Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Jan. 10, 2021 1:41 pm ET

Mary Anastasia O'Grady  On Wednesday afternoon I checked in with a Latin American friend to get his thoughts about the chaos on Capitol Hill. “It looks like home,” he quipped.

It was not a unique reflection. By evening a popular observation making the rounds was that the invasion of Congress was the stuff of banana republics. The bedlam also evoked memories of what happened in many U.S. cities over the summer when the Black Lives Matter marches turned violent.

There was a big difference between Wednesday and the American summer of terror. During the latter, it was merely a presidential candidate (Joe Biden ) who refused to condemn the BLM violence—until he realized it was hurting his polls numbers. Last week it was a sitting U.S. president who stirred up the passions of his followers and continued to justify their anger even after it was clear they were breaking the law, endangering lives, damaging property, and attempting to disrupt an independent branch of government. President Trump may have set a new modern-day low.

Yet the main worry is that political violence in the U.S. on both the left and the right seems to be on the rise. It won’t recede as long as mob action is tolerated as a way to do politics.

A first step in reversing the trend is admitting that the slash-and-burn tactics of both sides are similar. Both justify violence under the banner of “participatory democracy.” Storming the Capitol or burning down a Starbucks is the people speaking.

Participatory democracy as defined by extreme groups has been put into action in the U.S. before. The leftist upheaval in the streets of Seattle against the World Trade Organization ministerial conference in 1999 is one memorable example. It is no coincidence that elements of Mr. Trump’s base oppose free trade and globalization.

Traditional American democracy is “deliberative democracy,” a process by which elected representatives use reason and debate to shape public policies. Participatory democracy tells the aggrieved: Never mind the legislature. Go to the streets to get what you want.

A 2013 paper by Italian philosopher Antonio Floridia traces the origins of participatory democracy to the 1960s in the U.S., “inspired by the great youth movements of that decade.” Mr. Floridia cites the American political scientist Jane Mansbridge, who writes that the term “came into widespread use” after Students for a Democratic Society “gave it a central place in its founding Port Huron Statement.” Ms. Manbridge adds: “What the term meant then was unclear, and it became less clear afterward, as it was applied to virtually every form of organization that brought more people into the decision-making process. In the actual organizations of the New Left, however, the term came to be associated quite quickly with the combination of equality, consensus and face-to-face assembly.”

“It looks like home,” he quipped.

It was not a unique reflection. By evening a popular observation making the rounds was that the invasion of Congress was the stuff of banana republics. The bedlam also evoked memories of what happened in many U.S. cities over the summer when the Black Lives Matter marches turned violent.

There was a big difference between Wednesday and the American summer of terror. During the latter, it was merely a presidential candidate (Joe Biden ) who refused to condemn the BLM violence—until he realized it was hurting his polls numbers. Last week it was a sitting U.S. president who stirred up the passions of his followers and continued to justify their anger even after it was clear they were breaking the law, endangering lives, damaging property, and attempting to disrupt an independent branch of government. President Trump may have set a new modern-day low.

Yet the main worry is that political violence in the U.S. on both the left and the right seems to be on the rise. It won’t recede as long as mob action is tolerated as a way to do politics.

A first step in reversing the trend is admitting that the slash-and-burn tactics of both sides are similar. Both justify violence under the banner of “participatory democracy.” Storming the Capitol or burning down a Starbucks is the people speaking.

Participatory democracy as defined by extreme groups has been put into action in the U.S. before. The leftist upheaval in the streets of Seattle against the World Trade Organization ministerial conference in 1999 is one memorable example. It is no coincidence that elements of Mr. Trump’s base oppose free trade and globalization.

Traditional American democracy is “deliberative democracy,” a process by which elected representatives use reason and debate to shape public policies. Participatory democracy tells the aggrieved: Never mind the legislature. Go to the streets to get what you want.

A 2013 paper by Italian philosopher Antonio Floridia traces the origins of participatory democracy to the 1960s in the U.S., “inspired by the great youth movements of that decade.” Mr. Floridia cites the American political scientist Jane Mansbridge, who writes that the term “came into widespread use” after Students for a Democratic Society “gave it a central place in its founding Port Huron Statement.” Ms. Manbridge adds: “What the term meant then was unclear, and it became less clear afterward, as it was applied to virtually every form of organization that brought more people into the decision-making process. In the actual organizations of the New Left, however, the term came to be associated quite quickly with the combination of equality, consensus and face-to-face assembly.”

Mary Anastasia O'Grady

Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Opinion Columnist, The Wall Street Journal

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Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes “The Americas,” a weekly column on politics, economics, and business in Latin America and Canada that appears every Monday in the Journal. Ms. O’Grady joined the paper in August 1995 and became a senior editorial page writer in December 1999. She was appointed an editorial board member in November 2005. She is also a member of the board of directors of the Indianapolis­-based Liberty Fund.

In 2012 Ms. O’Grady won the Walter Judd Freedom Award from The Fund for American Studies. In 2009 Ms. O’Grady received the Thomas Jefferson Award from The Association of Private Enterprise Education. In 2005 Ms. O’Grady won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism awarded by the International Policy Network for her articles on the World Bank, the underground economy in Brazil, and the bad economic advice the U.S. often gives to Latin American countries. In 1997 Ms. O’Grady won the Inter American Press Association’s Daily Gleaner Award for editorial commentary.

Ms. O’Grady received a bachelor’s degree in English from Assumption College and an M.B.A. in financial management from Pace University.