In a video uploaded on Twitter Sunday — which quickly drew up millions of views, and was widely circulated across various platforms — Arnold Schwarzenegger delivered a somber, but hopeful, message about the state of democracy in America.
The former governor of California, looking directly at the camera throughout the nearly eight-minute clip, began by drawing a comparison between Kristallnacht — also known as the “Night of Broken Glass” — and the Nazis who carried out the “night of rampage against the Jews” in 1938 with the riot Donald Trump incited at the Capitol and the Proud Boys, a hate group the president infamously told to “stand back and stand by.”
“The broken glass was in the windows of the United States Capitol. But the mob did not just shatter the windows of the Capitol. They shattered the ideas we took for granted,” Schwarzenegger, a Republican, said. “They did not just break down the doors of the building that housed American democracy. They trampled the very principles on which our country was founded.”
Schwarzenegger spoke from experience, recalling his time as a youth growing up in Austria — having been born only two years after the Second World War in 1947.
“I grew up in the ruins of a country that suffered the loss of its democracy,” he said. “Growing up, I was surrounded by broken men drinking away their guilt over their participation in the most evil regime in history.”
Not all the men, Schwarzenegger said, were “rabid anti-Semites or Nazis” but became complicit “step-by-step” over time.
As a child, Schwarzenegger said he saw the effect the war and crimes committed by the Nazis had on the people around him — including his own father, who “would come home drunk once or twice a week, and he would scream and hit us and scare my mother.”
“I didn’t hold him totally responsible because our neighbor was doing the same thing to his family,” Schwarzenegger said. “And so was the next neighbor over. I heard it with my own ears and saw it with my own eyes.”
He added: “They were in physical pain from the shrapnel in their bodies, and in emotional pain from what they saw or did. It all started with lies, and lies, and lies, and intolerance.”
From growing up in these circumstances in Europe, Schwarzenegger said he has seen “firsthand how things can spin out of control,” and while he does not believe a situation of such gravity is happening now, he does think that “we must be aware of the dire consequences of selfishness and cynicism.”
“President Trump sought to overturn the results of an election and of a fair election. He sought a coup by misleading people with lies,” Schwarzenegger said. “My father and our neighbors were misled also with lies, and I know where such lies lead.”
Schwarzenegger called Trump a “failed leader” and said he would go down in history as “the worst president ever.”
He asked: “But what are we to make of those elected officials who have enabled his lies and his treachery?”
Referencing two past presidents — Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy — Schwarzenegger highlighted what the former said about patriotism meaning to stand “by the country” not the president, and the latter’s book “Profiles in Courage” to admonish the actions of members of his political party.
“A number of members of my own party, because of their own spinelessness, would never see their names in such a book. I guarantee you,” Schwarzenegger said. “They’re complicit with those who carried the flag of self-righteous insurrection into the Capitol.”
But their attempt to overthrow the government, Schwarzenegger said, “did not work.”
“Our democracy held firm,” he said. “Within hours, the Senate and the House of Representatives were doing the people’s business and certifying the election of President-elect Biden.”
Toward the end of the clip, Schwarzenegger held up “Conan’s sword” from his 1982 film “Conan the Barbarian,” and delivered an analogy about how like swords, the more pressure democracy withstands, “the stronger it becomes.”
“Our democracy is like the steel of this sword,” he said. “Our democracy has been tampered with by wars, injustices, and insurrections.”
As shaken as the nation is now, Schwarzenegger said his belief is that “we will come out stronger because we now understand what can be lost.”
“We need reforms, of course, so that this never ever happens again. We need to hold accountable the people that brought us to this unforgivable point,” he said. “And we need to look past ourselves, our parties, and disagreements, and put our democracy first.”
In order to “heal together from the drama of what has just happened,” Schwarzenegger encouraged people — regardless of their political affiliation — to join with him in wishing Biden “great success as our president.”
“If you succeed, our nation succeeds. We support you with all our hearts as you seek to bring us together,” Schwarzenegger said. “And to those who think they can overturn the United States Constitution, know this: You will never win.”
He added: “President-elect Biden, we stand with you today, tomorrow, and forever in defense of our democracy from those who would threaten it.”