By The Editors of the East Side News
The Washington Post’s most famous columnist and editor Bob Woodward, who exposed the Watergate Scandal among other high-level abuses of power, is credited with popularizing the phrase, “Democracy Dies in Darkness”. On January 6th, 2021, we watched in horror as an assassination attempt was made upon our democracy in broad daylight. The certification of the electoral votes is a purely symbolic process to affirm our democratically elected leader. Opposition to this process is opposition to democracy itself.
On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by a mob of domestic terrorists hell-bent on overturning the will of the American people. Not since John Tyler has a president betrayed the United States of America. Not since Richard Nixon has a president tried to sabotage an election in the United States of America. January 6, 2021, is one of the few days that all Americans will never forget, alongside July 4, 1776, December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001. When America has been tested, generations after generations have answered the call time and time again. When President George Washington and our nation’s founding fathers asked for Americans to fight for their independence in 1775, Americans answered the call on the fields of Lexington and Concord. When President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to fight for union and liberty in 1861, Americans answered the call on the fields of Antietam and Gettysburg. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt called upon Americans to defeat Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan in 1941, Americans answered the call on the beaches of Normandy, Anzio, and Iwo Jima. When President John F. Kennedy asked what Americans could do for their country in 1961, Americans answered the call by exploring the final frontier, working for gender equality, and marching for civil rights. Now in 2021, America asks her children to defend their democracy, we must answer America’s call once again.
When the heart of American democracy was attacked, its effects were understandably felt all around the world. The United States has stood as a symbol of freedom and hope for others facing oppression for almost two and a half centuries. While it’s more subject to eyerolls now, the country has continued to act as the defender of democracy worldwide. Broadcasters have ceaselessly shown the images of the rioters parading around the rotunda and offices while the people who govern our nation were forced to hide in tunnels and secret locations. Numerous foreign governments have been greatly influenced by our system, and if men wearing horns can drive senators out of their chamber, what does that mean for the rest of the world?
This attack has the greatest similarity to one often overlooked event in our domestic history: the Wilmington Coup of 1898, when a group of white supremacists attempted to overthrow the government of Wilmington, North Carolina. Although this was a shock to many, news of this attack had circulated the media for weeks prior to the attack, just as the recent attack on the Capitol had been planned for weeks in advance. Another extremely similar case was that the group that attacked the Capitol were largely white and some carried around Confederate flags, establishing themselves as white supremacists. After the attempted coup, this white supremacist group went on to kill up to 60 African Americans in the city. African Americans fled the city by the tens of thousands. A city that was once made up of a majority of African Americans was now nearly completely white. This event bears a startling resemblance to an attack over 130 years later on our nation’s capital.
In recent years, America has struggled with increasing polarization. A Pew Research study released in November revealed that 89 and 90 percent of Trump and Biden supporters respectively believed that the election of their opposed candidate would lead to lasting harm for the country. While many Americans would long for a time of less polarization, it’s important to note that those times were not as blissful as they would like to think. The late 1950s, which many cite as a time where polarization was few and far between, was a struggle for civil rights, especially for non-White Americans. Many will counter this by pointing out that many Americans do not hate the other party or see the opposition as a threat to the nation, but those Americans are much less vocal about their beliefs. This allows the more politically active, and increasingly radical, Americans to have their voices heard. In 1994, 49% of Americans held equally liberal and conservative views. That number went down to 39% in 2014, according to a Pew Research study. Additionally, the percentage of Democrats and Republicans who see the other party as unfavorable doubled from 1994 to 2014. A vital part of Democracy is the willingness to compromise and work together. Frighteningly, this aspect is also collapsing the fastest.
But there aren’t two sides to what happened on January 6th, 2021 — there is a right and a wrong here. It is inexcusable for those involved and those who incited the coup to now deflect responsibility, play down the situation, and even blame the other side for causing it. Watching influential figures like Matt Gaetz and Ben Shapiro smugly put on a facade of condemning violence while continuing to breed polarization, hate, and a lack of accountability is frustrating and disgusting. This was not like the protests over the summer. Why? Because they weren’t based on lies and didn’t involve storming a national landmark under orders from the Leader of the Free World with the intent to murder the Vice President of the United States and members of Congress. Whatever happened to “law and order”, or, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,”? It is incredibly hypocritical and condemnable to confirm that the President will deploy national guard troops and riot police to tear gas peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors so he can get a photo op, but he will stand down when the legislative branch of government is under siege.
