New Administration Inherits a Democracy in Crisis, Explains FSI Panel

Scholars say there is much work to be done to restore confidence in democracy in America and around the world.
Trump supporters at the Capitol Building
Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Photo: Getty.

A week after the storming of the U.S. Capitol building and six days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, five experts gathered on Zoom to discuss the future of the Republican Party, the potential legal ramifications for President Donald Trump, the role that social media is playing in American politics, and what lies ahead for democracy in the U.S. and abroad.

The events of last week cannot be described as a coup, argued historian David Kennedy. When you compare what happened at the U.S. Capitol building to coups in Cuba and Chile that occured in the 20th century, certain elements were conspicuously absent, such as control of the media and the military, he pointed out.

“It was just a riot — an undisciplined mob with no real agenda, platform, or realistic hope of accomplishing anything material,” Kennedy said. “If this was a coup, it was a pathetic imitation.”

“If this was a coup, it was a pathetic imitation.”
David Kennedy
Professor of History, Emeritus

Trump has the power to pardon anyone who was involved in the insurrection, legal scholar Pamela Karlan noted. When a question arose about Trump’s ability to pardon himself in order to escape further prosecution, she said that there is no definitive answer yet, but the grammar used within the U.S. Constitution provides some clues.

Reactions to the events of January 6 have varied around the world, ranging from ridicule and sarcasm by the Turkish government to solidarity and hope from France and Germany, noted Larry Diamond, who is a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI).

“I think we have a lot of capital to still draw on, in terms of renewing democratic purpose and solidarity, but it’s going to have to come with a very strong dose of humility and in particular, transatlantic cooperation,” Diamond said. 

After Biden’s inauguration, the Republican Party may start to look more like what it resembled before Trump took office, said political commentator Bill Kristol. However, if another political figure emerges who seeks support by appealing to peoples’ prejudices and resentments, Kristol said he’s pessimistic that the party will be willing to repudiate demagoguery. 

“Do we have confidence that the party wouldn't collapse, more or less, as it has with Trump? I don't,” Kristol remarked.

“Do we have confidence that the Republican Party wouldn't collapse, more or less, as it has with Trump? I don't.”
Bill Kristol
Political Commentator

Francis Fukuyama, senior fellow at FSI, voiced his support for Twitter’s decision to block Trump from its platform, but said he does not support the tech companies acting as content moderators of their own platforms in the long term.

“Even though the First Amendment protects the right of these private companies to moderate content, they are de facto playing a quasi-public role as the main channel of political communication and I just don't think that that's legitimate in a democracy,” he said.

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