LONDON — It’s nearing the end of a week that’s not only shaken Washington and the country …it’s rocked the world.
I’ve covered the US from abroad for exactly 30 years now. And except for 9/11, I’ve never seen an American story touch a global nerve like this one.
I call it my “newsagent barometer.” A newsagent is the name for newsstands here in the UK. When my friends there, my pharmacy, my local food store see me and are desperate for me to comment on what’s happening in the US, I know it’s a big deal.
We were in the Fox News London bureau Wednesday evening local time when the images of the Capitol assault started coming in.
Minute by minute we realized this was going to be significant. As the hours went by, it became clear it would have global ramifications.
World leaders, very quickly, from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to French President Emmanuel Macron, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to Canadian PM Justin Trudeau weighed in.
They had a central message which surprised even me with its speed and directness: Freedom in America, so important as a beacon and role model around the world, cannot and/or should not be damaged by this event.
My own family and friends from afar and abroad also reached out, to help find understanding and maybe more than that, solace, at this time of national concern.
Supporters of President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
And yes, even though the two events were of a totally different nature and scope, from far away, it did have the feel of the Sept 11th terror attack: American national symbols under siege… The country and even its far-flung citizens needing to “circle the wagons.”
While others have already noted this, I feel I must add my own confirmation.
I watched the videos of the members of Congress and their staffers huddling in offices while the mob roamed outside their doors, thousands trampling the sacred halls of power, and brave police officers fighting with their courageous might to hold back the ranting crowds
People shelter in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
It reminded me of countless tense and brutal experiences I’d been a part of, including violent protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, the bloody militia-led civil war in eastern Ukraine, and the ransacking of buildings in Baghdad following the US invasion.
Basically, places and issues far removed from the civilized and constitutional norms the US is all about.
Despite my long-time foreign postings, I’ve worked as a journalist at the Capitol several times. I’m aware of the austere power and regal tradition the building represents.
But it was the first time I was there, taken to Washington by my parents as a 12-year-old, that will always stick with me. I was in awe as the “young me” walked those marble-laden hallways, which would years later become a battlefield.
It’s why the death and destruction seen there seemed for most of us like a serious and personal blow.
So again, as I ran errands this weekend in a London mostly locked-down by another deadly horror – the ongoing and resurging COVID pandemic – I was asked smart follow-up questions by adopted “Old World” neighbors: Will those responsible for this horror be held accountable and will American democracy survive?
To which I replied to them all, with “New World” optimism undaunted by decades of covering global revolutions, mishaps and mayhem: Yes.