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Clara Ferreira Marques

America’s Credibility Has Been Stormed

Chaos sown by Trump has been fuel for autocrats the world over. What happens next will determine whether the damage lasts.

A gleeful sight for autocrats.

A gleeful sight for autocrats.

Photographer: Jose Luis Magana/AP

America could hardly have been kinder with propaganda gifts to autocrats over the past few months. 

First, there was the mishandling of a coronavirus pandemic spiraling out of control; then, chaotic elections that the incumbent refused to concede. Now, the televised storming of Capitol Hill by marauding protesters, virtually unchallenged by police. This is invaluable material for Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping and any other leader eager to portray transitions of power as anarchic and damaging, cementing their own importance as custodians of stability. It helps justify their clampdowns on opposing voices and enfeebles the U.S. in standing up as a meaningful proponent of democracy.

The potential short-term damage is no doubt overdone by the effects of dramatic footage. President-elect Joe Biden will take over in two weeks and the pillars of the U.S. political system are still standing. But the pernicious longer-term impact of events in recent months — culminating with the first large-scale breach of the Capitol since 1814, incited by an elected president — are far more worrying, especially for people fighting for freedom and representation elsewhere. This is not turbulence in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek after allegations of vote-rigging in October, but a transition of power marred by violence in Washington, D.C.