By Ambassador Mark Green (ret.) and Ambassador Derek Mitchell (ret.)

 

This Op-Ed was originally published by Devex. Read the piece at its original source here.

The horrifying scenes of violent, seditious protestors storming the United States Capitol raise doubt about how — and indeed if — the U.S. can be a democratic leader globally. How can we claim to promote democracy abroad when it is in crisis at home?

As two people who have spent their careers proudly supporting democracy as U.S. ambassadors and policymakers, and who now lead organizations devoted to democracy and human rights, it was heartbreaking to watch as both friends and enemies of democracy alike ask that exact question.

The president of Zimbabwe took to Twitter, saying, “Yesterday’s events showed that the U.S. has no moral right to punish another nation under the guise of upholding democracy.” The government of Turkey called on Americans to use “moderation, common sense to overcome this domestic political crisis.” Even the illegitimate foreign minister of Venezuela condemned “the political polarization.”

Where do we go from here? How can we restore America’s moral leadership for democracy?

First and foremost, we must unequivocally condemn the violence that we saw in and around the Capitol. Those who took part must be held accountable.

But it’s not enough to decry the events of a single day. Unfortunately, these subversive acts against the legitimate results of a clearly valid election have been coming for some time.

Words matter. What happened Wednesday is a result of the inflammatory and baseless comments over many years from some of our government leaders, who for the past few months regarding the election results fueled the despicable actions that took place in the Capitol. It is the culmination of the lies and contempt for democracy among those who have knowingly trampled democratic norms of transparency, accountability, and equality.

So, on the verge of a new administration, Democrats and Republicans alike must recommit themselves to address the simmering intolerance, division, and distrust that have brought our American democracy to the brink.

We know from decades of experience that the job of democracy is never done and that democracy is fragile. We also know it is resilient. One of the great virtues of democracy is that it’s the only form of government that can renew itself over and over again — and reaffirm its sacred foundation when governments and leaders fall off the path. This is one of those moments.

The violent actions on the sacred grounds of the Capitol remind us of the consequences of spreading misinformation.

However, even as we go about the work of restoring our own republic, we cannot shy away from standing firm for democracy abroad. We cannot let the crisis at home erode our commitment to human rights and human dignity globally.

Around the world, authoritarian opportunists from Beijing to Minsk to Caracas are eroding the foundations of democracy. At this time of crisis for democracies around the globe, America — with all our struggles and imperfections — cannot be silent or pull back.

Our country’s history is not one of unbroken, clear, and easy progress toward a more perfect union — quite the contrary. Our democracy has always been messy, a work in progress, and a struggle to achieve the aspirations boldly laid out by our founders. The principles that undergird that process are what form the basis of America’s ability to shine as a beacon for democracy.