NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg who has dealt with a lot of heat in the Trump era called the event “shocking scenes.” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who is a senior official in a German government that has clashed with the US on important issues, is concerned that “the enemies of democracy will be delighted.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson brandied developments in Washington as “disgraceful”. Turkey, a country not known for political moderation, called on “all parties in the US to use moderation, common sense to overcome this domestic political crisis.” It has been some time since much of the world is united in shock at an event in the United States.
What has the world holding its hairs up is that enraged pro-Donald Trump protesters stormed the US Capitol, the seat of perhaps the most important legislature in the world, to interrupt a routine effort by Congress to certify Joe Biden’s presidential election victory. From the moment it was clear in November that Biden’s win had consigned Trump to a one-term presidency and Republicans would contest the vote every step of the way, everyone has been looking at January 6 with a mix of trepidation and hope.
America is a deeply divided society. In basic terms, a section of one of the world’s oldest democracies – one deeply shaped by a conservative political perspective, has completely lost faith in its institutions and is acting out against what it perceives to be a conspiracy against them. Egged on by a president who has refused to acknowledge a close electoral defeat, disaffected Americans felt empowered enough to translate their online angst at their political opposition and the institutions which they feel has unduly supported them to chaos and disruption. Wednesday’s protests represent a catastrophic failure of faith in democratic institutions.
Why this is concerning is because democracies thrive on rules and participation. One person’s gain is almost inevitably another person’s loss. When one section wants to rewrite rules that have been laid down for centuries right in the middle of the game, it undermines the point of being a democracy.
America has been in political crisis mode since at least Bill Clinton’s surprise election in 1992 galvanised a smarting Republican Party to pivot to a politics-at-all-costs-type strategy. Through the Bush war years, Obama’s constant fight with the right on healthcare and social issues and Trump baying at an invigorated left hell-bent on kicking him out of the Oval Office, the country’s political situation has become situation critical.
Democracies rarely ever collapse in one body blow. They slowly wilt and crack at the edges over a long period of time until the degradation becomes intractable enough to rip up the society’s framework. Democratic rule requires the kind of jealous commitment and vigilance that no other form of political system demands; because all the players have to agree not just on the rules to play by but to stick to them no matter how damaging it would be to their interests.
This is why as Nigerians, what is going on in America should concern us. We take our cues, at least the democratic ones, from Washington. Our 1999 Constitution, to offer one example, is a clone of its 1979 cousin which itself was inspired by the US Constitution. We pivoted from a parliamentary democracy to a republic in 1963 in a nod to picking American over British political pretensions.
The astronomic growth in the Nigerian bureaucratic state, exemplified by the civil service, closely tracks with American approaches to governance. Where London is inclined to create a full-fledged department to address key political priorities, Washington will often create an agency.
The fact that we needed (and have ignored) two commissions to trim down the number of government agencies in this country tells one which side Abuja has chosen. We copy and paste what happens Stateside at such a frightening pace that in many cases, we can look at our future simply by watching the US.
Furthermore, we thrive on American institutional stability. The world is indelibly dependent on things being calm in Washington. This is largely because every country on earth holds the majority of its debt in US dollars and the faith and full credit of the Fed keeps the wheels of global commerce turning.
Policy setting from the White House, which could move the Fed to make consequential decisions could affect, say, how attractive American investment becomes which might dampen appetite for FDI flows to Ghana or the viability of Nigerian or Angolan debt. We don’t follow American news simply because it is sexy. We follow it because it matters. In some cases, American developments become Nigerian priorities.
Why the events which unfolded in Washington DC bothers me is that the protesters are fundamentally undermining the process of choosing the chief policymaker of the most important country in the world. This has outsize consequences for the rest of us. Hate it or love it, America matters.