Democracies and madmen

Today is a reminder, a painful one, that democracy is fragile. To preserve it requires people of good will, leaders with the courage to stand up, who are devoted not to pursuit of power and personal interest at any cost, but to the common good.

– Joe Biden, US President-elect

Five people have been confirmed dead in the US Capitol riot— they are four protesters and one policeman.

These are the type of news that we always associate with countries deemed to be immature or categorised as third world countries.

To the surprise of many, the storming of a legislative body just happened in the United States of America (USA) — a nation founded on principles of democracy 245 years ago in 1776.

So, what happened to trigger this violent mob? Well, here is a quick recap of events that led to it.

The USA has just conducted its presidential election, which is held every four years, in November last year. 

Democratic candidate Joe Biden won with 51.4 percent of the votes (81,283,485 votes) and the incumbent President Trump lost with 46.9 percent of the votes (74,223,744 votes) — 306 to 232 Electoral College votes respectively.

Trump has gone into denial about his loss. As predicted by many observers, he is not able to accept his defeat gracefully. In fact, he has made numerous attempts to undermine and overturn the election results by alleging voter fraud.

After many failed attempts to cling on to his disastrous presidency, he increased his provocative statements by calling upon his supporters to demonstrate nationwide to block the handover to the incoming president.

This incitement finally led to a stunning attempt by a violent mob to storm the US Capitol on January 6.  The last time the US Capitol was stormed was by the British in 1814. They burned the Capitol and the White House.

Before the incident took place, lawmakers were actually debating the validity of the election results and had to run for cover and go into hiding, fearing for their safety.

During the storming process, one of the policemen on duty defending a democratic institution was beaten up severely and subsequently died from the injuries sustained by him.

For the sake of democracy, it was fortunate that at the end of the day violence did not win. It was indeed a close call. It is however important to realise that the rage has not passed.

Almost 75 million people voted for Trump. Many of them are also still convinced that the election was stolen from them. It is anticipated that many Trump supporters will continue with their disruptive campaigns.

In Louisiana in 1873, the local militia overthrew a democratically elected governor. A hundred black freedmen were also killed. This is referred to as the ‘Colfax Massacre’.

The hardcore supporters of Trump are said to be made up mostly ‘whites’ with supremacist ideologies. It would be premature to think that Trump and his supporters will now be consigned into the dustbin of history.

In Malaysian politics, many made the same mistake. Politicians who were consigned to the dustbin managed to climb out smelling of roses.

On a nationwide level in the US, the current level of division in American society has apparently not been seen since the American Civil War.

This type of shift towards a fascist, religious and racist outlook worldwide is becoming more worrying. When race and religion are used to stir up emotions and dragged into politics, it becomes a volatile and combustible mix.

We in Malaysia, as a democratic nation, have already been facing some elements of these issues.

Considering that even a 245-year-old democracy such as the USA has been shaken to its very core by fascist behaviour, we have to be vigilant to ensure our relative younger democracy is kept alive and stable.

In Sarawak, we have to be collectively responsible to ensure no opportunity is given to any group to introduce and practise divisive politics.

The current team lead by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg has an inclusive approach that reaches out to all communities.

Having this type of leadership will ensure a stable and sustainable democratic system.

Let us keep in mind that we want a political and social environment that is safe for us and our children when we next go to the ballot box.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.