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US democracy under threat

Ines Pohl
Ines Pohl
January 6, 2022

It sounds alarmist, and it should: the future of democracy is at stake in the United States. What we experienced a year ago is just a taste of things to come, says DW's Ines Pohl.

Crowds with US flags in the background, man with a cowboy hatthat reads "Trump 2020"  in the front
Trump supporters rallied at the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021Image: Artur Gabdrahmanov/Sputnik/picture alliance

The attack on the Capitol in Washington exactly one year ago should not have come as a surprise.

Before the polls had even opened in the 2020 US presidential campaign, then-President Donald Trump announced there could only be one reason for his loss of the White House: election fraud. He was not going to accept defeat, nor would millions of his supporters.

Close to a coup

Trump lost. And his radical supporters stormed the Capitol on the day Congress was to formally confirm Joe Biden's election. Images of the Capitol riot shook the world. 

Ines Pohl
Ines Pohl is DW's bureau chief in WashingtonImage: DW/P. Böll

However, it's only been a few weeks that we've known how close the US came to a real coup d'etat. It was only thanks to the presence of mind of a few officials that the country averted a bloodbath in the House of Representatives.

We could possibly even have had a dead vice president, murdered for following democratic rules and not the president's orders. It was a very close call.

But what should have been a wake-up call for all democratic forces regardless of party affiliation has become just another political football in the destructive spectacle of American politics.

To this day, most Republicans are trying to hinder the clarification of the events of January 6, 2021. Instead of coming to their senses and returning to a political contest for the more convincing argument, one in which facts and respect for different opinions play a role, the trench warfare has only deepened.

Democrats dangerously divided

Since day one of the Biden era, Republicans have been preparing for the next presidential campaign. While the ruling Democrats are caught up in infighting among various factions, even the deadly COVID-19 crisis is being politically exploited. The Republicans are blocking key federal financial aid to prevent the Biden administration from scoring points for the next election campaign.

What is most dangerous, however, is the redrawing of electoral districts, or gerrymandering, which will curtail the basic democratic rights of Blacks and other minorities. In addition, various other requirements are all intended to achieve the same thing: preventing potential Democratic voters from casting their ballots.

Basic democratic pillars not so secure

The United States was proud of the achievements of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and justifiably so. As flawed as the country continues to be, the basic pillars of a democracy seemed secure, along with the right to vote for all citizens.

That is no longer the case. We have to brace for the worst in a country where thanks to social media having changed the rules of the game, racist conspiracy theorists spread faster than the actual positions of the incumbent president.

At least for the moment, no one seems to have an answer for how to stop populists who are willing to overturn the system in order to secure lasting power for themselves.

This opinion piece was originally written in German

Ines Pohl
Ines Pohl Bureau head of DW's Washington Studio@inespohl