My dear fellow citizens of Hong Kong, I woke up on a recent Thursday to watch the news. I couldn't believe my eyes. A group of demonstrators stormed the US Congress, causing many casualties. I don’t think anyone would have imagined that this country – the father of global democracy – would see such violent conflict in its core democratic sanctuary. This begs the question: how will the road to democracy go on?
The people of Hong Kong should feel this even more deeply, because it certainly reminds people of the scene that happened a year and a half ago, when hundreds of demonstrators charged into the Legislative Council building and vandalised it. Unfortunately the clashes at the US Congress this time resulted in casualties after police opened fire to subdue demonstrators. Some people immediately compared the two – that the US police didn’t hesitate to open fire makes the Hong Kong police’s response to demonstrators seem very restrained. Yet every country, every system…indeed, every demonstration has its own causes and characteristics. It is not wise to force comparison between different time and space. What people do in their situation does not necessarily inform if the same course of action is right or wrong for our particular circumstances. The fact that other people choose to open fire does not mean we cannot use other methods to deal with the problem.
There are people from another camp who saw things differently, intentionally or unintentionally rationalising the violence of Hong Kong protesters – I wouldn’t agree with them either. They said the Hong Kong demonstrators only attacked Legco when no meetings were in session, and only inanimate objects were destroyed. I don't understand why you would launch an attack on an empty building; it seems like a cowardly and reckless way to vent your anger. Moreover, though no meetings were in session, there are still security guards and police officers. In the early days of the anti-extradition bill demonstrations, supporters of civil disobedience through destructive action believed it is acceptable to destroy things as long as people are not hurt. Later, this escalated to throwing petrol bombs, setting fires – even to people – and attacking police officers – ostensibly out of self-defense so again, they feel these actions are justified. In the end, the violence culminated in widespread vigilantism on hapless victims holding differing views. As long as you accept violence, there will always be reasons to escalate it until everyone suffers.
As to the recent attack on the US Congress building, we need to go beyond political ideologies to ponder a more far-reaching issue – what went wrong with the democratic system that is hailed as the ultimate gold standard? Since Trump's participation in the party's primary elections, his key selling point has been his extremism. It would be no overstatement to say that his election victories verily depended on rumours and lies. Generally speaking, under a two-party system, those in power tend to take the middle ground to broaden their support base. In the past, people even joke that the only time you can differentiate between the Democratic and Republican parties is right before an election.Yet this is also one of the pros of democracy: to build consensus and resolve differences. Trump went the other way – consolidating his power by creating and intensifying conflicts and hatred. He actually succeeded in turning many into die-hard fans and planting the the seed of future destruction. After the recent election, things went from bad to worse. Everyday he issued groundless accusations on election fraud, though almost all the lawsuits were quickly dismissed by the court. In the end, he chose to call on his supporters to surround the Congress, causing tragedy.
Of course, we are not discussing individuals. Any madman must get popular support before he can wreak havoc. In the latest election, Trump received over 74 million popular votes, more than any successful candidates in the past, including the popular Obama — who was the previous record holder with over 69 million votes. Trump even out-did himself on the previous election by over 10 million votes! That just goes to show that his extreme strategy is not a complete failure. In today’s world where information moves at lightning speed, how is it that such an avid publisher of fake news can get so much support? In a world that touts equality for all, how is it that anyone so steeped in discrimination and hate speech can garner so much support? Well, you say… people are free to choose who they support – but in a country where elections are arguably prevalent and mature, it baffles the mind that so many would disrespect election results, reject court verdicts, and choose to express their dissatisfaction through violence.
The role of social media in this incident cannot be overlooked. Pre- and post- election, many of Trump's tweets were labeled as possibly false news, but clearly they still influenced many people. After the attack on Congress, his account was suspended and finally shut down, but this made some people question whether this violated another universal value: freedom of speech? On what grounds can senior management of social media companies shut up a person? Where is the boundary? At the same time, in fact, many right-wing organizations that support Trump are very active online. They have been accused of brazenly posting on online platforms their plans of attack on Congress. On the other hand, social media has been accused of their failure to respond.
Everyone has their own justifications. How to make good use of the promised land of the digital world and strike a balance between freedom, self-discipline, and supervision will be the key to human civilization in the future.
The above issues are food for thought for anyone who genuinely cares about the development of democracy.