Question: Mr Maas, what was your reaction to the images from Washington?
Heiko Maas: Like every true democrat, I expect, I felt anger mixed with shame. But even if nobody would claim to have predicted these images, what happened yesterday at the Capitol didn’t come out of the blue. It was the result of years of provocation and hate-mongering, and of a shameless, cynical way of doing politics which often enough sees no distinction between truth and lies, only self-interest. Today, certain people must ask themselves if they are partly to blame.
Question: Was it an attempted coup incited by Donald Trump?
Maas: It was a mob full of contempt for democratic institutions, which wanted to use violence to prevent Congress from obeying the will of the voters – and which felt encouraged and empowered to do so by the President. As to what Donald Trump intended, who can say.
Question: How dangerous is the situation now?
Maas: Congress was able to confirm the outcome of the election that same night, showing that American democracy cannot be swept aside so easily. But the hatred, the incendiary political rhetoric and provocation, and the readiness to use violence that we saw last night still pose a threat to American politics and society and will do so beyond Donald Trump’s time in office. Democracy is sustained by respect for the truth and for fair play. Trump has undermined these fundamental values and it will take a great deal of time and effort to rebuild them.
Question: What do you expect now from Trump?
Maas: The decent thing to do would have been to unequivocally accept Joe Biden’s electoral victory weeks ago, as every losing candidate in the USA has done in our lifetime. I no longer have this hope when it comes to Donald Trump. At least he no longer seems to oppose a peaceful transition of power. How severely this will damage American democracy in the long term now partly depends on those who have remained loyal to him to the end. Will they continue to stand by Trump and his methods in opposition, or will they return to the fold of decency and respect for the constitution?
Question: What must we learn from this, including in Germany?
Maas: These events show that populist rhetoric is not a game. It has real, deadly consequences. They must serve as a wake-up call to all democrats around the world, and that includes here in Germany. It must no longer be acceptable to chase after right-wing provocateurs and hate-mongers, to flirt with populists and to sympathise with conspiracy theories.