Despite being too young to cast a ballot in the 2020 Presidential Election, I was incredibly invested throughout the entire process. I learned about the mail-in disputes, kept up with close races and lost sleep during the drawn-out tally.
With false allegations of voter fraud rising to the highest levels of government, the electoral vote confirmation of Jan. 6th became a point of interest. Around 2:20 p.m. that afternoon, the chambers of Congress entered lockdown as rioters forced their way inside. Eventually, reports of an attack on the Capitol — an insurrection — began flooding in.
That night, my family gathered around the TV as the events in Washington dominated the news cycle. I grew up in a country believing it respected democracy, and I was deeply frightened by the horrifying reality of what had taken place.
Perhaps the most unsettling part was the premeditation. In fact, it was later revealed that some high-ranking officials had the means to predict the attacks long before rioters arrived in Washington.
Since his early campaign days, many believed former President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric and disregard for political norms could lead to violent uprisings among his diehard supporters. Throughout his presidency, he accumulated an unprecedented amount of support despite his frequent hate speech, mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, desperate attempts to overturn election results and finally, invocation of violence in Jan. 6 rioters.
Trump’s unthinkable popularity garnered a feeling of powerlessness among young people who came with spending our teenage years under his administration. We were forced to watch our future descend into chaos without having the right to vote. In confronting the flaws of our democracy, we’ve accepted the burden of repairing what our predecessors couldn’t. After more than a year, some of the major instigators of the insurrection are not facing tangible consequences.
For one, the Justice Department has yet to directly address Trump’s role in the events. Prosecution, while not entirely out of the question, could be difficult without proof of coordinated malicious intent.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., was another symbol of the insurrection after notoriously raising his fist in solidarity with rioters. While he initially faced calls to resign and funding losses, he has maintained a highly successful political career.
Considering the severity of their offenses, the ease with which these officials have evaded repercussions is disturbing. After attempting to undermine democracy itself, these powerful politicians have yet to face prosecution, and some even continue to participate in the lawmaking process. This demonstrates an inability to hold government officials accountable for their actions.
Another source of concern lies in the unresolved race issues that played a part in the attacks.
Jan. 6, 2021 marks the first day in American history that the Confederate flag was flown inside the nation’s Capitol. Born out of a battle over slavery in the 19th century, the flag today represents a revisionist history that downplays the impacts of race in the Civil War. The Confederate flag inside the Capitol in the 21st Century was a somber reminder of these racist beliefs.
Thinking back to the summer of 2020, we are reminded of the wave of protests that emerged after the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of Minnesota police officers. Despite political violence reports that show nearly 95% of protests during the summer were peaceful, media coverage of these racially diverse demonstrations were overwhelmingly negative.
In fact, research shows that protests related to radical social movements are more likely to be portrayed as violent than conservative movements. The framing and perception of these events in the media is not equal across different protest ideologies.
Considering Black people are more than three times more likely than white people to be killed by police and are incarcerated at five times the rate, impacts such as the death toll, prosecution rates and media coverage would conceivably be much more severe for a group of Black protestors.
But the primarily white insurrectionists had the entitlement to disregard the outcomes of democratic institutions, and for many, the privilege to get away with it.
Evidently, not only does democracy have to work, but people have to believe it works. That the insurrection took place indicates many Americans didn’t believe our institutions had properly demonstrated election results, or they didn’t respect democracy enough to accept defeat.
Even after Capitol security had been restored and many began to acknowledge the gravity of the attacks, others continued to perpetuate the delusion of a fraudulent election. This is a frightening outcome of the Trump presidency — the devolution of democracy into a tool to consolidate power rather than the means for a citizenry to exercise their rights.
The targeted efforts to restrict such rights have been one of the long-term impacts of Jan. 6. The 2020 presidential election saw the highest voter turnout in the century, and Democrats boasted many notable victories.
With hopes to counteract this phenomenon, Republican-led efforts to restrict voting access have become widespread. Voter identification requirements, restricted early voting and other measures aim to make it difficult for Americans, especially blue voters, to get to the polls.
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While Democrats have been working to pass voting rights bills with their 50 Senate seats, the filibuster requires a 60-vote supermajority to pass legislation. Jan. 20, 2022, a measure to abolish the filibuster failed, leaving the future of voting rights uncertain. Nevertheless, major reforms are necessary to allow equitable access to the polls and to prevent baseless accusations of fraud from undermining the electoral process.
In such a diverse nation, there will always be ideological differences. But amid these differences, the country has to share a level of respect for the institutions that hold our democracy together.
One year after Jan. 6, I have no doubt that irreversible damage has been done, and the responsibility to restore democracy is falling to my generation. In our lifetimes, we’ve seen it challenged in a way that has impacted our perception of politics. Repairing our systems requires recognizing the magnitude of the situation while having the ambition to make an investment in our future.
We are running out of time to fortify our institutions. And the country is counting on the next generation to take the lead before democracy degenerates beyond repair.
Celia Hiorns ([email protected]) is a freshman studying political science and journalism.