On 19th November 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke about 273 words that eventually became the bedrock of the concept of democracy. Lincoln said:
“…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.
Some 46000 soldiers from Unionists and Confederates had given up their life in the Civil War at the Battle of Gettysburg and President Lincoln called upon the nation to immortalize their sacrifice in the cause of democracy with the above words.
President Donald Trump, some 157 years later, on 7th January 2021 said, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” Incited by his remarks, a crowd vandalized the hallowed premises of the Capitol Hill, a symbol of American democracy for 250 years now. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the assault on the Capitol was “fomented by Mr Trump,” writing that “his use of the Presidency to destroy trust in our election and to poison our respect for fellow citizens has been enabled by pseudo-political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice. Our Constitution and our Republic will overcome this stain and We the People will come together again in our never-ending effort to form a more perfect Union, while Mr Trump will deservedly be left a man without a country,” Mattis added.
Four protestors died on the Capitol giving up their lives to undo what President Lincoln hoped America will become – a nation that is prepared to shed blood to defy, deny and brutalize the representational character of democracy just because one man believes that the system has not favoured him for re-election.
America will never be the same again – a nation that has stood as the beacon of democracy, albeit forging its democratic credentials through fire. The Capitol incident is also a worrisome indicator of the nature of politics for power that is surging its head across the globe. A development that ordinary people everywhere must take note of owing to its effect on the fundamental freedoms that are at stake.
There is little need to discourse the merits of democracy. People have a fundamental right to choose the government of their choice through the ballot. It is people will that renders democracy possible. America’s own Constitution so loftily proclaims:
We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The Constitution of the largest democracy in the world, India, also proclaims:
WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;
It needs no convincing to understand that people are the reason why governments exist. When governments, more specifically the elected representatives of the people who are in power defy the very fundamentals that are necessary for a peaceful transition of such power, democracy stands in peril.
The incidents in Capitol Hill may have been brought under control. The pristine environs may be restored in a short while. Vandals may be brought to justice. But the faith of people in the democratic process that has been damaged would not be easy to restore. More importantly, the faith in the polity that has suffered will take generations of politicians to reinstate.
America is standing at a crucial juncture in its own history. As the sole superpower, in a geopolitical climate that is potentially explosive, in a world that is fighting a pandemic of mammoth proportions, in a world economy that needs little encouragement to slide down further, the choices that American people will make would determine whether America will retain its moral supremacy as a democracy.
We must believe that the will of people would prevail. The future of democracy across the world depends on it.
Title image courtesy: https://edition.cnn.com/2021/01/09/us/capitol-hill-insurrection-extremist-flags-soh/index.html
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies