So, this is how democracy dies?

“So this is how liberty dies…with thunderous applause.” These words, spoken by Padmé Amidala in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, I have not been able to get out of my head since November’s US presidential election. A Biden-Harris victory was supposed to bring with it a sense of calm, of reassurance, of hope that things would get better. And yet, it hadn’t.

The reason for this continued pessimism was President Trump’s refusal since the election to commit to the peaceful handover of power – a key facet of any functioning democracy. The shocking scenes we all saw yesterday were not, however, just the inevitable endpoint of the weeks since the election. They were, rather, the inevitable endpoint of the last few years; of Trumpism itself.

This inevitability is what is so sickening. As early as 2016, when he became the Republican nominee, Trump refused to commit to accepting the result of an election were he to lose. Alarm bells should have been ringing then. A candidate for the leader of the free world was denying the very hallmark of what it is to be free: to be able to decide who it is that governs you.

For this reason, much of the blame for the events yesterday must lie with Trump’s collaborators and enablers within the Republican Party. Men and women who knew what he was and the sort of politics he represented and nonetheless supported him all the way. When considering the relationship Trump has enjoyed with his party, one is reminded of the Emperor Tiberius, who when leaving the forum after the Roman Senate had once again acquiesced to his demands would typically exclaim: “How ready these men are to be slaves.”

I did harbor some hope, though, that if Trump lost the election that there would be some form of reckoning in the Republican Party; that when it had been made clear that Trump’s appeal among the general public had waned, Republican politicians would finally stand up to him. Alas, this did not happen. Despite the Department of Homeland Security saying the election was “the most secure in American history” and all 62 election lawsuits being unsuccessful, 11 Republican senators, led by Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, were prepared to vote against confirming the result. To secure some praise from Trump, and with it hopefully a path to the Republican nomination in 2024, these senators were willing to jeopardize the United States’ 244-year old republic.

This Republican complicity in the Trump presidency has not been universal though. Mitt Romney, the GOP’s presidential candidate in 2012 and the current United States senator from Utah, must surely go down as the noblest Republican of them all. The only GOP senator to vote to impeach Trump, he was aware of the malign forces Trump had unleashed and emboldened and, unlike his colleagues, he was brave enough to stand up for what he knew to be right despite the personal difficulty he knew would come with it. Yesterday, when the senators were informed of the insurrection and were being evacuated, Romney looked to the appeasers in his party and poetically remarked: “This is what you’ve gotten, guys.”

Having said this, it is not just elected Republican politicians who are at fault here. It is also democratic governments who rolled out the red carpet for Trump in the hope of a trade deal; it is those on Wall Street who were willing to endorse an authoritarian in exchange for tax cuts; it is those who argued that both sides were at fault in clashes between fascists and anti-fascists; it is those who rolled their eyes at warnings about Trump emanating from celebrities and sportspeople; and it is those who equate protestors marching for freedom with those who riot for its abandonment.

There are many more questions that must be asked and answered in the coming days and weeks, not least how was it possible for these fascists to be able to physically storm the legislature of the most powerful nation on earth. Indeed, I would assert that a clear signifier of a democracy in peril is having a martial response to citizens demanding racial justice and a languid, hands-off response to those attempting to overthrow the state.

However, despite the inarguably bleak nature of recent events, we must not yield to despair. The situation is much too important. We must instead foster hope and I myself, despite the clear challenges, am nevertheless incredibly hopeful for the future. This hope is borne out of the spirit of my fellow young people. We are better educated, more progressive and more aware of the problems facing our societies than any past generation. I have absolute confidence that we will be able to save and renew democracy despite the internal and external challenges we will face in the years to come.

To answer my question then: no, this does not have to be how democracy dies. To avoid this fate, though, it is necessary to begin taking a serious interest in the affairs of our nations. Historically speaking, democracy is the anomaly not the norm. In fact, for the first time this century, there are now fewer democracies than there are non-democratic regimes among countries with populations greater than 1m.

If, then, we are to maintain our democracies we have to value them, and that means calling out whoever or whatever is a threat to it – even if it comes from your own side. Since if we don’t value our democracies and the freedoms that come with them, there will be men – and it almost always is men – who will be more than happy to take those freedoms away from us.

By James Small-Edwards