Barely a month after hosting a virtual "Summit for Democracy," the United States commemorated last year's Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot, serving as a sobering reminder that the U.S.-styled democracy is in a crisis.
In an opinion piece titled "I Feel for Our Democracy" published in The New York Times on Jan. 5, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter writes, "Our great nation now teeters on the brink of a widening abyss. Without immediate action, we are at genuine risk of civil conflict and losing our precious democracy. Americans must set aside differences and work together before it is too late."
A year after the insurrection in which Trump supporters trying to stop final recognition of the 2020 election breached barricades at the Capitol, attacked police officers and forced lawmakers to flee for their lives, the United States appears to be splitting further apart.
Just as Americans were struggling to pick up the pieces a year after a mob took the Capitol by storm, U.S. President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump engaged in a new war of words.
In an address to the nation on the anniversary of the riot, delivered from the Capitol's historic Statuary Hall where rioters had laid siege, Biden assailed Trump: "For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election. He tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob reached the Capitol. You can’t love your country only when you win."
Moments after Biden's speech, Trump fired back with written statements from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. "This political theater is all just a distraction for the fact that Biden has completely and totally failed," Trump wrote. "The Democrats want to own this day of January 6th so they can stoke fears and divide America," he added.
The U.S. political landscape remains deeply divided one year after the insurrection. Far from being shunned for an attempt to overturn the result of the 2020 election, Trump still wields undisputed influence in his party.
While the Democrats have described the riot as an assault on democracy, Trump and his allies have sought to obstruct a congressional investigation committee and assert that the riot was born out of justified anger over an election stolen by Biden.
For ordinary Americans, pessimism about their democracy prevails, with 64 percent of Americans believing U.S. democracy is "in crisis and at risk of failing," according to a new NPR/Ipsos poll published Jan. 3. Nearly two-thirds of the poll respondents agree that U.S. democracy is "more at risk" now than it was a year ago.
Trump, who encouraged a mob to attack Congress in a vain bid to hold onto power, has unraveled the halo surrounding U.S. democracy, after four years of his presidency that displayed chaos, an extreme ego and incompetence, culminating in a pandemic and a failed coup.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry released a report on democracy in the United States in early December, titled "The State of Democracy in the United States," saying the self-styled American democracy is now gravely ill with money politics, political polarization and a dysfunctional system.
In fact, the United States is functioning as a plutocracy instead of a democracy, Kishore Mahbubani, a distinguished fellow at the National University of Singapore's Asia Research Institute, said last year. A democracy is a government of the people, by the people, for the people, while the United States has the characteristics of a "plutocracy" — government of the 1 percent of the population, by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent, Mahbubani said.
This was the case even a century ago. "There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money and I can't remember what the second one is," Mark Hanna, U.S. industrialist and prototype of the political kingmaker, made the remarks when talking about American politics more than 100 years ago.
Speaking at the "Summit for Democracy" about a month ago, Biden stressed the need to defend "democracy" from "authoritarianism." Does he not understand that the threat to U.S. democracy comes from within?
The problem with the United States is that it extols the virtues of its political model as the standard for global democracy, and arbitrarily labels other systems as "authoritarianism." When it tries to export its model to other countries, bloodshed ensues. The bloody wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries are still fresh in our memories.
Reflecting on the ramifications of the Jan. 6 riot, U.S. politicians should tend to their country's own illness and leave the world alone.
(The author is a deputy editor-in-chief of Shenzhen Daily.)