On Jan. 6, a mob of supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the United States Capitol. This attack against democracy, that resulted from a protest to attempt to overturn Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election, shook the nation and resulted in the lockdown of the Capitol, five deaths and over one hundred arrests. Weeks later, the effects of this violent insurrection are continuing to dominate the political sphere and there are many unanswered questions about where to go from here.
UConn political scientists gathered virtually to discuss the political implications of the Capitol insurrection during a panel titled “The Capitol Insurrection: The Political Aftermath,” and offered fellow staff and students the opportunity to hear their thoughts about the political violence that occurred on Jan. 6.
“There is a tremendous impact of what transpired on Jan. 6 on the psyche of the American population,” Beth Ginsburg, an assistant political science professor in residence, said.
“There is a tremendous impact of what transpired on Jan. 6 on the psyche of the American population.”Beth Ginsburg, UConn Assistant Political Science Professor in Residence
This act was not isolated in nature, but instead a result of weeks of growing tension and unrest from the Trump administration and its supporters following his loss to President Joe Biden in the 2020 election. This clear act of political violence once again showed how divided our nation is, and many Democrats and independents placed blame on Trump, claiming he incited the rioting. A poll conducted by Politico found that 44 percent of independents and 91 percent of Democrats said that Trump was solely or mainly to blame for the destruction at the Capitol, which took place during the certification of Biden’s election victory.
Whether Trump is to blame or not, many questions were raised about how such an act could have escalated as far as it had, when protests such as those of the Black Lives Matter Movement that took place during the summer of 2020 were handled much differently. Ginsberg, who teaches in the areas of race and ethnicity, noted that white people were treated differently than people of color which prompted her to ask what constitutes an acceptable protest versus one that is not acceptable.
Ginsberg is not alone in her thoughts, as many Americans have expressed their concern about the double standard of the Capitol Police. Even Biden said that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protestors, they would have been treated very differently. Race has, and will continue to be, a major factor in such events, and Ginsberg recommends that we must always take into account the opinions and beliefs of people who look different than us.
Another lingering question that resulted from the Capitol insurrection is about whether something like this will prompt further violent action by extremist groups that could potentially lead to a conflict similar in nature to the American Civil War.
“I think the civil war we may have might be in the Republican party itself,” Ginsberg said. “I think we might be seeing more divisions and more stronger separations coming, and I think the party isn’t quite sure where it is and where it wants to be.”
Trump has left a mark on the Republican party that is going to take years to remedy. His willingness to say anything and his ability to be a magnetic figure to a lot of the public is something the panelists said allowed him to grow a large base of supporters who were willing to do anything for him, whether violent or not.
“As charismatic as he was, he also put the us versus them very strongly in the political discourse…he got people to support it by placing the blame on the others,” Ginsberg said.
““As charismatic as he was, he also put the us versus them very strongly in the political discourse…he got people to support it by placing the blame on the others.”
This blame game created a nation in which political violence became almost inevitable, given the strong partisan lines that have come to define the country and the current political sphere. Many resulting issues of COVID-19 including healthcare, the economy, racial injustice and foreign policy led to even more polarization and tension among voters.
“Given all of this intolerability, insurrection and the attempted overthrow of American democratic practice was not simply thinkable, it was all but inevitable,” Jeffrey Dudas, a political science professor and affiliate faculty of American studies, said.
Though Biden has promised to work across the aisle, as he was known to do during his time as a senator, this task might be harder than he thinks following four years of polarizing rhetoric used by the Trump administration. As Americans attempt to grapple with the lasting effects of the Capitol insurrection that occurred on Jan. 6, it is imperative that focus is placed on unity to help rescue a deeply divided nation.
“I’m a little concerned that acts of political violence will start to happen more and start to happen faster because the recovery is so quick, so it’ll kind of take on a character like the news cycle,” Susan Herbst, a political science professor and president emeritus, said. “We need to rediscover what democracy is, what it feels like, what it looks like, how do you live in one, how does it operate…I don’t know how we go forward without that.”