By Martin Vogel
Sometimes, when you watch an event, it is only when you sleep on it that its significance lands. Last week, I watched with shock but not surprise as America’s Capitol was invaded by seditionists. Even as I watched, and despite the delay in police and security forces containing the uprising, the insurrection looked unlikely to succeed. But, the next morning, the deeper significance sunk in. This was an event that shouldn’t have happened in a mature democracy. Given the connivance of an uncomfortably large number of elected representatives in Congress, with a more competent seditionist than Donald Trump in office, the coup might have prevailed. America, and the cause of democracy around the world, was stained by the insurrection but also saved by an ethos that held when tested.
Yesterday, as Joe Biden took office, the rituals of inauguration seemed familiar but their significance was overwhelming. The words of the presidential oath carried unusual meaning as Biden, with evident decency and determination, promised to uphold the constitution. After dealing with the urgent crisis of Covid, this is his most important task. It’s not yet clear whether the mediation of differences in the United States can be contained within democratic norms. But everything about the inauguration signalled that an attempted restoration is under way.