The United States’ democracy had a heart attack on Jan 6 that stunned the world.
Inside and outside the US Capitol, doors and windows were broken, tear gas flared, guns were waved and fired. Five people, including a police officer, died in the violence in the supposed hallowed halls, where Congress was disrupted in executing its supreme electoral power to confirm the next presidency after yearlong poll battles.
Almost eighteen months ago, a similar flurry of violence overwhelmed the Legislative Council building of China’s Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on July 1, 2019, though there were luckily no direct deaths thanks to gun control and police restraint.
But escalated violence in the following months saw a couple of deaths and numerous injuries of police officers and residents. Black-clad youths even poured oil on an elderly man and set him on fire in broad daylight, leaving him hospitalized and in permanent pain.
Yet the responses of US politicians to the two incidents are striking. According to their definition, the people storming the Capitol were rioters and domestic terrorists, while those in Hong Kong were “freedom fighters” and “democracy saviors” repeatedly lauded by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Vice-President Mike Pence quickly cut himself away from supporters of himself and his election partner. But in 2019, he sent at least one message to Hong Kong protesters: “We stand with you. We are inspired by you.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi condemned the violence and rampage at and around her office, but in 2019 simply described Hong Kong rioting as “a beautiful sight to behold”.
In their perspective, the US Capitol lawbreakers are criminals to be prosecuted, while those breaking into Hong Kong LegCo building should be free or granted visas after they failed to advance to power with US support. US police are heroes to be honored, while Hong Kong police are suppressors to be sanctioned. The violence at the US Capitol is categorized as an insurrection or near-sedition, but the assault on the Hong Kong legislature is seen as a revolution.
Hypocrisy? Double standards? No, US politicians say, because their system is the lighthouse on Earth, the holy model for all others to learn from and follow.
So apart from Hong Kong, US administrations have kept on instigating and funding such chaotic scenarios worldwide for decades, at least from Iran and Ukraine to Tunisia, Libya and Venezuela.
A number of sovereign states newly escaping from colonialism were yoked by the powerful White House and its agencies to comply with violent protesters for regime change, even though the US signed United Nations documents safeguarding the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of other countries.
Now, the self-proclaimed lighthouse of democracy in Washington DC has been blurred and darkened in tear gas and shooting.
Still, US politicians keep their red line marked. That so-called lighthouse is intended for American followers outside the border to enlighten riotous protesters against indocile governments, elected or not. But once Capitol Hill is under siege, political heavyweights savoring unrest elsewhere reveal their true colors and unleash all their weight against “rioters” and “instigators”.
Hours after diving to safety and in the name of an emergency rescue for American democracy, US politicians erupted with bombast against a loose-tongued president who has refused to concede defeat.
Laying the blame at the feet of a defiant but losing president is convenient though logical and legitimate, likely to stem blood loss at the core of US elections and regain certain vitality for the deep-seated system. However, it cannot cure the artery arrest in US democracy that galvanizes social divide and propels political interference in others’ soils.
Apparently, millions of Americans think differently. As per a November poll by The Economist magazine and data analytics group YouGov, some 88 percent of the respondents who voted for Donald Trump believed the presidential race was plagued with fraud and that Trump should not concede defeat.
Despite critics harping endlessly about lies and incompetence, Trump, the pride product of US elections in 2016, convinced 74,222,958 people to vote for him again in 2020, garnering the second highest vote tally in American history next only to Joe Biden’s total. Besides, the US democracy is never meant for the popular votes to decide, as Al Gore and Hillary Clinton know.
It is believed that each voice should be heard in a fair election. But even when both Biden and Trump set historic records at one of the US’ highest voter turnout rates at 66.7 percent in November, 79 million entitled US voters went silent, or were somehow silenced.
So, Biden’s tally of 81,283,098 popular votes, the highest in US history, only amounts to about 35 percent of the total eligible population, a far cry from the two-thirds understanding of a societal majority. This reveals the hard fact that not many presidential winners of US-style elections truly represent the majority of their population.
Moreover, the storming of the Capitol proves again that US elections further polarize and rent apart society. The announced absence of an outgoing US president at the upcoming inauguration of his successor, who in an offbeat manner agreed and dubbed it as “good”, further illuminates the dysfunctional system often held out as the standard to which other countries aspire.
Worse, the constant shoving and swinging of its own people to extreme ends by way of a bi-party political rock and roll, though capable of yielding temporary corrections, can lead to more chaos and disruptions, augmenting the risk of eventually turning society upside down in an inexorable fall.
All this keeps us from the larger truth. Some US politicians are juggling and wrangling to keep their power over millions of people at home and billions abroad, only to serve the very few who finance them at the cost of the vast majority’s interests.
What the US needs is refurbishment of not just Capitol Hill, but the whole genre of politics in Washington DC. But whether US politicians can, when they will realize their limits, find a cure for malfunction and rehabilitate US governance remains uncertain.
The real tragedy would be the inability of a narcissist US to change for the common good.
The author is a China Daily journalist based in Hong Kong.
HONG KONG NEWS