American Democracy, Warts and All

USIA showcased democracy

My father, Robert C. Amerson, spent his Foreign Service career in the United States Information Agency, the Cold War organization that communicated US policy abroad and carried out international information and cultural programs. Among the American traditions showcased by Dad’s office every four years were Election Day in November, the announcement of the winner and the concession of the loser, and the inauguration in January of the newly elected president of the United States.

Diplomats represent democracy

Foreign Service officers in US Embassies around the globe have, for four years, faced the challenge of representing a country led by a self-centered, America-first media personality. Instead of drawing on alliances built up over years of diplomacy, President Trump has openly admired the trappings of power exhibited by democracy-squelching strongmen. His failure to address the coronavirus pandemic and his conspiracy theory laden presidential campaign contributed to a negative narrative of an America on the decline. His failure to concede his loss when Joe Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election and his continuing assertion that the election was stolen despite the courts’ finding no evidence of fraud, only added fuel to the fire.

Democracy warts and all

And then came January 6. The world watched aghast as a mob overran the US Capitol during Congress’s affirmation of Joe Biden as President Elect. The images of Americans pillaging the temple of democracy shocked our allies, and our enemies expressed satisfaction at the dying of our democracy. It seemed as if the American story was descending into irreparable chaos.

During his Senate confirmation hearings to be President Kennedy’s USIA director, famed broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow was asked if he intended to tell the bad about America along with the good. He replied, “If the bad is significant, it is going to be reported anyway. We must report it honestly, otherwise it will be distorted.” President John F. Kennedy echoed these words in a speech at the Voice of America, the United States’ international radio broadcaster: “You are obliged to tell our story in a truthful way, to tell it, as Oliver Cromwell said about his portrait, ‘Paint us with all our blemishes and warts.” 

Our warts were on full display on January 6.

Democracy withstood assault

However, Congress reconvened that same day amidst the terrorist debris and affirmed Joe Biden as President Elect, completing an election that truly tested America. Despite the pandemic and orchestrated decisiveness, more Americans than ever before voted in a process that has withstood legal scrutiny. The people have spoken. The courts have ruled. The states have certified. The Congress has affirmed. On January 20, President Joe Biden will take office. 


In America, it is the institution of democracy itself that wields the power when things go wrong. The world is watching as we get back on track.