*This article was originally published on Modern Diplomacy
Nowadays, world politics witness extraordinary developments. The January 6 crisis has been the first bloody event in US political history since the British invasion of the Congress in 1814. On January 6th, a group of pro-Trump protesters swarmed the Capitol building in an angry mob and five people died on this day. Shortly after this incident, Twitter first decided to suspend Donald Trump’s social media account until January 20 when Joe Biden replaces him as the new president. Later Facebook and Instagram announced that they suspended Trump’s accounts. Finally, Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s account on Jan 8, 2020. Twitter announced that this suspension was made “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
Democratic regimes have historically been challenged and questioned since the very old times. The concept of democracy was criticized by the Ancient Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato. In Ancient Greek times, democracy was seen as “the rule of the rabble”. According to Socrates, democracy had a corrupt nature and it meant submission to the will of immoral people. Plato in a similar way argued that democracy could lead to tyranny. In fact, both Plato and Aristotle advocated the view that there could not be absolute equality in a society and based on this view they defended aristocratic rule. However, democracy has become a widely adopted and idealized system of governance in today’s world. Today, liberal democracy is seen as the ideal form of government. Abraham Lincoln defined democracy in basic forms and stated that democracy is the government of the people by the people and for the people. Abraham Lincoln’s definition can be seen as a brief and clear definition of democracy.
Robert Dahl, in his book entitled “After the Revolution? Authority in a Good Society”, published in 1990 presented the generally accepted minimum procedural requirements for modern democracies. Dahl listed the requirements as the following: the right of citizens to express themselves on generally defined political issues without feeling the danger of being punished; the right to seek alternative sources of information and the protection of these alternative sources of information by law. Liberal democracies are distinguished from authoritarian states by limiting censorship in information channels and by expanding freedom of expression. Trump administration could not leave a good democratic image behind. Trump staged war against critical media in a discursive level and adopted a political discourse promoting polarization in the society. What the world saw on January 6 was a clear picture of Trump’s greed for power and his abuse of democracy for personal interests. It can be argued that, this crisis has also revealed a simple message: USA has actors which protect democracy and “state order” from behind the scenes and this time Twitter and Facebook have taken the stage to safeguard the regime.
Eli Merritt, a psychiatrist, and visiting scholar at Vanderbilt University where he researches the interface of demagogues and democratic governments in his article published on New York Daily News on October 15, 2020 entitled “Why America must not reelect this demagogue: That’s what Trump is, and it matters” argues that it would be wrong to attribute terms such as “fascist” and “authoritarian” to Trump because these terms do not apply to the early or middle stages of the breakdown of constitutional democracy; they are applied to the final stages. Today, according to Merritt, America is not in the final stage of democracy. Instead, it is at a crossroads where a powerful demagogue entered the White House. Merritt in his article states that demagogues harm democracies in two ways. First, they foster division and distrust among people rather than promoting unity and cooperation. Demagogues do this not for the benefit of the people, but to gain and retain power for personal interests. According to Merritt, the biggest paradox of democracy is that the people who have the power elect the demagogues let them take their power away from them. According to the author, Trump is a demagogue and therefore a poison for democracy.
In the crisis going to Jan 6 Congress invasion, Trump kept on arguing that his votes were stolen and he expressed his arguments in public announcements repeatedly. Today Trump waits for impeachment in a desperate way. Democrats are prepared to introduce articles of impeachment. President-elect Joe Biden stated that impeachment was for Congress to decide, but Biden also said that he had thought “for a long time President Trump was not fit to hold the job”.
It can be said that for three years, Trump policies have been challenging the foundations of the current international order. In addition to acting in a conflictual way with international law, in domestic politics Trump’s legitimacy has been eroded as well. Carl Schmitt in his book entitled “The Concept of the Political” argued that the concept of the political can be evaluated according to the existential distinction between friend and enemy. Based on Schmitt’s argument, it can be said that Trump adheres to the rhetoric of friend-enemy distinction in order to legitimize his policies.
Jérôme Viala-Gaudefroy (2020) in his article “The Evil Savage Other as Enemy in Modern U.S. Presidential Discourse” argued that Trump’s disruptive use of the enemy image used for both inside and outside the national space is a highly gendered and racialized enemy rhetoric. This rhetoric is motivated by a “fear of fluidity of various identities” in an increasingly multicultural society.
Social media is one of the significant communication channels through which masses organize and protest against authority. What happened on January 6 was just not a protest movement in Washington D.C. The chaos at the Capitol showed that American democracy has strong “safeguards” behind. Twitter permanently deleted Trump’s account making the following statement on its web site blog : “After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” Twitter and Facebook (U.S. companies) can be seen as the visible faces of these “safeguards”. Related with the permanent suspension of Trump’s Twitter profile, I think there is a critical question that needs to be posed: Why does Twitter provide blue verified badges to the leaders of terrorist organization PKK while it bans Trump’s account?
BBC. (Jan 9, 2021). Trump riots: Democrats plan to introduce article of impeachment, Trump riots: Democrats plan to introduce article of impeachment – BBC News (Accessed on 9.1.2021)
Dahl, R. (1990). After the Revolution? Authority in a Good Society, Yale University Press.
Gaudefroy, J. V. (2020). The Evil Savage Other as Enemy in Modern U.S. Presidential Discourse The Evil Savage Other as Enemy in Modern U.S. Presidential Discourse (openedition.org) (Accessed on 9.1.2021)
Merritt, E. (Oct 15, 2020). Why America must not reelect this demagogue: That’s what Trump is, and it matters Why America must not reelect this demagogue: That’s what Trump is, and it matters – New York Daily News (nydailynews.com) (Accessed on 9.1.2021)
Schmitt, C. (2007). The Concept of the Political, The University of Chicago Press.
Twitter (Jan 8, 2021) Permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrump Permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrump (twitter.com) (Accessed on 9.1.2021)
Author : Begum Burak