When Air Force One enters town, everyone stops and stares. All over the world, in friendly and not so friendly countries, America’s majesty is unmistakable.
The White House’s projection of power is unique. It brings its own motorcade and fuel. His own safety. Its own helicopters for local transport.
But most of all, it brings with it something that cannot be captured in a picture of the mighty plane or its support staff or even the president.
It gives that inner glow of confidence and strength that comes not from cold steel, but from an idea: that it is a beacon of democracy and good governance, recognized as such all over the world.
The opening sentence of the preamble to the US Constitution is “We the people.”
When Air Force One enters town, everyone stops and stares. All over the world, in friendly and not so friendly countries, America’s majesty is unmistakable
And despite all its huge mistakes – the wars that shouldn’t have been fought, the alliances with dictators, the miscalculations, and often sheer ignorance of foreign policy – America has maintained the idea that when the government acts, it does so in its name. people, with all the associated democratic limitations and balances.
It is a term that emphasizes the difference between power, which is susceptible to abuse, and authority, which lends legitimacy to its actions.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called the US the “indispensable nation” of the world. She meant that when anyone had to take charge of world affairs, it was always America because of its unique blend of power and authority.
There is no doubt that after the seismic shock from this week’s Capitol Hill scenes, America is just as powerful as it was last week.
But it still has authority – not least in the minds of Xi Jinping from China or Vladimir Putin from Russia, of the leaders of North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world where little or no freedom is?
The White House’s projection of power is unique. It brings its own motorcade and fuel. His own safety. Its own helicopters for local transport
They will all look and chuckle now. So much for all those lectures on how democracy was superior because it was stronger, more resilient and more mature.
Heck, there’s even a chain of American clothing stores called Banana Republic, kind of like a running joke targeting miserable foreigners living in countries that aren’t, in Albright’s terms, “ indispensable. ”
From one day to the next that joke fell flat. Democratic leaders all over the world have been shaken. In addition to all the condemnations of what happened and the statements of support for American democracy, one intervention stands out: saying out loud what others think behind the scenes.
Poland’s former Foreign Secretary Radek Sikorski, educated in Oxford, tweeted, “ The US cabinet must immediately declare @realDonaldTrump insane, under the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution, and end his presidency. ” And some high Democrats agree with him.
So much for all those lectures on how democracy was superior because it was stronger, more resilient and more mature
It’s probably too late for that to happen. But we can see what Mr. Sikorski thought.
If they got rid of Trump in the next few days, at least America would have a positive story to tell: We flirted with disaster and then the system saved us.
Assuming Trump will stay in the White House until January 20 and leave as he seems to promise, the picture is less clear.
America will have a powerful figure in the wings who will tell the world, loud and clear on any platform it can find, that the elections have been stolen, that the US is a failed state.
One of the great assets of democracy – the routinely peaceful and universally recognized transfer of power after elections – will be undermined in the coming years.
Don’t mind the gloating autocrats like Putin and Xi. Can the US remain a beacon for people around the world who want to be free and choose their own leaders?
Assuming Trump will stay in the White House until January 20 and leave as he appears to promise, the picture is less clear.
The risk is that brave souls who live in and fight against dictatorships will simply give up, their determination being undermined by the flames they see enveloping the ‘Shining City on the Hill’, as Ronald Reagan described America in relation to the rest of the world. world.
So here are two big questions. How does this incoming White House convince, how do all Americans convince the world that they still have authority? And how do they deal with Donald Trump now?
I have long believed that the best outcome for Trump would be the realization that if he behaved relatively well, he could avoid prosecution and jail time. When they chanted ‘close her up’ about Hillary Clinton at Trump rallies, it felt un-American. They don’t lock up their former leaders.
Now I’m not so sure. Maybe they should. If you don’t lock him up, at least throw the book at him. Due to abuse of power in office, for alleged tax fraud, for the entire work.
The problem is, Joe Biden and his deputy, Kamala Harris, need to be able to look the world in the eye and say, “We’re dealing with this.”
They must launch the Trump boil and suggest with some credibility that American democracy has won the day – that they have held free and fair elections under conditions of tremendous stress and power has been handed over.
But this is about politics as well as about process. Many Americans – Republicans and Democrats alike – will insist that the country cannot give Trump, or any member of his family, a realistic chance of fleeing again in four years. That door must be closed, they will say.
On the other hand, the risk of creating a Trump martyr is real. And all over the world, prosecuting a politician, even one as bizarre as Trump, looks desperately bad. It positively screams ‘banana republic’.
Joe Biden will have to find a nice balance.
America still has so much in its favor – the country’s freedom and openness remain a big feature of its international appeal and a source of strength, especially when compared to China and Russia.
But for many around the world, concrete actions alone – leading the fight against the pandemic, supporting democracy, building true global friendships – are enough, regardless of whether Trump and his gang are shouting about injustice from the sidelines or not.
Is America Still ‘Indispensable’? We’re going to find out.