As patriotic American citizens, and as leaders of an organization that supports democratic movements globally, we have been reflecting on the events of last week and their implications for our future.
January 6 was a day of outrage, shock and sadness. A violent mob inspired by the President of the United States attacked the home of American representative democracy. This assault was aimed at overturning the results of a free and fair election. We mourn the loss of life and the desecration of our Capitol. We demand that those responsible for inciting and carrying out this attack be held accountable. But our confidence in America’s democracy is unshaken. We were inspired by the determination of the U.S. Congress to carry on with the process of certifying the electoral college vote. It denied the thugs their objective and ensured that democracy prevailed.
The events of last week reverberated beyond Washington. Democratic allies who normally look to the United States with admiration were astonished by the blatant lawlessness. Autocratic regimes have already used the attack in their propaganda.
But the images of the assault on the Capitol do not tell the full story of America today. Despite the attempts to undermine our nation’s institutions, our democracy is holding firm. We also see:
- A record number of citizens turned out to vote in last year’s presidential election, despite a pandemic and systematic efforts in some places to obstruct equal access to the ballot box.
- Election administrators from both parties and nonpartisan election workers conducted their duties with professionalism, integrity and courage, despite logistical challenges and threats from a sitting president.
- Our judicial system upheld the rule of law, evaluating claims of fraud and finding them groundless.
- Finally, on January 20, the United States will inaugurate a new and legitimately elected President and Vice President, including the first woman, and the first woman of color, to serve in this role.
We must also not overlook the other story of American democracy that occurred last week: the election in Georgia of its first African American and Jewish senators. This milestone is a result of the historic organization and mobilization of Black voters, led by Black women. Georgia’s election is a reflection of American democracy’s promise, and a lesson for democracies new and old that the strongest engine of democratic renewal often comes from those who have historically been most marginalized.
At the National Democratic Institute, we have long recognized that what happens in the United States has a direct impact on democracy globally. We have seen democratic movements draw inspiration from the words and examples of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama. We have also seen authoritarians abroad cite Donald Trump’s attacks on the media and democracy in justifying their own actions.
But NDI’s work is not based on the assumption that America’s system of government is perfect, for we recognize that this has never been the case. Every democracy, even the world’s oldest, is a constant work in progress.
To authoritarians who reacted with glee to last week’s events, we say: democracy is resilient. We are not afraid of debate or truth, or to show our flaws. Democracy’s strength is that it is the only system of government that contains the ability to heal itself peacefully. Stable, secure societies cannot be built on lies and repression.
America’s recent experience shows that any democracy can be put at risk by leaders who exploit divisions and fear. No democracy can survive if the deep wounds and enduring legacies of systemic racism, misogyny and bigotry are allowed to fester. We fervently hope that under new leadership, Republicans and Democrats will work together to heal rather than exacerbate divisions, oppose hate, and expose lies while upholding the truth. They must also work to strengthen our electoral system, ensuring that every individual has equal voting rights and access, and that no vote is suppressed.
Through this work, we can demonstrate the value of America’s example of democratic practice for the world – imperfect, but improving. And just as our democratic partners abroad reached out to us last week to express their solidarity and support, America must not waver in vigorously and visibly supporting those working for democracy and human rights, and staunchly opposing freedom’s enemies around the world.
NDI for its part will remain committed to its longstanding work to build solidarity and strengthen mutual support among democrats worldwide, to help one another build and strengthen our democratic institutions. We will continue to do this work confident in our values, knowing that democracy is a never-ending journey, not a destination; and determined to pursue the inherent human dignity of every individual and a more safe, prosperous and secure world.
Madeleine K. Albright, NDI Chairman Derek Mitchell, NDI President