There are opinions, and there are facts. Opinions are subject to debate while facts are not. In attacking the Capitol, rioters defended a lie and rejected the truth. Democracy is at stake when a president weaponizes his followers through blatant lies. Unfortunately, there will always be manipulative people with power., though all hope is not lost. We can make changes on all levels, but we must start with the people, the governed. A democracy cannot function if its citizens are not well informed. As a nation, we must take the attacks on the Capitol as a warning. Because when another master-manipulator attempts to take office, we the people must be able to discern fact from fiction. No longer can we disregard those susceptible to the lies propagated by elected officials and conspiracy theorists. Instead, we must take active steps to promote media literacy among all ages. Schools must teach students the critical thinking skills necessary to identify reliable sources and make informed opinions. And everyone must learn how websites use algorithms to show users information that aligns with their beliefs, no matter how misguided those beliefs may be.
The failure of the police to protect the Capitol also brings many implications concerning the amount of trust we can place in law enforcement. Either our law enforcement was unqualified to protect the Capitol, which is unlikely, or they gave preferential treatment to the protesters because they were not viewed as a threat. Rioters physically assaulted officers and roamed the Capitol freely, while the protesters who marched after the death of George Floyd faced chemical weapons and rubber bullets. Even with Trump’s supporters making it abundantly clear in the days prior that they planned to march to the Capitol, the failure of police to demonstrate decisive action allowed the mob to breach the Capitol and destroy federal property. Steven Sund, former chief of the Capitol Police, stated that although he requested that the National Guard be placed on standby, the House and Senate sergeants at arms did not want to declare an emergency days before the protest occurred. The responsibility of losing the Capitol to rioters also falls on these higher-ups who were hesitant to take action. Furthermore, in an act of true heroism, Officer Eugene Goodman led the rioters away from the Senate chamber – just a minute later, the Senate stopped its proceedings to evacuate. If he abdicated his duty, some Senators could have been brutally murdered on the Senate floor. In contrast, some rioters are veterans who see themselves as patriots – an Air Force veteran was shot as she attempted to enter the area known as the Speaker’s Lobby. This division in America between the heroism of the police and “patriotism” of the rioters demonstrates the severe damage that Trump’s legacy has left on our democracy. There are deep problems in the organizations that are sworn to protect us, and it will take time to fix them.
The storming of the Capitol was not entirely because of one power hungry President, or even because of the group of people in this country that equate patriotism to hatred, but because of the enablement from other elected officials. Donald Trump unapologetically spread lies through social media, and no one stopped him. He made false claims about the election, and no one stopped him. He told his supporters to fight back, and no one stopped him. The beauty of the American democratic system is that the President must bend to the voice of the people. Unfortunately, the system becomes distorted when the President appeals to the people who have always shouted the loudest: those who feel downtrodden and unappreciated in a country that envelopes their whole identity. Donald Trump may have given these people a voice, but their power came from elected officials who allowed the President to do and say things that were fundamentally wrong rather than uphold their Constitutional responsibility to check his power. The storming of the Capitol is not simply a black mark on American history; it is a stain. And the issues it represents will persist if we continue to ignore them. The President is simply a caricature of the country’s values, and division will not end once a divisive President leaves office. If we truly want to bring unity back to our country, we have to look at all those leaders involved in spreading their misleading rhetoric and use our voices to hold them accountable.
After the raid on the Capitol, we discussed its themes in terms of 1984, by George Orwell. Not of the government enforced rewriting of history, the surveillance, or rat torture, but of something smaller yet still important in the system of doublethink: the ability to hold two contradicting beliefs simultaneously and accept them both as true. It is this system of thought that allows the Party to avoid rebellion and enforce willing obedience within its citizens in 1984, and it is also what led to an attack on democracy in our present time of 2021. To proudly wear hats that say America is great again and yet refuse to accept an integral part of America’s democracy, to wave a Blue Lives Matter flag and yet refuse to obey the police, or to condemn Black Lives Matter protesters and yet lead exponentially more protests in return—these are all the results of a failed leader of the United States, utilizing the same tactics that Orwell so despised over 70 years ago in order to grasp at straws and stay in power. Let us not let so predictable a tragedy ever happen again.