With Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome of the US election, and the storming of Capitol Hill last week by his supporters, more than just the US’s democracy was at stake: the entire liberal democratic project (of which the US is the oldest and most influential) hung, for a moment, in the balance.
The world held its breath as Trump seemingly refused to step down. This, in a country with a history of over two centuries of peaceful transfers of power.
Luckily the safeguards put in place by the US to ensure that a sitting president can’t cause an insurrection and get away with it held firm. Trump this week became the first US president in history to be impeached TWICE. (He was first impeached in November 2019 for alleged electoral interference.)
But it was a close call. It was also a warning sign: the democratic system and ideals we’ve adopted in SA, and that many of us hold dear, are not a given. Forces all over the world threaten to undermine them, from the rise of the far-right and fascism in the US, Europe and elsewhere, to the unsustainable levels of inequality and crime that plague us here at home – and which historically have led to the rise of dangerous populists.
What happens next in the US’s hallowed halls of power is this: now that Trump has been impeached by one part of its version of our National Assembly, it’s up to the second part, the US Senate, to hold a trial against him. That’s expected to happen on 20 January, the day that US president-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated. But if Trump is no longer president, what’s the point? Well, the Senate can still bar Trump from running for president again in 2024. But what happens next in the rest of the world is anything but certain. The events of the past week show that democracy is fragile. Plus, a question mark over its legitimacy hangs over the sort of democracy that’s held up by a predatory form of capitalism. We need to ensure an inclusive form of democracy, where everyone has a seat at the table, thrives. It is, after all, the disenfranchised who are exploited by populist demagogues.
This story was originally published in The Wrap here.