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And so the still-sitting US President Donald Trump called on his supporters during a rally in view of the Capitol Building to show their might and their “strength” in the face of “stolen” and “fake” presidential elections. Trump simultaneously called on Vice President Pence to stonewall formal recognition of the election results. In that moment, so much depended on so few.

Vice President Pence could have caused American democracy to tumble into the abyss. Given that Pence holds extremely conservative moral views, in line with Christian fundamentalists, I was afraid. Yet Pence turned out to be a real conservative, refusing to follow Donald Trump’s path of revolution. American democracy – its people and its institutions – has emerged victorious from this crisis.

As the new American president Joe Biden rightly noted, however, democracy is frail. For a moment, it seemed that democracy had been dealt a lethal blow.

Looking at pictures of those who forced their way into the Capitol, I thought of Bolshevik and fascist militias. After all, these people are victims of mendacious, demagogic propaganda, which sees black and calls it white. Bolsheviks and Nazis likewise started with a frontal assault on parliament and on the values of parliamentary democracy.

These people – certainly, many of them – undoubtedly believed that they were the true patriots, the defenders of the Constitution and of democracy, freedom, and their own identity. They undoubtedly believed that Biden is a leftie, a commie, and a card-carrying practitioner of gender and LGBT ideology. We have to recognize that the populists’ demagoguery and fraud have their seductive power.

Donald Trump clearly decided to stay in power by working “outside procedures,” to quote a different demagogue and fraud from another country. That is why he behaved in a manner far from the republican tradition of the United States, and instead rather like a Latin American or African dictator, or like the leader of a fascist or Bolshevik militia.

American democracy has emerged triumphant, but we have seen its greatness and its weakness.

Yet those scenes from inside the Capitol are a clear sign that dangers might abound in this new year. This was, after all, an attempt to burn down the Reichstag. Fortunately – a failed attempt. But arsonists are among us. And they are hardly few in number.

translated by Piotr H. Kosicki

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