This week, the American democratic system withstood a direct and violent attempt to prevent it from working. Despite this despicable attempt, the U.S. Congress proceeded to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election. This Constitutional process, which started in the afternoon of January 6th but could not be completed until the early morning hours of January 7th, affirmed the votes cast and the electoral certification processes completed by every state in the nation.
The Council on Strategic Risks condemns this assault on the U.S. Capitol, Congress, and on our democratic institutions, and the political forces and actors who instigated it.
Americans have strongly-held, if often divergent, views. Nonviolent public expression of those sentiments and actions to drive change are fundamental elements of the nation’s democratic processes. However, the forced takeover of government facilities, the threats to the safety of elected officials and law enforcement personnel, the attempt to prevent a legitimate election certification process from occurring, and the violence that resulted in five deaths, are not.
Unfortunately, the strains and trends that led to these events were foreseeable and predicted. The Council on Strategic Risks has long expressed concern that the issues the United States has been facing could spur violence and the erosion of democratic governance.
More broadly, history is replete with lessons from situations around the world in which significant changes, strains, and destabilizing forces mounted to the point of overtaking the systems meant to reinforce democratic governance against rising violence, ethno-nationalism, and conflict.
Economic devastation, environmental degradation, technological evolution, rising oppression, the impacts of climate change, and other sweeping trends can combine to create conditions that pave the way for great disruption and change. This has been true in the last century and continues today, where anti-democratic forces have exploited changing conditions to the detriment of citizens worldwide. A major catalyst—such as a life-changing pandemic—can be a significant factor in a system failure, and that is even more likely when political leaders are unwilling or unable to prevent such failure.
Indeed, systemic risks to security never stand alone. They coincide, converge, are fueled by, and fuel, social and political changes and disruption, and at times, violence and conflict. This week’s violent assault on the U.S. Capitol and Congress was clearly fueled by President Trump and other political actors, and by the spreading of blatant falsehoods concerning the November elections through social media and other platforms. However, there is no single cause behind the threat to democracy that the United States has recently witnessed, nor are there singular solutions. But the launching point for advancing solutions is that America’s strong democratic institutions have stood up and prevailed in the face of threats we have not seen in modern times.
We hope January 6th marked the worst of the violence we will see in the United States, and the worst of threats to the U.S. democratic system.
We know there is a long road ahead to find solutions to the deeply-rooted challenges that have been growing in the United States and around the world for many years. The mission of the Council on Strategic Risks is to anticipate, analyze and address core systemic risks to security in the 21st century. We will continue to play a role in the community building that will be necessary to meet this mission, and hopefully in our work will contribute to acts and policies that strengthen our democracy.
The Center for Climate and Security is an institute of the Council on Strategic Risks