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Home » Departments and Centres » Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies » News » Reaction to the Storming of the US Capitol Building - Anthony Gardner

Reaction to the Storming of the US Capitol Building - Anthony Gardner

Anthony Gardner

The media is portraying the assault on US Congress as a very serious attack on democracy, as a ‘coup’. How serious was it and what will be the consequences?

We should not dramatize what happened at the Capitol on 6 January; I’m convinced that we will have a peaceful transition and Joe Biden will be the next President of the US. American democracy is robust enough. However, the attack was serious. It was an organised event and Congress was not sufficiently protected at a very delicate and key moment. Those moments of the assault were very emotional for many people, including myself. I’m the son of Italian immigrants who escaped fascism in Italy, and I would have never expected this to happen in America. And this shows that this kind of events can happen anywhere. So, it is a serious episode and we will learn from this lesson.

As being a ‘coup’, well it depends of course on the definition, but a coup would probably involve a level of menace that was not reached on this occasion. It was a serious armed attack on our democratic institutions. It is very disappointing that we had to get to this stage in order to finally have some members of the Republican Party distance themselves from Donald Trump.

What happened will not be forgotten in the US and around the world, and the worrying consequence is that we will have great difficulties in praising democracy and our values, we will be less credible. But I am an optimistic by nature, and I also think that this is not entirely a bad thing: we need to learn some humility. We cannot laugh at other countries anymore as we have in the past.

What do you expect to happen now?

I do not see any willingness on the Republican to remove Trump earlier, but his possibilities to do more harm are limited. As an immediate reaction, the military made a statement that they are only bound to respect the Constitution and they will respect the outcome of the elections.

There are two reasons for the Republicans not to act: firstly it is a lengthy procedure, and there is less than two weeks left until Biden’s inauguration, hence probably not worth the effort. Secondly, several influential Republicans see Trump as a basis for potential voters. Just yesterday a YouGov poll shows that 45% Republican voters actively support the actions of those at the Capitol. This means that millions of US citizens truly believe that the elections were stolen, and that violence was the only way to react. Trump has been a master in exploiting the flaws of social media, where communications propagates through bubbles and echo chambers.

I will end with a positive note though, because there are also reasons to be optimistic. The US is a country capable of looking at itself in the mirror. Those people who stormed the Congress will be brought to justice. We will learn from this experience: we should have never allowed things to go this far. Just as an example, we got to the point that the Attorney General William Barr could be used by the President as his lawyer. This should have never happened, and hopefully will not happen again.

Page last updated on 11 January 2021

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