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(First appeared on January 09, 2021)

In Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy, which was subsequently made into a TV series, all magic flows from a wellspring in an imaginary world called Fillory, which is a rip-off of CS Lewis’ Narnia. Now the question is where is the wellspring of democracy and liberty located? You may get many answers. Europe, particularly France, whence came the French Revolution. The UK, the birthplace of the Magna Carta. Ancient Greece and Rome. Somewhere in the East. But they are all moments in the history of the evolution of democracy. If the wellspring is a movable object which relocates itself subject to its convenience, then you will most likely agree that it is currently located in the United States. The world’s strongest democracy. And where in the US? In the US Capitol, the world’s most powerful elected parliament. And this wellspring just came under attack.

On January 6, when the US Congress met in the building to ceremonially count and approve the Electoral College votes in a race already won by Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris on November 3, it was plain that it would not be business as usual. Remember, given the long transition process in the US, the January 6 session to count the electoral votes is just a matter of formality. But this once it was not. Trump supporters were already heavily leaning on the congressmen and even the Vice-President to disregard the votes cast by millions and select a slate of electoral delegates who would only vote for Trump. Funny, right? But at least in theory, it is doable. Not in practice though. So, when court after court and institution after institution refused to engage in this hair-brained scheme of overturning a presidential election, this session being the last milestone before a President Biden takes oath, was the Trump-world’s last hope. First, we learned that a number of pro-Trump House members were planning to object to the vote count. Then we learned that a gang of a dozen US senators led by Republicans Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz was going to chip in. This ensured that for two hours the vote count would stop and both chambers would have to go into a two-hour-long debate session. Outside, Trump supporters were to gather in protest. As the date came closer, reports started emerging that the members of the Proud Boys extremist gang were planning to attend the protests incognito, ostensibly with a desire to inflict damage. As the day progressed and the session began it was getting clearer that it was far from a disjointed, uncoordinated effort.

The said group of lawmakers objects to the vote count triggering a two-hour debate. As the debate goes on protesters armed to the teeth storm the building, seize control of the electoral certificates or destroy them and then get away. Sounds like a perfect plan, right? Hardly. First, it meant the use of violence. Two, Trump’s Vice-President, the Vice President-elect, congressional leaders, and a number of notables were present inside at the time of the attack. Which meant the risk of not just losing lives but the lives of people who are either a part of the administration or related to a member of the administration. Three, in this mayhem, if the real purpose was to either steal the physical votes or occupy the floor of the house so that the Congress could not get time to reconvene, it obviously failed. Even in the pandemonium, the office bearers involved ensured that the electoral votes and the dignitaries remained safe. What is more pitiable than a coup? A failed coup. Consequently, the entire world saw with shock and awe as this spectacle unfolded on live television. After facing off this unprecedented assault on democracy, the US congress admirably reconvened and fulfilled its obligation. And thus, failed a pitiful coup after causing a shooting pain across the entire democratic world. Five are reported dead at the time of filing and many are badly injured. They still have to take inventory of the damage done to the building during the vandalism.

But apart from the immediate details of this attack, there are broader points that need to be made here. The question, for instance, on my mind at the time was: how did we end up here? You know there is an easy way out. We can all believe that this tragedy was an invention of one man. Trump’s opportunist role here cannot be underestimated. The US President who promised to end the American carnage at the time of his inauguration brought this bloodthirsty carnival to the US Capitol. That part is known. The speculation about foreign hostile actors especially with the intent to harm the democratic project around the world is not misplaced either. The South Asian community was not chuffed at the sight of Modi bhakts joining the raid with Indian and saffron flags either. But a lot more goes into the making of a sausage.

If you are looking for responsibility the first stop is the right-wing media including Fox. Remember Trump did not invent this madness he just repurposed it to get what he wanted. And when I say the right-wing media there is no shadow of doubt in my mind that the left-leaning publications also played a role in creating this polarisation. But the problem is bigger. The gradual demise of professional journalism, the shuttering of countless professional media outlets ensure that only activism driven media is left in the field. And we have seen that these media outlets do not just create their confirmation bias-based bubbles, they can create their own alternative realities.

Speaking of the elements that are increasingly shaping our view of the world you cannot fail to notice the role of social media. Technology firms mercifully if belatedly started waking up as this tragic circus went on. First, Twitter froze Trump’s account for 12 hours. Then Facebook realised its responsibility. And gradually, if painfully, one by one, they all started doing it. But here is the rub. The accounts belonging to the likes of Bannon and Gorka are free to spew venom. And whenever these companies try to take action these hate pundits invoke the First Amendment. Given how much the tech giants have benefited from various governments and are now loaded, they must find a solution to this problem soon. Silently on the same night, Elon Musk became the world’s richest man. When you prosper you are honour-bound to ensure you do not contribute to people’s misery. And their influence is only bound to grow.

The damage done to the democratic project will need a long hard look. But for now, I am grateful that because of the leadership of many principled leaders, democracy has won another chance to right what’s wrong.

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