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Declaration of a Peaceful Revolution

Many said Trump’s presidency would end this way. But the warnings were ignored | US Capitol breach

The events at the Capitol building in Washington were shocking, but sadly not that surprising. Yes, President Donald Trump incited a fascist mob to try to violently overthrow the legitimate outcome of a democratic election – but this was the tragic yet inevitable consequence of the far-right movement the president has built and fostered over the last five years.

Many around the world have long warned that it could end this way, or worse. Trump followed the playbook of the fascist dictators and strongmen that came to power in the 1930s and 40s.

Trump pitted his own citizens against each other. He preyed on genuine economic suffering. He lied to stoke fear of those who are different. He denied basic scientific facts about Covid-19 and refused to act to save lives and jobs. He separated children from their parents. He used people’s religion as a reason to ban them from coming to the US. He gave equivalence to far-right racists and anti-racist protesters. He denigrated women and denied many the right to choose what they do with their body.

And he also undermined and delegitimised the fundamental pillars of democracy – equality under the law, the freedom of the press, an independent judicial system and, ultimately, even elections themselves.

Tragically, the warnings were deliberately ignored by too many supposedly mainstream politicians, commentators and observers around the world, including here in the UK. Some greedily eyed an opportunity for their own advancement, which they valued more than the long-term health of democracy. Others were simply too scared of the consequences of doing the right thing and challenging the ugly new populist and nativist political movements that Trump spawned.

This clearly applies to the Republican party in the US – from the congressional leadership downwards – with too few notable exceptions. Too many stood by and did nothing while Trump rose to power and emboldened white nationalists. The GOP must now face a true reckoning for what it has enabled.

It also applies to the Conservative party in the UK. Whatever they say now, the most senior Conservative ministers rushed to fawn over Trump. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab and others deliberately tied their political project to his. Not just by facilitating a clearly inappropriate state visit to the UK – but by forging close links between their party and Trump’s movement. Their appeasement will not be forgotten despite their eleventh-hour belated attempts to put distance between themselves and Trump.

The events in the US must now act as a wake-up call for democracies around the world. There is no guarantee that other democracies will prove to be as robust as the US has, especially as some countries will likely suffer horrendous economic consequences from the pandemic – conditions that history tells us are ripe for the rise of fascism.

Donald Trump’s defeat is not the end of his brand of far-right politics. More than 74 million voted for him in November. Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, Matteo Salvini in Italy, Andrzej Duda in Poland and others are from the same mould. As are a growing group on the fringes of the Brexit movement.

Thankfully the president-elect, Joe Biden, has shown how sensible democratic politicians – from across political divides – can unite people to reject this form of far-right nativist populism.

People on both the left and right must show no hesitation in challenging racism and discrimination, be fearless in speaking up to protect all minority groups while promoting equality and focus relentlessly on tackling the economic inequalities and lack of opportunities that create a fertile breeding ground for the far-right – challenges that will only get harder after the pandemic.

We should tell truly inclusive patriotic stories about our national identity that show the genuine diversity of both our history and modern societies. And we need to be clear that compromising with those on the other side of the political aisle is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it is essential for the health of democracy.

Despite how shocking it was, the attack on the Capitol was not the most significant event in US politics last week. Instead, we should look to positives like the certification of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s victory, the election of the first ever Jewish senator from Georgia and the first black Democrat senator to be elected from a former confederate state. They show us the way forward. Now it’s on the rest of the world to pick up their mantle as we seek to rebuild and strengthen our democracies in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Sadiq Khan is mayor of London

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