The Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol seemed like an event that should have been a tipping point for the country. It should have been an earth-shattering moment that encouraged the public to condemn white supremacy. It is a day that should and will be marked in history books along with the British burning and encroachment of the U.S. Capitol in 1814. This isn’t the first time though in the last 200 years that the Capitol has been attacked in some capacity, but the violent altercations of the last two centuries have not risen to the level of terrorism as the Jan. 6 attack. Instead of rallying together against the misinformation that led to this event, the country is digging its heels in. Americans across the board are losing faith in the Great American Experiment with more than 60% of Americans believing their democracy is failing. The country’s lack of a collective condemnatory response to an act of violent terrorism is plainly indicative of a deteriorating democracy.
The attack itself was an obvious sign that American democracy is decaying. Those who attacked the Capitol did so as the results of the 2020 presidential election were being certified in an effort to overturn a legitimate, democratic process. The attackers were encouraged to commit such an atrocious effort by what is referred to as the “Big Lie.” The “Big Lie” is former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claim that he did win the 2020 election. This claim is taking up space in the political conversation with only a mere 55% of Americans accepting President Joe Biden as the legitimate winner of the 2020 election, revealing the weakening of democratic norms and faith in democratic processes.
Furthermore, the growing division and polarization of political parties goes beyond the importance of loyal opposition. Senator Ted Cruz stating that if the Republican party takes back control of the House, they will work to impeach President Biden “whether it’s justified or not,” suggests further erosion of respect for the democratic principles laid out in our Constitution. Impeachment is a measure reserved to hold a president accountable for especially heinous acts, such as treason or other high crimes, and to weaponize it solely on the basis of disagreement goes against an act this country was founded on protecting: dissent.
What is especially alarming is the very obvious rise of hate and division among racial lines, specifically in the form of white supremacists. Attorney General, Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testified in May 2021 that white supremacist groups currently represent the largest terror threat to the United States. It’s entirely believable that these groups will attempt to subvert future elections through hateful rhetoric and violent action. During the 2020 election, there were armed protestors outside of voting centers. Experts worry that this type of action is being normalized, and therefore violence is also being normalized. This worry is not unfounded with a poll released in December by the Washington Post and the University of Maryland stating that 40% of Republicans, 41% of independents and 23% of Democrats believe that violence against the government can sometimes be justified.
It has been more than a year since the attack, and the Jan. 6 committee is expected to release its findings this summer. Members have hinted at possible accusations of criminal culpability to the former president which may be sent to the Department of Justice. Former President Trump has utterly failed to do the bare minimum and sufficiently condemn the attackers. It would be a mistake to assume that he will ever be a voice of reason. His voice will likely continue to polarize this country and possibly incite further violence if he takes back the spotlight in 2024 as he runs for reelection.
The people of this country are losing their ability to find common ground between political parties in the fundamental values this country was founded on. They are losing their common identity as Americans, which may be the very thing this country needs to uphold its democratic ideals.