The spectacle of a riotous mob invading the U.S. Congressional building this week with the aim of violently overturning the presidential election has shocked the world. It is a moment of truth about America’s bankrupt claims of “exceptionalism” and “moral authority”.
Lawmakers were in the process of certifying the November election of Democrat candidate Joe Biden when thousands of supporters of incumbent President Donald Trump stormed the iconic Capitol legislature forcing police officers to flee and politicians to shelter in secure chambers.
It took several hours before reinforcements from the National Guard managed to restore order by evicting the seething crowds. Five people were killed in the melee, one from police gunshot wounds, the other a police officer who later died from injuries. Windows were smashed, public property was trashed and private offices were vandalized. Several police officers were injured and dozens of protesters arrested.
Many Americans and observers around the world were shocked by the scenes of lawlessness and depravity. The seat of U.S. government was sacked – albeit temporarily – by a baying mob. All the more perplexing was the fact that the brazen act of sedition had been incited by a sitting president. Only minutes before the rampage, Trump had fired up angry crowds to “save” American democracy by forcing lawmakers to overturn the election result. (He later denounced the violence with his trademark cynical duplicity.)
Since the November 3 presidential election, Trump and his supporters have defiantly refused to accept the result of both the popular vote and the Electoral College, which decisively nominated Biden as the clear winner. Trump and his ilk have persisted with unsubstantiated and outlandish claims of systematic election fraud. The sowing of doubt in American democracy by the president led to the chaotic scenes this week in Washington when Congress was attacked by furious mobs who believe in the nefarious nonsense that the election was stolen.
Part of the problem is the dearth in popular trust of U.S. institutions, in particular the news media, as well as the bitter and burgeoning political polarization across American society. If major news media declare Biden the winner and Trump the loser, then the opposite must be true for many people.
It is true that U.S. corporate media have lost credibility over many years from the prevalent lies they have told concerning false pretexts for foreign wars, and, in the past four years, regarding the whole baseless “Russiagate” scandal embroiling Trump. Nevertheless, America at large seems to have become mired in conspiratorial thinking that is bordering on mass delusional, preventing normal cognitive function and rationale dialogue based on any consensus around objective reality.
We are, though, in unprecedented and unchartered political territory when American politicians and media are condemning “insurrection” and an “assault on democracy”.
It is a phenomenal inflection point when world leaders are deploring events in the United States this week as a repudiation of the rule of law and democratic principle.
A telling headline in The Washington Post read: “The end of the road for American exceptionalism”.
Richard Haass, of the Council on Foreign Relations, stated: “We are seeing images that I never imagined we would see in this country… No one in the world is likely to see, respect, fear or depend on us in the same way again.”
The conceited notion of “American exceptionalism” has long been part of the U.S. national mythology. In this conception, the United States is supposed to be uniquely superior to the rest of the world in terms of its purported respect for rule of law and democratic rights. This arrogance has bestowed a domineering sense of “moral authority” over all other nations whereby American presidents and Congress are entitled to lecture others about democracy, and to unilaterally impose sanctions on others whom they accuse of violating “sacred rights”. In extremis, American exceptionalism is invoked to justify military force against others deemed to be “undemocratic”.
Currently, dozens of countries are subjected to American sanctions over allegations of rights violations, including Russia and China. These sanctions are dangerously provoking tensions, laying the ground for war.
American sanctions are taking horrendous toll on lives in countries which are prevented from importing medicines and other basic necessities. Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, to mention only a few.
What “moral authority” does the United States possibly have to use such blatant forms of economic aggression against other nations? Such “authority” was always illusory and unethical. But now the duplicity has been exposed for the disgusting charade that it is.
Amusingly, however, even with its international image in the gutter, some American politicians and media could not stop their habit of living in denial by seeking to blame others.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, each complained that the events were a “gift to Putin”. Others decried that America’s adversaries would “make propaganda” from the disgrace.
Joe Biden, now the official President-elect who will be inaugurated on January 20, sought to reassure his nation and the rest of the world by asserting that the lawless scenes on Capitol Hill “do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are.”
The new president solemnly declared: “We are a nation of laws.”
Well, Biden ought to know that the United States has long been a nation which insists on laws for others while viewing itself as being above the law. The endless, illegal wars around the world with millions of innocent victims that the U.S. has propagated are testament to that. Biden personally supported those wars in the past.
The use of economic aggression under the guise of sanctions against nations that are deemed to violate rights is the mark of a deluded, arrogant power that thinks itself “exceptional”.
The mayhem in Washington this week is the manifestation of America’s political putrefaction. Extolling laws and rights has become a hollow, meaningless platitude. Because America has long been violating those very principles it declares to be sacred – when it is expedient and advantageous for its ruling class to do so.
When America gets off its high horse of proclaiming exceptionalism and begins to abide by international law, the UN Charter and respect for the sovereignty of all nations, then we might begin to take its declarations of democracy a little more seriously. Until then, the scenes of chaos in its own society are a salutary reminder of America’s hypocrisy and bankrupt moral authority. Until then, American politicians and media should learn to keep their big mouths shut.
By Strategic Culture Foundation