This global cultural battle will continue because the conditions of its eruption — insecurity, disappearing jobs, resentment in societies made still more unequal by the impact of Covid-19 — persist from France to Latin America. The Trump phenomenon also persists. His tens of millions of supporters are not about to vanish.
“Were the events at the Capitol the apotheosis and tragic endpoint of Trump’s four years, or was it the founding act of a new American political violence spurred by a dangerous energy?” François Delattre, the secretary-general of the French Foreign Ministry, asked. “We do not know, and in countries with similar crises of their democratic models we must worry.”
France is one such country of increasingly tribal confrontation. If the U.S. Justice Department could be politicized, if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could be eviscerated, and if 147 elected Members of Congress could vote to overturn the election results even after the Capitol was stormed, there is reason to believe that in other fractured post-truth societies anything could happen.
“How did we get here? Gradually and then suddenly, as Hemingway had it,” said Peter Mulrean, a former United States ambassador to Haiti now living in France. “We’ve seen the steady degradation of truth, values and institutions. The world has watched.”
As Simon Schama, the British historian, has observed, “When truth perishes so does freedom.” Mr. Trump, for whom truth did not exist, leaves a political stage where liberty is weakened. An emboldened Russia and an assertive China are more strongly placed than ever to mock democracy and push agendas hostile to liberalism.
Toward China, Mr. Trump’s policy was so incoherent that Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, was left appealing to Starbucks, which has thousands of stores in China, to improve strained U.S.-China relations. Mr. Xi wrote last week to the company’s former chief executive, Howard Schultz, to “encourage him” to help with “the development of bilateral relations,” the official Xinhua news agency reported.