The January 6 Committee Is Restoring My Faith in U.S. Democracy | Opinion

Twenty four hours ago, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told CNN's Jake Tapper that he thinks "reports of the death of democracy in the United States are grossly, grossly exaggerated." This was of course before Tuesday's revelations during the January 6 committee hearings, which demonstrated how far Donald Trump was willing to go to hold on to the presidency. Based on the testimony of past weeks, the once self-declared dealmaker appears to have fallen into a psychotic rage after the 2020 election, seeing a world made up of either traitors or loyalists and nothing else.

Mike Pence, who was an unfailing pillar during the tumultuous years of the Trump presidency and someone the president relied upon for even the most delicate tasks became an enemy overnight who "deserved" what the rioters were calling for: "Hang Mike Pence." (One can only imagine what they would have done to the Vice President should they have found him.)

Now, it is true that so far no compelling evidence has been presented that President Trump had a long term plan to cause a violent insurrection preventing the transfer of power to Joe Biden and his cabinet. But—and this is as close as you can get to planning an actual insurrection—it does seem as if he would have been more than willing to continue his presidency even if it would have been the result of an armed coup. So whatever his actual involvement in the planning of the events of January 6, he most likely would have accepted an outcome that could have led to the extension of his presidency.

Does this mean Boris Johnson should rethink his statement? Is American democracy indeed on life support or terminally ill?

Despite the shocking revelations of Tuesday's hearing, I don't think it is. The political system of the U.S. is more resilient than it gets credit for, and while we can all agree about the absolutely despicable nature of what unfolded in January last year, democracy itself was barely threatened.

For starters, no coup can be successful without the support of major institutions. History is full of examples of aspiring rebels suddenly finding themselves alone. It's quite in vogue to compare 2022 America to Weimar Germany, but it's not only useful for those catastrophizing. Recall that in March of 1920, parts of the German army together with nationalists and monarchists attempted to overthrow the democratic government. They succeeded in driving the legitimate government of Weimar Germany out of Berlin, but within days found themselves confronted with a general strike by large parts of the German population as well as the civil services, who simply refused to cooperate with the rebel government. It forced them to give up and return the previous government to power.

January 6
An image of a rioter is displayed on a screen during the fourth hearing by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol in the Cannon House Office Building on June 21, 2022 in Washington, DC. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Donald Trump had much less support in 2021 than the German insurrectionists had in 1920. The latter could effectively command parts of the army, had access to sophisticated weaponry, and a leadership that was trained and tested in military tactics and procedures. None of that applied to the goons who stormed the capitol.

Even if the rioters would have been capable of staging a prolonged occupation, how exactly was Donald Trump supposed to rule? For all their wavering and maneuvering in the build-up to January 6, it is highly unlikely that Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican leadership would have supported a renegade presidency.

Likewise, it is unimaginable that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, would have followed any orders from an occupied White House. Meanwhile, almost all right-wing media outlets that supported Trump during the campaign denounced his behavior, calling on the president to deescalate. Some went so far as to demand his resignation.

Ultimately, erecting a dictatorial system replacing the constitutional republic of the United States—a system that has withstood a Revolutionary War, slavery, the Civil War, and two World Wars—would have taken a figure like Lenin and the Bolsheviks, not Trump and a guy with bullhorns for a hat.

This is not to say that there are no dangers for U.S. democracy. Trump has always been more symptom than ailment of the American political system. According to a survey from RAND corporation, the best predictor of Trump support was whether people felt voiceless, powerless, and ignored by the political system. These people have real grievances, and Trump was a megaphone for many of them to send an angry signal to the ruling class that they are still out there and do not have anyone who speaks for them.

That is a much greater danger for a democracy than anything else.

The Weimar Republic did not survive long after the failed coup of 1920, because the system itself was seen as increasingly illegitimate and squeezed between Left- and Right-wing radical parties that proposed totalitarian alternatives. We should keep an eye on those who feel disaffected and ensure that their voices are heard, so a Weimar-like scenario can be avoided from the start.

And still, despite the polarized nature of the political discourse, I do not believe that most Americans have an appetite for political experiments, which is precisely why they voted for Joe Biden in 2020 and would have never allowed an insurrectionist government to remain in power.

Ralph Schoellhammer is an assistant professor in economics and political science at Webster University Vienna.

The views in this article are the writer's own.