President Trump conceded publicly for the first time on Thursday, acknowledging that he will not be serving a second term, and that a transfer of power is now underway. “A new administration will be inaugurated on January 20,” Trump said in a pre-recorded video taped at the White House. “My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power.”
Trump’s recognition of his loss comes two months after the election results and amid growing calls for either his removal from office or impeachment. It also comes as legal questions circulate about his culpability for inciting the riots that occurred at the U.S. Capitol a day earlier. “My only goal was to ensure the integrity of the vote. In doing so I was fighting to defend American democracy,” Trump said in Thursday’s video remarks of his efforts to overturn election results.
On Wed. Jan 6, a mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building, disrupting the certification of the electoral vote count for President-elect Joe Biden and causing members of the Senate and House to evacuate their chambers. On Thursday, Biden said people should not call the hundreds of Trump supporters who broke into the Capitol “protesters,” and added that Trump has “made his contempt for our democracy, our Constitution, the rule of law clear in everything he has done.”
American allies also issued strong condemnations of the rioters who stormed the US Capitol building in Washington, while other nations used the events to question America’s role as an international norm carrier and an effective democracy. Scenes of armed rioters breaching and vandalizing the Capitol disturbed top diplomats around the world, and Democratic leaders reacted with concern online, describing the chaotic scenes as “shocking” and “disgraceful.”
As the chaos unfolded, several foreign embassies in Washington issued stay-at-home notices for their citizens, and European leaders deployed strong language to express their condemnation. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a forceful statement against both the rioters and President Trump. “On the United States and the election, I want to say that all my life America has stood for some very important things — an idea of freedom and an idea of democracy. And […] so far as he encouraged people to storm the Capitol and insofar as the President has consistently cast doubt on the outcome of a free and fair election, I believe that that was completely wrong,” he said during a press conference.
Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney wrote: “The world is watching! We hope for restoration of calm,” and added that the images coming out of Washington were “shocking” and that the events were “a deliberate assault on democracy.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also expressed concern about the violent scenes and told a Vancouver radio station: “I think the American democratic institutions are strong, and hopefully everything will return to normal shortly.”
In a recorded statement, French President Emmanuel Macron said “(…) what happened today in Washington, D.C., is not America, definitely,” and added: “We believe in the strength of American democracy.”
The violence in Washington, D.C. also drew criticism from some hard-right politicians in Europe including Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, the far-right Dutch opposition leader Geert Wilders, Trump’s longtime British ally Nigel Farage, and Italy’s far-right League party leader Matteo Salvini, all of whom denounced the protesters’ actions.
Slovenia’s nationalist Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who in November congratulated Trump for “winning” the vote against Biden before an election result, denounced the violence in the US Capitol, adding he hoped American democracy would “overcome this crisis.” “All should be very troubled by the violence taking place in Washington D.C.,” the leader of the right-wing Slovenian Democratic Party tweeted. “Democracy presupposes peaceful protest, but violence and death threats —from Left or Right— are ALWAYS wrong.”
Volkan Bozkir, the President of the United Nations General Assembly, wrote that he was hopeful “democratic processes will prevail.” “I’m saddened & concerned by today’s developments at the Capitol in #WashingtonDC. The US is one of the world’s major democracies,” he added.
Russian and Iranian officials were quick to point out how Wednesday’s failed insurrection shows how the global ambitions of US foreign-policy elites are divorced from reality—and undermined by domestic dysfunction. During a televised speech on Thursday, President Hassan Rouhani mocked the chaos, stating: “What happened in the US shows how fragile Western democracy is. (…) Despite all their scientific and industrial achievements, we see a huge influence of populism. When a sick person takes office, we see how he disgraces his country and creates troubles for the world.”
Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the Russian Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the storming signaled the derailment of American democracy. “The celebration of democracy is over. Alas, this is rock bottom, I say this without a hint of gloating,” Kosachev wrote on Facebook Thursday. “America no longer defines the course, and therefore has lost all right to set it. And even more so to impose it on others,” Kosachev said.
The riot’s lasting effects have yet to be seen, although two members of Trump’s cabinet have quit because of Wednesday’s riot. Earlier Thursday, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said she would resign, followed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who resigned Thursday night, blaming President Donald Trump for rhetoric that fueled the “unconscionable” invasion of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of his supporters.
President Trump announced Friday that he will not attend President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration later this month, the first president since Andrew Johnson in 1869 to decline participation in the event. However, Vice President Mike Pence was warmly invited to take part in the inauguration. “The vice president is welcome to come, [I would] be honored to have him there and to move forward in the transition,” Biden said.
The political turmoil that has engulfed the country since November has not only brought into question America’s moral authority and global leadership, but also exposed domestic politics staggering under the weight of decades of partisan abuse. The key imperative for Americans now is to defend the constitution across party lines.
The good news is that US democracy is holding up; the bad news is that the anger and tensions will not go away any time soon.