As rioters attacked and took over the U.S. Capitol, forcing Congress to flee, the world watched—America’s friends looking on with horror, its adversaries with undisguised joy.
Usually when there is political violence somewhere around the world, the U.S. Department of State releases a statement along these lines: Societies are best served when diverse political views are respected and can be freely and peacefully expressed. The United States urges all sides to refrain from violence. Repeated violence and excessive use of force by security forces are deeply troubling.
So naturally Wednesday’s ugly, despicable events at the Capitol, and the anti-democratic lies and incitement that led up to them, elicited schadenfreude from the usual suspects. Here’s state media from Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey:
Turkey concerned over developments in US, urges calm and lawful solution to problems, says parliament head
— ANADOLU AGENCY (ENG) (@anadoluagency) January 6, 2021
Erdoğan is trolling us: Dear United States, you’re no better than the rest of us.
The following gleeful tweet about the riots—with an attempt to dunk on Victoria Nuland, a Russia hawk who will be a high-ranking official in the Biden State Department—from the Russian deputy head of mission to the United Nations was retweeted by Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs:
Venezuela’s dictator, Nicolás Maduro, has been busy retweeting dozens of tweets about the riots, and his minister of foreign affairs, in an almost perfect parody of the typical State Department language, tweeted to “express concerns” over the violence:
#COMUNICADO| Venezuela expresa su preocupación por los hechos de violencia que se están llevando a cabo en la ciudad de Washington, EEUU; condena la polarización política y aspira que el pueblo estadounidense pueda abrirse un nuevo camino hacia la estabilidad y la justicia social pic.twitter.com/krqqFVV866
— Jorge Arreaza M (@jaarreaza) January 6, 2021
Chinese state media also joined in the schadenfreude fest, notably using Wednesday’s riot to mock the American critics of China’s behavior in Hong Kong:
Chinese netizens call pro-Trump riots "karma" as mob storms US Capitol, and US politicians can finally enjoy "beautiful sight" at their own offices. https://t.co/FRv9Y0oiBS
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) January 7, 2021
.@SpeakerPelosi once referred to the Hong Kong riots as "a beautiful sight to behold" — it remains yet to be seen whether she will say the same about the recent developments in Capitol Hill. pic.twitter.com/91iXDzYpcO
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) January 7, 2021
Clearly Germany’s minister of foreign affairs, Heiko Maas, was right to point out that the “enemies of democracy” would take pleasure in the grim images out of Washington:
Meanwhile, tweets from leaders and foreign ministers of other American allies are also issuing statements of concern, solidarity, and sympathy. Here’s Josep Borrell, the foreign minister of the European Union:
In the eyes of the world, American democracy tonight appears under siege.
This is an unseen assault on US democracy, its institutions and the rule of law.
This is not America. The election results of 3 November must be fully respected.
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) January 6, 2021
Here’s Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO:
Shocking scenes in Washington, D.C. The outcome of this democratic election must be respected.
— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) January 6, 2021
And here’s Boris Johnson, the prime minister of Great Britain—who was born in New York and so for a time had dual citizenship, spent some time in his childhood in Washington, D.C., and is known as an admirer of America:
Disgraceful scenes in U.S. Congress. The United States stands for democracy around the world and it is now vital that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) January 6, 2021
The prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand:
Very distressing scenes at the US Congress. We condemn these acts of violence and look forward to a peaceful transfer of Government to the newly elected administration in the great American democratic tradition.
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 6, 2021
Democracy – the right of people to exercise a vote, have their voice heard and then have that decision upheld peacefully should never be undone by a mob. Our thoughts are with everyone who is as devastated as we are by the events of today. I have no doubt democracy will prevail.
— Jacinda Ardern (@jacindaardern) January 7, 2021
And there’s more—from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, from the embassy of France in the United States, from the president of the European Commission Ursula van der Leyen, and many others.
Allies are concerned both because of the important example that the United States has long set for the world’s democracies and because their own democracies depend in important respects on the fate of America’s.
Two paths lay before us. One path is for Americans to take Erdoğan’s statement as granted—that is, to accept that the United States isn’t special, and that today’s ugliness, as embarrassing as it is, is evidence that we’re no different than the world’s troubled and unstable democracies.
The other path is to study our allies’ statements and view today not as a mere embarrassment but a warning. If we choose the second path, we have the well wishes, assistance, and prayers of our allies behind us—both because they admire us and because they have tied their interests to our strength.
Do we want to answer Erdoğan’s wish or the prayers of our allies? Do we want to live in a world made in our image or get out of the way of dictators in Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey to remake the world in their own image?
One answer to that question can be found in the pitch-perfect statement that Joe Biden released earlier today:
The world is watching. Like so many other Americans, I am genuinely shocked and saddened that our nation, so long the beacon of light and hope for democracy, has come to such a dark moment. Through war and strife, America has endured much, and we will endure here, and we will prevail again, and we will prevail now.
Biden went on to quote Lincoln: “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.” Amen.