As US democracy stumbles, the world watches and wonders
7 min read
As the U.S. Capitol descended into chaos Wednesday, the rest of the world was watching. Here, people from Lagos to Moscow air their fears and hopes.
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged that "America is back." But restoring the country's moral authority may prove even more daunting than repairing its alliances. And some tried to feed a flame of hope. "It was like watching a horror movie, but painful as it was ... democracy was saved," said Stav Shafir, chair of Israel's Green Party. Others were frustrated. "For years America and American media depicted us as a violent people fuelled by ancient hatreds who could never learn democracy," said Abdullah Saedi, a Jordanian engineer. "It we went by American standards, it seems many Americans need to learn democracy." Whether in Beijing, Amman, or Tel Aviv, President Trump's maneuvers have further fed the suspicion – not a new one – that the ostensible gold standard of democracy was nothing of the sort. Perhaps the U.S. was not all that different from the autocracies and pseudo-democracies that it has tried to hold to higher standards. At a time when democracies are on the defensive worldwide, the U.S. Capitol crisis resonated strongly. What hit home among allies from Canada to Germany wasn't just the mob violence. It was the fact that a sitting president instigated the assault, with the declared aim of staying in power. His words were striking, but the imagery even more so: French President Emmanuel Macron, voicing U.S. allies' shock and alarm at this week's mob invasion of the U.S. Capitol, was framed by two national flags – the French tricolor and the Stars and Stripes. For Americans, their flag can mean many things: national pride, unity, celebration – or, like so much else beset by today's bitter political divisions, tribalism, hostility, and anger. Yet in the rest of the world, friend and foe alike, it has come to symbolize one thing above all: democracy. A world power whose influence has derived not only from military and economic strength, Big Macs, and Hollywood movies – important though all these have been to America's global reach – but from a…