SYDNEY: The storming of the US Congress left America’s image as a beacon of democracy severely tarnished on Thursday, with allies unable to hide their shock and authoritarian regimes gleefully exploiting the unrest.
In normal times, a state-backed gang rampaging through a legislature to demand a lost election be nullified would have US diplomats marching to their laptops to draft a statement of condemnation.
But after the deadly violence in Washington on Wednesday, it was the turn of officials in capitals from Bogota to New Delhi to call for calm. In a string of statements, leaders could barely contain their shock at seeing Donald Trump’s supporters briefly -- but quite easily -- overrun the crucible of US democracy and challenge the peaceful transfer of power.
"Where were the police and the Senate bodyguards...?" Czech foreign minister Tomas Petricek asked aloud, as the world watched Trump supporters cart off podiums, ransack offices or strut around Congress in a horned helmet unmolested.
Through slavery and segregation, Civil War and Cold War, US presidents have often hailed their democracy as exceptional, what Ronald Reagan called the "shining city on the hill". That image has been questioned many times before, but after four norm-shattering years of Trump, it took just a few hours of mob rule to make America look pretty ordinary, and as fragile as anywhere else.
Former president George W. Bush went as far as to compare the situation to a "banana republic," while calling out fellow Republicans for fuelling the "insurrection". Australia warned its citizens in the United States to take care given the "ongoing potential for violence."
Some reached for historical comparisons to put the momentous events -- and the scale of the threat to democracy -- in context.
Germany’s foreign minister likened incitement at the US Capitol to the Reichstag in Nazi Germany, while Italian newspaper La Repubblica drew a parallel to dictator Benito Mussolini’s "March on Rome" and seizure of power. But as the initial shock subsided, policymakers began to try to imagine the profound implications of the world’s preeminent superpower so visibly stumbling.
Former president Barack Obama’s top security aide Ben Rhodes told AFP that "Americans should not have any illusions: today’s images, like the Trump presidency, will permanently alter how the United States is viewed around the world."
"Tragically, this debasement of democracy comes at a time when authoritarian nationalism is ascendant on every continent." The moment was not lost on such regimes, some of which immediately issued wry statements mimicking the criticism they normally received from Washington.
Venezuelan minister of foreign affairs Jorge Arreaza expressed his "concern" about the violence, while calling for an end to US political polarisation and for the country to follow a new path of "stability and social justice".
China’s state-backed tabloid the Global Times -- just a day after a mass crackdown on Hong Kong’s besieged democracy movement -- crowed that "bubbles of ‘democracy and freedom’ have burst."
Mike Gallagher, a Republican Congressman from Wisconsin lamented: "If we don’t think other countries around the world are watching this happen right now, if we don’t think the Chinese communist party is sitting back and laughing, then we’re deluding ourselves."
Meanwhile, world leaders and governments expressed shock and outrage at the storming of the US Capitol in Washington by supporters of President Donald Trump. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday she was "furious and saddened" by the events and said Trump shared blame for the unrest.
"I deeply regret that President Trump has not conceded his defeat, since November and again yesterday," she said. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called on Trump supporters to "stop trampling on democracy".
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