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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 5, New Delhi, January 16, 2021

Mayhem At Capitol Hill Wake Up Call To Democrats Of The World | Vijay Kumar

Friday 15 January 2021

by Vijay Kumar

The storming of US Congress in Capitol Hill on 6th January by the mob incited by the outgoing President may be shocking, but not surprising. This attack in the very citadel of American Democracy is a culmination of toxic combination of neoliberalism and demagoguery anchored in racism. It would, however, be a grave mistake to term this unprecedented violence as a unique to US. The symptom of this kind, which is prelude to fascism, is present in many countries, including in India. In fact, the mob attack in JNU and Jamia campuses and elsewhere underscores the spread of virus of hate and has , therefore, more grave implication for Indian democracy.

At the time of counting of votes in US Presidential election, I wrote that Trump may have lost the election, but Trumpism was alive and kicking (see Mainstream, 7th November 2020) and that exactly happened on 6th January. The very fact that Trump, despite losing decisively, secured 75 million votes speaks for menacing rise of right-wing phenomenon - not only in the US but also elsewhere, including India. In similar vein, on the eve of assembly election in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, when Rahul Gandhi was busy in temple-hopping, I had written that Congress may win these Assembly elections, but was not in a position to challenge the hideous rise of Hindutva (See the Unchallenged Hegemony of BJP – Mainstream, dated 2nd December,2018 ). The trumpism grounded in poisonous notion of racism is as much threat to democracy as the demagoguery rooted in religion and recidivism.

Trump is not only demagogue but also incorrigibly narcissist and megalomaniac. His demagoguery is rooted in white supremacy and white supermacism grew side by side with promotion of cult personality _ again a manifestation not peculiar to the US. What happened on 6th January is attack on democracy not only in US but in every part of the world, and this must prompt the democrats and liberals everywhere to consolidate against the rise of mobocracy rather than gloating over the predicament of US. Similarly, the schadenfreude moment articulated by certain segments in Russian and Chinese establishments and media and other countries deserves strong condemnation. Just as injustice anywhere is threat to justice everywhere, as memorably put in by Martin Luther King, attack on democracy in any part of the world must be a matter of grave concern for all the liberals.

What happened on 6th January is a culmination of the process of decaying of Republican Party started with rise of lethal combination of neoliberalism and atavistic passion. I have argued elsewhere that neoliberalism and religious fundamentalism feed upon each other as obscurantism tends to deradicalise the emancipatory potency of progressive politics. The neoliberalism and cultural revivalism started growing side by side within the rank and file of the Republican Party since the presidency of Ronald Reagan and reached its nadir on 6th January, 2021. The party which espoused the cause of ‘Social Ethics” and “Civic Virtue”, associated with one of the greatest President of US, Abraham Lincoln, has degenerated into brazen-faced right -wing party of barbarian.

Paradoxical though it may sound, the seed of pernicious phenomenon of white supermacism was sown in otherwise the progressive evolution of democratic politics culminating in Barrack Obama becoming first black president in the oldest constitutional democracy in 2008. The racism which was lurking in the background came to surface and Trump exploited it to the hilt in 2016. The rise of Trump on the strength of post truth and white supremacy was the right -wing reaction to the black becoming president in most powerful country of the world.

The democrats in the US are busy in securing accountability of Trump by impeaching him second time by the majority of 232 votes to 197 votes in House of Representatives on 13th January following refusal by the Vice President, Mike Pence to invoke 25th Amendment or prosecuting Trump for full-frontal attack on democracy and republicanism. These are irreducible minima, but the interrogation must go beyond securing accountability. Democrats in US and other parts of the world must confront the rise of right-wing ideology rested solidly on venomous combination of neoliberalism and religious bigotry by demonizing black and minority. Defeating Trump is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition. What is paramount is to defeat Trumpism in its numerous shades in different parts of the world, including India.

Instead of mocking the hour of shame for US democracy, genuine democrats and liberals must take into account that the institutions in US, particularly media and judiciary lived upto the role of check and balance, whereas these institutions have almost collapsed or on the verge of collapsing in other parts of the world, including India. Not only that, but even a segment of Republicans, however small it may be, broke the rank and distanced themselves from Trump and condemned the attack of mob on 6th January. To begin with, many Republican States rejected the lies of voting fraud mouthed by Trump like propagandist. Even half a dozen federal judiciary, though packed by Trump appointees, rejected the claim of election being stolen in absence of any evidence whatsoever. Similarly, the Supreme Court, despite 6 to 3 majority in favour of Republican Party, repelled the challenge mounted by some of the Republican controlled states through their Attorney Generals. Even Vice President Pence asserted that he had no right to nullify the certification of results done by the States. Again, the Attorney General William Barr, one of the staunchest sidekick of Trump, who resigned few days back, not only condemned the attack on Capitol Hill but before that he had said that he found no evidence of voting fraud at all. And the most indispensible man for the Trump, Mitch McConnell, the leader of Senate who acted as a consigliere found no instance of voting malpractice. Similarly, two Cabinet Ministers registered their protests by rendering their resignations. And last but not the least, the Media, particularly, CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post rose to the occasion and spoke truth to the power consistently since 2016.

At the time of writing this piece, The House of Representatives under the dynamic leadership of Nancy Pelosi impeached Trump, the first president to be impeached twice, by majority of 232 votes to 197 votes. This speaks for existence of strong opposition party capable of acting as a guard rail against the abuse of power. Therefore, the countries, who are jeering the US democracy, must reckon these silver linings even in the darkest hour of US democracy. Even Trump has conducted Press Conference throughout his tenure of four years, whereas there are some leaders in democratic countries who have not held any press conference at all.

Similarly, the extremist groups like QANON, PROUD AMERICA and other fringe outfits, are a phenomenon not confined to US alone. These kinds of right-wing fringe outfits exist in other parts of the world and its numbers are far more menacing. In India, numerous militant outfits like Bajrang Dal, etc. already exist and their numbers are multiplying rapidly and pose threat not only to Indian democracy but also to spirit of tolerance, catholicity and pluralistic inherent in classic Hinduism.

The personality cult promoted through plebiscitary appeal to the masses directly by strong leaders by putting them above party, constitutional office and even country is a threat to democracy everywhere. Democracy can be sustained only through strong and independent institutions capable of enforcing rule of law impartially and refusing to be beholden to the leaders of the country. Institution and existence of it and its robust functioning are sine qua non for checking the abuse of power. Francis Fukuyama, one of the foremost political theorists in current time, argued in his two-volume magisterial works “Political order and Political decay” that the country which is governed on impersonal rule is more developed democracy rather than country governed by the cult of personality, and he choose Scandinavian countries as a role model.

The mob attack on the Capitol Hill on 6th January at the instance of Trump is, therefore, a wake-up call for genuine democrats, and committed liberals in every parts of the world must interrogate the slide of democracy into mobocracy, and that can be secured only through progressive and equitable politics centered around people welfare. Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate in Economics, has constantly been reminding us through his column in the New York Times that reversal of backsliding of democracy is far more challenging than reversal of economic recession and security threats.

(Vijay Kumar is Advocate at the Supreme Court of India)

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