The insurrection and the state of polarization in the US today
Written by: Cael A. Shaw
Government by the people; esp. a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly (The Oxford Dictionary)
At 12:53 p.m. on Jan. 6, 2021 the first group of insurrectionists surged forward through police barricades towards the seat of American democracy. By 2:13 p.m., while Congress was in session to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election, the United States Capitol Building was breached. For the next three to four hours, more insurrectionists would flood the halls of the Republic they claimed to love. They shattered glass, smeared human feces on the walls, smoked a bowl of marijuana under the Capitol Rotunda and threatened the lives of American congressional representatives. This is the United States of America — this was never supposed to happen here. Each person in the Capitol on that day had one thing in common: they believed in the “Big Lie.” The lame duck president of the United States at the time pushed an election conspiracy that claims the Democratic Party committed acts of voter fraud and cheated in order to win the Presidency. A bogus claim; One that a number of elected officials condemn today.
But what has happened since then? Two years is a long time. In that time we have seen midterm elections, a new mayor of Cleveland, two disappointing postseasons for the Guardians, an Ohio State loss to Michigan, and Alabama finally out of the AP College Football top four. Also in that time, our government has been working day in and day out to right the wrong that was Jan. 6. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, at least 946 individuals have been charged for actions related to their attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government of the United States. These charges include but are not limited to:
Entering and Remaining in a Restricted Building
Disorderly and Disruptive Conduct in a Restricted Building
Violent Entry and Disorderly Conduct in a Capitol Building
Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in a Capitol Building
Obstruction of an Official Proceeding
Assaulting, Resisting or Impeding Certain Officers
Entering and Remaining in a Restricted Building with a Deadly or Dangerous Weapon
Engaging in Physical Violence in a Restricted Building with a Deadly or Dangerous Weapon.
People who have been charged include a member of the West Virginia state legislature, the Q-anon Shaman (Viking Guy), and “Bob’s Burgers” voice actor Jay Johnston. The FBI continues the investigation and searches to this day.
Who do we blame for the attack on our nation’s Capitol? The U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol has the sole goal of figuring that out. The Committee’s investigation focused on the 45th President of the United States who, on Jan. 6, gave a flagrant speech urging his supporters to “walk down to the Capitol,” enraged by fiery language from the former President and his allies. This includes statements like “Let’s have trial by combat” (Rudy Guilliani) and “If we don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore” (Donald Trump).
The Committee of seven Democrats and two Republicans organized itself and immediately began its inquiry into the events of Jan. 6. Then, to the public’s surprise, the Committee organized nine public and televised hearings at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C. They published never-before-seen footage of the attack, along with recordings of interviews and testimonies from journalists, Capitol Police, militant groups like the Proud Boys, and countless people within Trump’s circle. The final hearing on Oct. 13 ended with the Committee voting to subpoena the former President himself: an action that he has since challenged in court.
So, what do we do to prevent another Jan. 6? What do we do as a nation and as a people to combat radical feelings on both sides of the aisle in order to protect our democracy? We must look at, and understand the state of polarization in our country today. I had the privilege to interview Dr. David Stack, a professor of political science here at CSU who is currently teaching a Special Topics course on political, partisan polarization in the United States.
The following questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Cael: What aspects of polarization, if any, were on display on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021?
Stack: Affective polarization was an important driver of Jan. 6. Essentially, partisans seem to be increasingly motivated by a dislike or even hatred of the opposing party and have made partisanship a core part of their own identities. When an event like an electoral loss threatens these identities, partisans are prone to lash out. If political leaders encourage and justify lashing out — like Trump in the runup to Jan. 6 — you have a volatile situation.
Cael: Would you say that polarization has grown stronger or weaker since the events that unfolded on Jan. 6?
Stack: Hopefully, it has dwindled a bit. For the most part, candidates that lost their elections in 2022 have conceded their losses.
Cael: To what extent have you seen polarization on our campus? In Northeast Ohio? In Ohio? Specifically during the 2022 midterm elections?
Stack: I'd say enthusiasm for the election was high, people were aware of the importance of the election and students I talked with said they were likely to vote. When parties are far apart, the stakes of the election go up. So one small silver lining of polarization is that it can encourage voter turnout and civic engagement
How do we solve the issue of polarization? In the plainest terms, we moderate. We try to elect politicians that are closer to the middle. As a political science major, I see that many of my classmates and professors, including Dr. Stack, believe that serious internal reforms need to be made in order to truly reduce polarization, in Congress as well as among the public.
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