Trouble on Capitol Hill highlights serious issues in western democracy today

Let’s be very clear.  The invasion of the United States Congress by a partisan political mob this last week is

  • anti-democratic,
  • an affront to the Constitution of the USA, and
  • a shameful reflection on the state of western democracy in the early 21st century

Allow me to start by referencing the Constitution of another democratic Republic, that of France. In France, it is un-constitutional to resist an officer of the State in the proper exercise of their duties – article 7 of the Declaration on the Rights of Man. If officers are in the wrong, the Constitution makes provision at article 71  for formal review by a Public Rights Defender.  At no point are aggrieved citizens to take matters into their own hands and try to rectify the situation directly themselves.

That Constitutional provision reflects two underlying principles, and attempts to make practical arrangements for both Principles to be respected.

One vital principle is that law and order are essential. The alternative is chaos with people taking matters into their own hands. The other Principle is the sanctity of individual liberty – to live as you wish and speak your mind without fear of oppression from anyone, including an over mighty State.

I think that the French have it about right. It is the only realistic and practical way to proceed, allowing for redress against over zealous or corrupt officials. You cannot begin on the assumption that public officers are in the wrong and every complaint right; that way lies chaos. 

This speaks directly to events on Capitol Hill in Washington DC this week. The correct recourse for Trumpist grievance is to institutions like the courts. That failing – as it has – then the only appropriate response is concession by Trump to Biden followed by a thorough Enquiry.

A dispassionate and comprehensive review of Trump’s grievance is in everyone’s interests: it will either exonerate President Biden, or else it will point the way to reforms in time for the next Presidential election in 2024. What is totally unacceptable in a democracy is to block Biden becoming President.

Vice President Mike Pence has clearly acted correctly, and has presumably endeavoured to play a similar role during his full 4 years at President Trump’s shoulder

The 2000 Presidential Election is also instructive. The injustice suffered by Democrat Al Gore was far worse on that occasion: the result depended on the disputed ‘hanging chad’ votes in Florida where the Governor was none other than the brother of the successful candidate, George W Bush …

For the sake of national unity and respect for the constitutional process,  Gore conceded to Bush. A comparison of these two elections puts current events into perspective.

So what is happening in the USA today, twenty years on from the incredibly close Presidential election vote in which Democrat Gore took the majority of actual votes cast, as Democrat Clinton also did in 2016 and as Democrat Biden has just done in 2020.

I believe there are serious grievances on both the  Left and the Right in America today – grievances which are not confined to the United States – grievances which need to be addressed for the sake of healthy politics in western democracies.

Left wing grievances include, for example:

  • Democratic candidates often win the Presidential election vote, but not the Presidency
  • wealthy individuals and the big corporations are getting totally inappropriate tax breaks
  • ditto re contravention of legal liabilities in social matters such as employment
  • ditto re contravention of increasingly necessary standards for the Environment
  • minorities are too often subject to abuse of power by police trained in confrontation, not de-escalation

But the Right has real grievance too

  • progressive opinion has contempt for the values so fundamental to pro-lifers and patriots
  • the fascistic ‘Antifa’ are so entrenched in certain Democrat areas of the country that their criminal and otherwise anti-social activities go unchecked
  • the Woke mentality is uncomfortably akin to totalitarianism, denying free speech and freedom of action – note the Left/ Right divide over government responses to Covid 19
  • Serious Big State intervention is threatened by the Socialist forces which exploit genuine grievance like the killing of Afro Americans by white police

President Biden sincerely wants to unite his country. But just as there are constitutional and legal norms which aggrieved Trumpists must observe, so there are also social and psychological norms which militant atheists ought to respect.

And when President Biden asserts that wearing a surgical mask is not a political statement, he reveals that he does not yet understand the underlying nature of the philosophical clash in western democracy today.

Ray Catlin