Capitol Hill ‚Coup d’Etat‘: EU ‘Dismayed’ as Pro-Trump Mob Storms ‘Temple of Democracy’

Written by | Friday, January 8th, 2021

European leaders expressed dismay and distress as armed supporters of US President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday (6 January) in an effort to stop lawmakers from confirming president-elect Joe Biden’s electoral win. Trump supporters, who were earlier urged directly by the incumbent president at a rally to go to the Capitol, stormed the building as Congress members were certifying Biden’s win, a normally ceremonial and mundane event. In ugly scenes, hundreds forced their way past metal security barricades, broke windows, and scaled walls to enter the government building in the heart of the US capital city.
In response to these dramatic events, during which five people died and at least 52 were arrested, European Parliament President David Sassoli said he was “deeply disturbed” and wrote in a message to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, that his “thoughts are very much for the safety of you and your fellow colleagues.” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen echoed Sassoli’s words, saying, “I believe in the strength of US institutions and democracy. Peaceful transition of power is at the core. Joe Biden won the election. I look forward to working with him as the next President of the USA.” Her Council counterpart Charles Michel said the US Congress was “a temple of democracy” and said “We trust the US to ensure a peaceful transfer of power” to Joe Biden.
European far-right leaders – including Dutch opposition leader Geert Wilders, Trump’s longtime British ally Nigel Farage and Italy’s far-right League party leader Matteo Salvini –who once threw their unwavering support behind the incumbent, president, have denounced pro-Trump protesters‘ actions. Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Rally party, said Trump “must condemn what happened” but raised concern that his Twitter and Facebook accounts had been temporarily suspended. In contrast, populists such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic had not commented on the violence, which many viewed as an assault on the symbol of American democracy.
Although many in the US establishment frame his actions only as “childish antics”, many in and outside of Europe have started to question if the time has not come to take the coup attempt that Trump is making more seriously? As Mahmoud Salem, an Egyptian writer and a political and cybersecurity analyst, writes: „The long answer would be yes.“ Salem argues that Trump’s actions are bound to have geopolitical implications on democracy worldwide, especially in Europe, with the rise of alt-right movements and similar strongmen in Hungary and Poland. It is clear that authoritarian leaders all over the world are watching very closely every step Trump is taking and how the American system is reacting to it. Where strongmen have been following the example of Putin in the past, now Trump has become the one to follow in his attempt to defy one of the strongest democratic traditions in the world.
The scenes of the pro-Trump mob storming Capitol Hill in the US capital looked eerily familiar to many in Germany that has now seen a heated debate about whether democracies are in danger on this side of the Atlantic, too. These images from Washington reminded many Europeans of events in their own countries, such as in Hungary, in 2006, when a far-right mob stormed the country‘s parliament, engaging in street battles with police that lasted for weeks. These events ultimately saw an increase in support for right-wing populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Some Germans felt reminded of the National Socialist riots of the 1920s and 1930s or of more recent events in Berlin in August 2020, when protesters belonging to the so-called “Querdenker” (lateral thinker) movement against the government’s coronavirus restrictions stormed the steps of the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament building.
In 1933, German democracy failed, as the Nazis exploited its weaknesses and managed to establish a totalitarian regime. That is why after WWII, West Germany established what it considered a resilient democracy: A system in place until today, that limits freedom of speech and association in order to safeguard and protect the constitutional order. “I think there is something to be learned for the US from [the] German experience,” says political scientist Daniel Ziblatt. “The idea that democracy is not a machine that runs on its own but that it has to be defended, is a valuable lesson. The irony is of course that Americans helped build German democracy.”

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