Images of a pro-Trump mob teeming in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday echoed around the world, where many are used to U.S. lectures on orderly power transfers, not frenzied offers to overthrow the American elections.
The United States’ longtime democratic allies were shocked. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the scenes in Washington as “shameful”.
“The United States stands for democracy worldwide, and it is now crucial that there is a peaceful and orderly transfer of power,” wrote Johnson, an ally of President Donald Trump, on Twitter.
Time and again, high-ranking officials expressed concern about the state of American democracy and called for the election result to be respected.
Among them was NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who described the scenes as “shocking”.
European Union High Representative Josep Borrell wrote that American democracy was “under siege”.
Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called the event “really serious” and said it was “a real scar for democracy, an attack on the freedom of the American people”.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned on Twitter that “the enemies of democracy will be happy about these incredible images” and added: “Trump and his supporters should finally accept the decision of the American voters and stop trampling democracy.”
The Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz tweeted that it was an “unacceptable attack on democracy” during the Israeli campaign Defense Secretary Benny Gantz tweeted: “The pictures from Washington hurt the hearts of everyone who believes in democracy.”
The chaos began after Trump told a large crowd outside the White House that he would never give in to President-elect Joe Biden and unfounded claims that the election results were fraudulent.
The previous Wednesday, he had urged his followers to march to the Capitol, and he even suggested they join them before finally returning to the White House.
After the mob stormed the Capitol, Trump again falsely claimed in a video message that he “won the election” by a “landslide” before telling his supporters, “You have to go home now.”
The scenes of protesters breaking barricades and forcing Congress to evacuate and halt a ceremonial event that confirms that Biden won the election will seriously damage the US image around the world, said Peter Trubowitz, director of the US Center at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
“There is nothing like this moment in modern American history,” Trubowitz said. “The pictures here are terrible for America’s standing and credibility.
“People look to the US and that’s not what they have in mind,” he added. “It’s going to take a lot of work on the part of the Biden administration to reset things.”
He warned that credibility was “hard to earn and easy to lose”.
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Countries more used to being reprimanded for lack of democracy and the rule of law also responded.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the health of American democracy is not just an issue for Americans. “This is important not only for the US, but also for Ukraine and the entire democratic world,” he wrote.
In Turkey, condemned by previous governments for lack of democratic norms, the State Department issued a statement saying it was following “with concern” post-presidential election internal developments in the US.
“We advise Turkish citizens in the US to avoid crowded areas and places where protests take place,” it said.
The Venezuelan government, which was subjected to harsh US sanctions and criticized for its undemocratic behavior, condemned the “political polarization and spiral of violence”.
“With this unfortunate episode, the United States is suffering from what its aggressive policies have generated in other countries,” a statement said. “Venezuela hopes that the violence will stop soon and that the American people can finally open up a new path towards stability and social justice.”
Abigail Williams, Paul Goldman, Dan De Luce and Claudio Lavanga contributed.