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Tags: law and order | civil unrest

Europeans Remember What Happens When Law and Order Breaks Down

people walk in the capitol rotunda with trump flags
(Sipa via AP Images)

Mark L. Cohen By Thursday, 14 January 2021 11:59 AM EST Current | Bio | Archive

“The shot heard on Lexington Green in 1775 that signaled the beginning of the war of independence from Great Britain was heard around the world.

The cry of anguish coming from every corner of the United States in the aftermath of the January 6 rioting has resounded in headlines and extensive media coverage throughout the world.

This is especially evident in Europe where perhaps more than anywhere liberation from Nazi and fascist tyranny is not just a distant memory. Their liberator, America, represents the longstanding defender of liberty and justice for all.

The reaction in the first days after Jan. 6 was concern about how Senators and Congressmen, elected officials themselves, could consider that Joe Biden stole the election and how some of them voted to refuse to certify the election results in the country that most ardently defends democracy.

It was one thing to be a Trump supporter, it’s quite another — a major and different thing — to support, justify or tolerate violence as a political tool. Certain editorials pointed out that in every instance where elections are rigged the party in power is responsible because an opposition party has never been in a position to systematically change an election result.

There is, however, another aspect of critical importance that is now overriding all other concerns.

Beginning these last few days there exists some degree of doubt as to the resolve and capability of the federal and state governments to maintain peace and order in the face of widespread disrespect for the law.

The violence at the Capitol brought denial and guilt and shame in the first 48 hours, but later last week social media evidenced unprecedented calls for more violence.

The historic European fear brought to public consciousness by the January 6th riots is that breakdown in law and order leads to the demise of democracy and the rise of fascism. The one force in the world that all, friends and many enemies included, relied as a solid and dependable defense against usurpation of power through undemocratic means was the United States of America.

What’s happened these last days, whether as a total surprise or, according to some, the natural continuation of Trump's disrespect for democratic principles, calls into question the United States as the most stalwart safeguard against a new rise of fascism.

In most European observations of recent events the cause or, at best, catalyst for this violence is universally assessed to be the president of the United States (himself the firefighter turned pyromaniac).

However adding middle American anger that Joe Biden is not considered the legitimate winner of the election to the mix are U.S. Senators and Congressmen who appear to be violating their oaths of office to defend against “all enemies foreign and domestic.”

Partisan politics, through pure blind loyalty to a man who instigated or at best fueled the violence, seeps into even their high-minded sounding-off against the violence. And leadership at the highest levels, justifying, instead of condemning violence, eats away at the conviction and willingness at all levels to use whatever means, including force, to maintain order.

One of the major problems that occurred during the Trump administration is the lack of high management standards in the different law-enforcement agencies because of tensions within departments of government.

Governments function painfully and inefficiently when there is disorder in the ranks. Examples of tensions are the consequence of firing of the head of the FBI because of supposed disloyalty to the president himself.

And the Attorney General of the United States taking positions that were considered by many department heads and U.S. attorneys throughout the country as at best unconsidered, and at worst illegal.

In a crisis, the need of coordination between agencies of the Federal government and the State and local governments and the need for efficient communications and good management is even more crucial.

The problem gets worse when within the ranks of certain government agencies officials charged with keeping the peace are sympathetic to the mass movement calling for violence.

According to reports, in contrast to the heroism of certain members of the Capitol police there were others who either aided or stepped aside.

There have also been reports in the last days that military veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, feeling neglected and even ridiculed when they returned home, are found in the ranks of law enforcement and take part in mass demonstrators.

The big question in this situation is whether sanctions against elected officials who place support for any one political leader above maintaining the public order is the way to firmly send out the message that disorder will not be tolerated. The totally opposite approach is to consider that it is more wise to let matters settle and avoid exacerbating existing divisions.

In this interrogation, we cannot forget from an historical perspective one of the means dictators used to rise to power and destroy democracy was discrediting traditional institutional and replacing them with storm troopers or armed men whose only loyalty was to the man not the country. Examples of appeasement as an effective tool are virtually nonexistent.

One line of thinking from many Republicans but perhaps not the leadership is to take into account that impeachment or invocation of Article 25 against the president may be counterproductive and produce even more violence. And, in reality, there will not be time to remove Donald Trump from office.

It is more difficult however to justify inaction in taking measures against elected officials who will continue in office after Jan. 20 and even now claim that the election was stolen. Their continual denial of the legitimacy of the election keeps tensions high and fuels violence.

Complicity in the false claim that the election was stolen becomes particularly reprehensible in a situation where world news services have reported that the 62 legal cases to contest the legitimacy of the election were dismissed by judges, some of whom were Trump appointments.

All being said, the preoccupation with the risk of civil disorder is not a prediction but a warning that America needs to prepare for the worst, but along with our friends and allies hope and pray for the best.

Mark L. Cohen has his own legal practice, and was counsel at White & Case starting in 2001, after serving as international lawyer and senior legal consultant for the French aluminum producer Pechiney. Cohen was a senior consultant at a Ford Foundation Commission, an advisor to the PBS television program "The Advocates," and Assistant Attorney General in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He teaches U.S. history at the business school in Lille l'EDHEC. Read Mark L. Cohen's Reports — More Here.

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The cry of anguish coming from every corner of the United States in the aftermath of the January 6 rioting has resounded everywhere in world headlines and extensive media coverage.
law and order, civil unrest
Thursday, 14 January 2021 11:59 AM
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