while the actual decision is taken by military strategists.

Pelosi’s statements thus violate the rule of law and disrespect the US public. She incited a state institution (the military) to block the president from exercising his symbolic, not actual, role. If Pelosi’s ignorance about how the “nuclear briefcase” works in the US is true, then this is understandable. However, for her to claim that she wants to protect democracy and the rights and security of US citizens by preventing Trump from using his powers is a clear indication of the kind of disinformation and deception of the US public that the Democrats have been propagating.

Pelosi knows full well that it is impossible for Trump to unilaterally decide to press the nuclear button, and she thus used the same populist rhetoric that she has accused Trump and his supporters of using in an attempt to intimidate and deceive the US public.

Violating the rule of law and the correct judicial process for crimes such as storming a federal institution is not the only principle that the Democrats have sacrificed in their pursuit of Trump with a view to taking revenge on him. The second victim of these actions is an even more important concept of democracy – namely, the freedom of expression.

Not only did administrators at social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter block or delete Trump’s accounts, but they also went after other outlets such as Parler, which is similar to these platforms but has greater freedoms and 3.6 million users in the US.

This app was removed from Apple’s AppStore under the pretext that it hosts content that incites violence. Did the administrators concerned check that all 3.6 million users of the app have been inciting violence before they remove it? Maybe hundreds or even thousands of Parler users incite violence, but why punish all of them for the actions of a tiny minority?

Is this not a blatant example of the kind of “collective punishment” used by despotic regimes? If the reason for blocking these accounts and apps was allegedly because they incite violence and under the pretext of protecting democracy in the US, why have these same administrators of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram turned a blind eye to similar calls flooding millions of accounts on these platforms around the world and especially in the Middle East? Why were these accounts not blocked, since they threaten democracy and the security and stability of societies that are under fierce terrorist attack by Political Islam and extremist left-wing groups?

What has been happening in the US, led by the Democrats, has nothing to do with real democracy. The storming of the Capitol is merely an indication that the US and much of the rest of the world are now in the throes of a “populist” war of left and right in which all means of destroying the concept of democracy are in play under the pretext of defending freedoms or the security of the homeland.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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