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LBC Views: Simon Marks reflects on the impact of the Capitol riots 6 months on
7 July 2021, 16:55 | Updated: 7 July 2021, 18:39
Six months ago Washington was in turmoil.
Joe Biden had not yet taken the oath of office, and Donald Trump’s efforts to block him from doing so had left 5 people dead at the US Capitol building.
Only this past weekend some of the final security fences were removed here.
You can now once again stroll up to the main fence surrounding the White House and take pictures of the building. (At least you could if you were allowed to come here, although yesterday the White House had no fresh news to offer on when US-UK travel restrictions might ease.)
Nearly 6 months in to the Biden Presidency, we continue to be awash in the same, far-too-early judgments that many of his supporters were making at the 100-day mark.
It is still premature for them to conclude that he’s the most consequential President since Franklin Delano Roosevelt led the nation out of the Great Depression with his “New Deal” programme of the 1930s. But happily Joe Biden has on numerous occasions now provided us with the precise yardstick by which we can ultimately assess his Presidency.
America, he claims, is locked into a “battle for the 21st century” that pits liberal democracies like the US and the UK against autocracies like China and Russia.
The President defined the battle in his pre-G7 speech last month at RAF Mildenhall: “I believe we’re at an inflection point in world history - the moment where it falls to us to prove that democracies will not just endure, but they will excel as we rise to seize the enormous opportunities of a new age.
"We have to discredit those who believe that the age of democracy is over, as some of our fellow nations believe. We have to expose as false the narrative that decrees of dictators can match the speed and scale of the 21st century’s challenges”.
So how goes the battle?
First, let’s look at the health of American democracy. Late last month a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that 53% of Republicans believe Donald Trump won the 2020 election and they blame his loss on illegal voting. Lies over truth for them, then, given the fact that both those assertions are flatly false.
Nationally, 25% of the public thinks Joe Biden’s win was illegitimate. With conservative media outlets amplifying lies about the electoral system, the country seems mired in disagreement about the health of the very democracy that the President says must triumph on the world stage.
From a public health perspective, America remains the nation that cannot help itself. President Biden now says he is “doubling down” on efforts to combat vaccine skepticism particularly in the south of the country.
Many southern states are struggling to get even 40% of their residents inoculated against Covid-19. As the Delta variant moves into high gear, the hospital system in Springfield, Missouri ran out of ventilators over the holiday weekend. Officials in Missouri themselves characterise the state as the canary in America’s Covid-19 coal mine.
Socially, America had a disastrous Independence Day weekend.
While President Biden was holding his “America’s Back Together” party at the White House, there were 400 separate shooting incidents in 72 hours that left 150 people dead.
Crime rates are spiralling in the nation’s inner cities including New York, Chicago, Cincinnati and Dallas. As usual, there is no impetus on Capitol Hill to introduce the gun control legislation the country so urgently needs.
And then there’s Afghanistan – the topic President Biden last week refused to discuss when reporters pressed him. His “over-the-horizon” strategy for the country’s defence is already allowing the Taliban to seize territory.
Now we learn that US forces spent the weekend slinking out of the Bagram Air Base one last time without even telling its new Afghan commanding officer that they had left. “America is back”, says Joe Biden. But the President concedes that some world leaders don’t believe him. He’ll be hoping the November 2022 mid-term elections here offer definitive proof of the country’s return to stability.
For now, it’s way too early to bet on the outcome of the battle with autocracies that Biden’s America is pledged to lead.