Fruits of incitement: On the mob attack on U.S. Capitol

After the Capitol breach, the task of building bipartisan consensus is that much harder

January 08, 2021 12:02 am | Updated 12:17 am IST

If the history of nations is replete with ironies, nowhere were they more evident than in the U.S., when the “greatest nation on earth” became hostage to an ugly attempted coup led by a mob, bearing slogans of support for outgoing President Donald Trump . On Wednesday, hundreds of them stormed the Capitol building , as police appeared to be overwhelmed, and members of Congress, who were gathering to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election, cowered behind benches or were evacuated. Although the mob was eventually ejected, lawmakers went on to reconvene and formally certify the results, and Mr. Trump finally committed to an “orderly transition,” major social media platforms locked his accounts for violating their civic integrity policies, namely inciting violence with months of contentious posts that made baseless allegations about electoral fraud. The immediate trigger for the mob, said to have been methodically planned online via social media, was the surprise victory of two Democratic candidates, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff , in the January 5 run-off election in Georgia. That election was necessitated by the fact that no candidate won 50% of the popular vote in the November 3 general election. Their win gives Democrats 50 seats in the Senate, which is tantamount to control of the upper chamber of Congress, because the incoming Vice-President, Kamala Harris, will cast a deciding vote in a tie.

To say that the incoming and 46th U.S. President, Joe Biden, has a tough job on his hands after his inauguration on January 20, would be an understatement. The sheer viciousness of the January 6 mob attack , and more than two months of hateful vitriol online and offline following the 2020 election, is proof that political America is deeply polarised, brimming with anger and disenchantment at the ground realities. The “unprecedented assault” on the very soul of democracy (as Mr. Biden put it) has been in the making for more than four years. At the heart of the tsunami of angst that was evident throughout the election campaign is a sense of frustration that grips middle America, including the white middle class and blue-collar workers, over the inevitable changes to the U.S. economy and society. There is a view that the forces of immigration and globalisation have lit the fuses on this explosive combination of racial prejudice and economic insecurity. In reality, Mr. Trump’s strident rhetoric exploited this sense of alienation and socioeconomic dysfunction for narrow political and personal gains. Now Mr. Biden has an opportunity to strike a more balanced note by, on the one hand, seeking to revive the moribund spirit of bipartisan consensus and expediently tackling the thorny issue of comprehensive immigration reform, and, on the other, redressing the ills of runaway free-market liberalisation and forging a post-COVID-19 economic vision that can truly deliver on the American dream.

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