Democratic systems are only as good as the people who uphold them (AFP)
Democratic systems are only as good as the people who uphold them (AFP)

The time has come for all democrats across the world to unite

The US must lead by example given the resilience of its democratic institutions in battling this scourge
By Shashi Shekhar
PUBLISHED ON JAN 10, 2021 09:23 PM IST

It is an image that will haunt anyone invested in democracy for a long time to come. A miscreant sitting in the chair of the speaker of the United States (US) House of Representatives, his foot on the desk, mocking the institution.

During the revolutions in France and Russia, palaces were looted and monarchs, along with the aristocracy, were overthrown. In Afghanistan, after president Mohammed Najibullah was publicly hanged, fundamentalists were seen dancing. In Iraq, American soldiers demolished fallen dictator Saddam Hussein’s palaces. But the difference in the US is that the violence was instigated by the President himself.

The problem with many politicians is that they think that power, once won, is a fundamental entitlement. Donald Trump came to power by challenging existing traditions. His slogans such as America First and Make America Great Again, with the accompanying exclusionary rhetoric, went against the liberal grain of the US. He chose to overlook, and often demonise, those who came from different places, including native Americans, African Americans and Hispanics.

Most people in the US recognise that it is diversity which makes the country a beacon of hope. This is why a deep sense of regret has now set in among many sections. A number of Trump’s colleagues have resigned. But there are some difficult questions that need to be answered. Now, at the end of his tenure, there is pressure on Trump to resign. Even his own party leaders are upset with his behaviour. Much of social media has banned him. Many are wondering about what further havoc he would wreak before he steps down. There is a demand, and rightfully so, that he should be kept away from the nuclear button. And Trump has no one to blame for all this but himself.

Trump will leave the White House, but Trumpism will not go away quite so quickly. It is something that the nation will have to grapple with for a long time to come.

The US is not alone in facing a crisis of democracy. On the same day that the Capitol incident took place, in faraway Istanbul, thousands of unemployed and disheartened students took to the streets. They were dispersed by the police using disproportionate force. January 7 was the sixth anniversary of the attack on the office of the satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris. That marked the beginning of sweeping changes in the liberal ethos of modern France.

One of the biggest contributory factors to all this is the misuse of social media. When Trump chalked out his election strategy back in 2016, he used professionals to map the predilections of people through Facebook and Twitter. This enabled him to formulate misleading slogans and promises for his campaign. Great leaders in the past were able to gauge the popular pulse through their own instincts and their movements were constructive and peaceful. Today, many politicians want instant gratification, instant results. For this, they have armed themselves with the often false information generated on social media.

There are some examples such as the Arab Spring where social media was not used to spread hatred. On the other hand, a planned conspiracy was executed to create distrust among the citizens of many pluralistic countries. This destructive trend has to be reversed both in the US and elsewhere. Those in charge must be held accountable.

Politicians across the world need to realise that the genie released by false social media information is out of the bottle. The US must lead by example given the resilience of its democratic institutions in battling this scourge. Karl Marx once called for workers of the world to unite. The time has now come for all those who espouse democracy across the world to unite. Democratic systems are only as good as the people who uphold them.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan

The views expressed are personal

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