Capitol riot and Trump's role leave allies around the world stunned and frightened

BARCELONA — In 2018, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson suggested that President Trump might deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for his outreach to North Korea. But on Wednesday, Johnson, now the Conservative prime minister, denounced the “disgraceful scenes in U.S. Congress” and called for “a peaceful and orderly transition of power” in Washington. He didn’t specify who might be standing in the way of that, but it obviously isn’t the Democrats.

Security forces respond to pro-Trump mob
Security forces respond with tear gas after a pro-Trump mob breaches the Capitol on Wednesday. (Probal Rashid/LightRocket via Getty Images)

And that was one of the milder expressions of dismay from leaders and commentators around the world at the spectacle of the U.S. Capitol overrun by an armed mob incited to violence by the president himself, in what former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt described incredulously as “insurrection. Nothing less. In Washington.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel lamented that Trump has “not acknowledged his defeat since November and also again not yesterday. Doubts about the election outcome were stirred and created the atmosphere that made the events of last night possible.” French President Emmanuel Macron assured the world that “what happened … is not American, definitely,” which many Americans would also like to believe, while suspecting the opposite might be true.

Describing the mood in Paris, historian and author Andrew Hussey said that “the French are stunned, frightened as well,” by Wednesday’s drama, and that French media is now portraying Trump as “not just a demagogue, which he is, but actually as a wicked man with blood on his hands.” The bizarre scenes of protesters — “the guys with long beards, the weird survivalists, the Boogaloo Boys, the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters” — made Hussey realize that “Trump has brought these marginal groups right to the center to challenge American democracy.” They also have him worried about the possibility of a second civil war in the U.S., since the cultural war that’s been waged for years “has erupted — and the violence on social media has been translated into action.”

Even European political figures who had previously embraced Trump’s brand of right-wing populism seemed to turn icy to the man with 13 days remaining in the White House.

Former Brexit frontman and longtime Trump supporter Nigel Farage condemned the insurgency, tweeting Wednesday night that “Storming Capitol Hill is wrong. The protesters must leave.” Marine Le Pen of the French far-right National Rally demanded that Trump “must condemn what happened.” A call for “all parties in the U.S. to maintain restraint and prudence” came from the Turkish government, which under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not known for restraint in handling dissent.

Boris Johnson
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (Tolga Akmen/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

On the other hand, Russian politicians seemed to revel in the mayhem. “The celebration of democracy is over. It has, unfortunately, hit rock bottom, and I say this without a hint of gloating,” gloated Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the International Affairs Committee in the Russian Parliament. “America is no longer charting the course, and therefore has lost all its rights to set it. And especially to impose it on others.” The messages from Moscow contained “perhaps a certain glee,” said Felix Light of the independent Moscow Times, “that America is getting its just deserts — as they see it — for engineering revolutions in Ukraine, Serbia, North Africa and the rest, that the shoe is now on the other foot, with revolutionary upheaval having come home.”

Trump did receive support from former legislator Vladimir Zhirinovsky of Russia’s hard-right Liberal Democratic Party, who tweeted encouragement for the beleaguered American president: “Be brave Donald. We’re with you, you’ll get help from abroad.”

But a day after the Capitol siege, Trump’s favorite strongmen — Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán — were silent. That did not surprise Budapest-based Marius Dragomir, director of the Center for Media, Data and Society: “That kind of violence was too much even for many Trump supporters in Europe.” Dragomir expects them to stay silent, though he worries that some may take private encouragement from Trump’s brazen attempt to steal the election.

Roland Freudenstein, policy director of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies in Brussels, took heart from the way Congress managed to resume its work within hours. The reconvening, and the unflappable demeanor of Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — all of whom insisted that the counting continue — “was an important signal that the system works, the system held up.”

Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi
Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi prepare to read the final certification of Electoral College votes cast in the November presidential election. (J. Scott Applewhite/Getty Images)

He sees “the beginning of something good” in the episode. Democratic principles standing firm in the face of challenge only strengthens them, he said.

The question of whether Trump can safely or sanely remain in office for the remaining two weeks is one raised by Freudenstein and other thinkers. “Leaving Trump with his finger on the nuclear trigger” is disconcerting, Freudenstein noted, though he is unsure if administration officials have the wherewithal, or numbers, to invoke the 25th Amendment — which requires approval from the vice president and the majority of the Cabinet to eject the president. “If they don’t remove him in the next couple days, it will look bad,” he said, although with Trump’s promise on Thursday morning to make the remainder of the transition smoother, he thinks the odds do not favor a presidential ousting.

Dragomir, while relieved that democratic tools such as the 25th Amendment are available, fears that invoking it could unleash more violence and “make Trump a martyr to his supporters.” So like the rest of Europe, Dragomir is forced to count down the minutes until the current White House occupant is gone. “We all cannot wait until Jan. 20 arrives,” he said, “and that man is out the door.”


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