US Capitol attack: Here's what Scotland should learn from this assault on democracy by Donald Trump's supporters – Gina Davidson

“That rifle hanging on the wall of the working-class flat or labourer's cottage is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.”

Supporters of President Donald Trump are confronted by US Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber in the US Capitol (Picture: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
Supporters of President Donald Trump are confronted by US Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber in the US Capitol (Picture: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

George Orwell is increasingly quoted in these conspiratorial days when facts, science and truth seem to be undermined at every turn by so-called alternatives, but his view on democracy’s fragility was proven beyond doubt on Wednesday, when rifles were taken from the walls and were in the hands of those who stormed the US Capitol.

Armed insurrection is not new in American history. What is, is that in a country which has long prided itself on its capacity for democratic renewal, the words of Donald Trump, a spoiled baby of a man whose ego will not allow him to believe he lost the election, were enough to see democracy teeter on the brink of collapse.

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As Joe Biden said, the attack on the Capitol was incited by a president who has, for the last four years (indeed longer given his previous attacks on Barack Obama’s legitimacy as president) done all he can to undermine the electoral system and the peaceful transfer of power. As a result, the world's most powerful country saw its Senate dispersed, politicians in hiding, and the Vice President fleeing for protection.

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There will be much soul-searching as to how the reign of Trump ended this way, although the answers are already known and it would be foolish to pretend otherwise. Similarly it would be a foolish politician in Scotland or the UK, who writes off Wednesday's events as something which could not happen here. The murder of MP Jo Cox in 2016 is testament to that.

Too many people have been ensnared by conspiracy theories: support for Brexit, now causing problems for businesses, proves that all too easily. The rise of unregulated social media platforms and the hollowing out of a free press has left a vacuum which has been filled with such theories, from both the left and right.

Following the assault on the Capitol, Twitter in the UK was flooded with photos of Boris Johnson and Trump together to prove how ghastly the Prime Minister is and how much better off Scotland would be on its own, but wait, there was Labour’s ex-FM Jack McConnell shaking the hand of Trump and, oh yes, Alex Salmond too. The desire to be holier than thou among some political activists is, at times, stomach-churning.

There are legitimate grievances, economic, and social, in our country, as there are in the US, and these are at the heart of the discontent and the searching for an easy explanation about Whose Fault It Is. Long-standing inequalities have been made increasingly visible by years of austerity, and more so with the pandemic.

But none of these things are solved by “othering” those of a different view, class, colour of skin, rosette or nationality. They can only be resolved by democratic means, by political argument and persuasion, by a refusal to be trapped in an echo-chamber of thoughts, by the encouragement of intellectual curiosity and by the acceptance of election results.

But preach hate and remove the humanity of those with whom you disagree, and you end up with a rifle in your hand. Trump is a warning to all of us.

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