Wednesday, January 6, 2021, was a day which shall live in infamy. It was a day on which the American Congress met for what should have been a mere formality — to certify the election of Joe Biden as the next President. Instead, Donald Trump and his supporters staged an insurrection by laying siege to the Capitol, vandalising it, attempting to seize election results physically and threatening the safety and lives of US Congressmen. When Franklin Roosevelt referred to December 7, 1941, as “a day which shall live in infamy,” America had been “suddenly and deliberately attacked” by an external enemy.
On Wednesday, American democracy was deliberately attacked by the sitting President of the United States. Through the day, Trump summoned his supporters and incited them to stage what can only be called an attempted coup, after having tried every legal avenue and appealing to every authority, including Vice President Mike Pence, to overturn the election results. “We will never concede,” Trump told his mob at a rally that morning and implored them to march to the Capitol. His lawyer Rudy Guiliani was explicit. “Let’s have a trial by combat,” he told the rally. As the mob marched to the Capitol, Trump summoned more of them. “Be there, will be wild,” he tweeted.
The US Congress has finally certified Biden as the winner of the November election. He will be inaugurated as President on January 20. That’s a relief. But the dangerous spectacle at the Capitol is a reminder of how fragile democracy is, even in the greatest democracy of the world. Democracy has to be protected and nurtured every day. It is not something that is just there and will always be. The incitement to violence against the Capitol and America’s representatives amounts to sedition; the attempt to violently overturn the election results and thus violate the Constitution and Congress amounts to treason. Donald Trump must be tried for both. The attack on democracy must not go unpunished. When democracy is so fragile and in such danger in what aspires to be the “shining city on the hill,” one shudders to think what could happen in lesser democracies, many of which are currently ruled by populist, racist, communal, authoritarian figures and regimes that have all climbed onto the dome of democracy through elections, only to hammer it down.
None of what happened on Wednesday will have come as a surprise to those in the Republican Party. They aided and abetted Trump for four years. They must now decide whether the party will continue to be in the thrall of Trump and his support base for the sake of their own political careers or they will do right by American democracy.