- Patricia Sulbarán Lovera
- BBC World News
An event that had not occurred in the United States since the 19th century.
A group of supporters of the president, Donald Trump, took the headquarters of the United States Congress in Washington after overcoming the barriers of the authorities.
They did so shortly after the president addressed them in front of the White House and continued to reiterate his unfounded fraud complaints.
The Capitol lived scenes of chaos, with representatives of Congress falling to the ground, evacuating the place and putting on gas masks.
A woman passed away after being shot during the riots, police confirmed.
Harvard University Professor of Governance, Steven Levitsky, described what happened as the response to “four years of discrediting and delegitimizing democracy”, by the Republican Party and the president.
Levitsky is a co-author of the 2018 book How Democracies Die (“How Democracies Die”), in which he exposed “the alarming signs that put America’s liberal democracy at risk.”
Also a student of democratic and presidential processes in Latin America, Levitsky described the seizure of the Washington DC Capitol on Wednesday by supporters of Donald Trump as “an attempt at self-coup”.
According to his analysis, “democracy will survive to this day”, but what lies ahead for the United States is uncertain and a period driven by crisis.
Next, the conversation that Levitsky had with BBC Mundo by telephone.
What interpretation do you give to the irruption of Trump supporters in the United States Capitol?
It could be assumed that this was going to happen. Donald Trump and many, many Republican leaders have been inciting, they have been lying to their base that the Democrats are ruining the country and subverting democracy. They have been saying this for five years over and over again.
And then, after losing the election, not only Trump but leaders of the Republican Party were there, in Congress, repeating the lie and discrediting the legitimacy of democracy and institutions. After years of mobilizing your base with language that included terms like socialism or treason, can it really surprise you that this is happening after losing the election?
In Latin American history, when leaders incite their followers in a highly polarized environment, people take action. Words have meaning, they have power.
What does surprise me about this is how poorly prepared the police were.
How do you interpret the reactions of some members of the Republican Party and of President Trump himself, who in a tweet this Wednesday asked his followers not to have violence?
The president has been radically violent before, and if he didn’t want this to happen, he had to act faster and mobilize to stop it. He probably shouldn’t have suggested they march to Congress. Trump sent them there, he incited them to mobilize for Congress. The fact that Republican leaders are now breaking ranks with Trump is hypocritical, after years of supporting him, but it is important and positive. It seems positive to me to have seen speeches like the one given by Mitch McConnell (the majority leader of the Republican Party in the Senate).
Are we facing a revolution, a coup, an insurrection?
It is a variant of what in Latin America we would call self-coup. It is a president mobilizing his followers to stay in power illegally. It will be a failed self-coup, but it is an insurrection from power to try to subvert the election results and illegally stay in power. I would call it a self-coup attempt.
In Latin America it happens that the type of situations that you describe are harmful to democracy. Would you say this is a dangerous time in American history? Would you say democracy will remain strong and President-elect Joe Biden will be appointed on January 20?
I have been waiting in terror for this day in American democracy for the past four years. Every day for four years. Our democracy is in a severe crisis and this is the culmination of it. But it is not that it comes out of nowhere, our democracy has been going into crisis for several years and I think it will continue like this.
This auto coup is going to fail. Those who protest at some point will be removed from the Capitol building and at some point Biden’s election will also be certified and Trump will be removed from the presidency. Now, it is not clear how that will happen. But Trump is going to fail and American democracy is going to survive today’s events.
But that does not mean that everything is fine. These are terrifying and damaging events as they are in Latin America. The big difference between this self-coup and the self-coups in Latin America is that Trump was completely unable to enlist the support of the military. A president who tries to stay in power illegally without the backing of the military has very little chance of success.
Speak with confidence that democracy will survive and that this will be a failed attempt.
Today. I believe that, in the medium term, we are approaching a period driven by crisis. I say that this attempt today will fail, because the correlation of forces does not exist to support Trump. It has no military support. Democracy will survive when we wake up tomorrow, but I cannot guarantee what will happen five years from now. American democracy is a disaster.
President-elect Joe Biden mentioned that democracy was “under unprecedented assault” with the events of this Wednesday. Is this situation extraordinary in the context of modern American history?
It is extraordinary and unprecedented in the context of modern American history. In the 19th century, the country went through an era of violence, specifically the years before the Civil War, and also experienced violence, specifically at the state level, during the years after the Civil War. So during the middle of the 19th century, the United States experienced even more severe crises than we see today. But we have not suffered something like this in the 20th century.
This has no precedent in modern democratic history.
And what are the mechanisms available from the powers that be to handle such a crisis? In the Constitution or in legislatures?
Formally, there are two mechanisms but neither has been used so far. One is impeachment or impeachment leading to removal. In the United States, political trials of presidents have occurred but have not resulted in their removal from power. It’s quite a long process, unless we do it the Peruvian way, of vacating the president overnight. That is unlikely to happen.
And then there is the other mechanism, amendment number 25 to the Constitution, which is more recent because it was approved during the middle of the 20th century, it has not been used either. Neither of these mechanisms has been used.
Latin America has much more experience with provoking the removal of presidents who abuse power than the United States. The vast majority of presidential democracies are in America, but we have never used the mechanism in the United States to remove a president under constitutional terms.
I think the best way out is for Trump to resign, for those in his own party to pressure him to resign. He won’t, but he should.
But he is saying he is not going to do it. So if he never does, if he never concedes, what happens?
During the month of November, I hoped that his daughter and son-in-law would make him understand and there are reports that indicate that he is aware that he lost and that he must leave. One characteristic of Trump is that he does not anticipate the consequences of what he says and does. So I don’t think he anticipated what happened today at the Capitol, even though he did goad it.
I think Trump does know he has to go and I think the most likely scenario, despite this horrendous failed coup, is that Americans are going to turn the page and let Trump spend his last two weeks in office. Everything is possible at this point, but it seems unlikely that he will try to refuse to leave on January 20.
We will no longer have a peaceful transition of power but it will be, more or less, a usual transfer of power.
It said it was the culmination of five years of an intense political game by President Trump and the Republican Party. What do you think will happen in the context of a new Joe Biden Democratic presidency?
I think it is very uncertain. There are not so many people on the streets either; they are obviously making a lot of noise but compared to the women’s march after Trump was elected, this is a garden party. It is not that the masses are taking to the streets, this is not a revolution. This is not Argentina in October 1945.
So what I think, depending on what Trump does, is that at some point he’s going to have to give up. And if he gives up and goes back to Florida, I think this is going to get weaker. There will still be a radicalized and mobilized right, but I don’t think Biden is facing a governance crisis.
In fact, I think maybe this will strengthen it. Because now the Republicans are on the verge of a severe divide. So I think there are several things that could happen: One, that the Republican Party will finally come together and oust Trump, so that he ends up isolated, along with his allies like (Rudy) Giuliani and the people he gave forgiveness to. And that Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio and even Ted Cruz end up abandoning Trump.
Or the other thing that can happen is that the party is divided, breaks, as it seemed that it was going to happen this Wednesday. I’m not talking about a formal division, but a makeup in which there is one wing of the party that is still strongly aligned with Trump and another wing that is trying to move beyond Trump. And if the Republicans are divided, this is going to strengthen Biden.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.