Politipress: Where do we go from here?

In the latest installment of Politipress, WSPN’s Atharva Weling discusses the horrors of the storming of the U.S. Capitol and how Republicans and Democrats alike can resolve the great divide in our nation.

Credit: WSPN Staff

In the latest installment of Politipress, WSPN’s Atharva Weling discusses the horrors of the storming of the U.S. Capitol and how Republicans and Democrats alike can resolve the great divide in our nation.

Atharva Weling

Chuck Schumer said it best: “we can now add Jan. 6, 2021, to that very short list of dates in American history that will live forever in infamy.”

On Jan. 6, Americans across the aisle watched in horror as a violent pro-Trump mob attempted an insurrection by storming the U.S. Capitol during the ceremonial confirmation of Joe Biden’s election victory by Congress. The rioters were, without question, egged on by the comments of the president and his team during the preceding “Save America March.”

“You’ll never take back our country with weakness,” Trump said during the rally, “you have to show strength, and you have to be strong.” Add onto that a call for “trial by combat” from Rudy Giuliani and a “we’re coming for you, and we’re going to have a good time doing it” from Donald Trump Jr., and you’ve got a pretty solid recipe for inciting a coup.

But what’s done is done. The rioters broke into the Capitol building before they were eventually escorted out by Capitol Police, allowing Congress to formally certify President-elect Biden’s victory. The question now is what to do next. How do we balance the condemnation of people who enabled such violence with calls for inter-party unity? How do we restore faith in free and fair elections? How did we get here, and how will we get out?

That last question is probably the most important to answer, and economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman really hits the nail on the head in this regard: “racial antagonism is the best predictor of willingness to countenance political violence.” In other words, widespread racial tension has led Republican voters to grow increasingly violent, and Republican leaders to grow increasingly accepting of that violence.

Krugman asserts that the G.O.P. in its modern form began in the 1970s with Richard Nixon, when the party’s main goal was to reduce taxes for the wealthy and help big business thrive. However, realizing that plutocracy isn’t an effective platform for getting votes, the party began “courting working-class whites with what amounted to thinly disguised racist appeals.” The Republican establishment believed this was a sustainable strategy. All they had to do was entertain the bigoted tendencies of a few crazies while deriving their real power from the rich suits who donated to their campaigns. But half a century later, the crazies have taken over, and Republicans have no choice but to excuse their actions or risk losing power.

With the rise first of the Tea Party, then of Donald Trump, the cynics found that the crazies were actually in control and that they wanted to destroy democracy, not cut tax rates on capital gains.

— Paul Krugman, New York Times, Jan. 11, 2021

The clearest evidence of this loss of control can be seen in the House debates over the second impeachment of President Trump. Throughout the proceedings, House Republicans claimed that, while they condemned the mob that attacked the Capitol, impeaching the president would only hurt our “national unity.” What unity are they talking about? These same people voted to overturn the results of a legitimate election, a move that effectively amounts to sedition even after the mob they claim to condemn committed horrible atrocities. For them, that mob wasn’t a sign to fight back against the fringes of their party base – it was a reminder that those fringes control them.

No, the only way back to unity is for a large majority, if not the entirety of the Republican congressional caucus, to roundly reject Trumpism, meaning the president and his political efforts. They need to support other candidates in 2024 that are more level-headed and open to compromise. Individual rebels will only draw the ire of Trump’s base, but a large enough group will force many people to rethink their support of the president. It will, however, likely lead to some challenges for the party in the short term, as the many officials who have effectively made Trump their messiah challenge Trump-opposing Republicans in primary elections that could eventually lead to a party split and Democratic gains. But in the long term, this is the only way for the Republican Party to gain some character that is not inextricably linked to racism and sedition, the driving factors of societal collapse.

There is hope for this happening soon. Soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has told his caucus that their vote on impeachment will be a “vote of conscience,” and has indicated that he might support the president’s conviction. What’s his motivation? Well, the conviction would mean Donald Trump can never again run for public office, at least not without tremendous scrutiny, reducing his hold over the party’s platform and increasing McConnell’s. Saving America is a nice side effect though.

There’s another nice side effect too: inter-party unity. As I said earlier, attempts to punish those responsible for the Capitol riot, like fist-waving firebrand Josh Hawley and the president himself, have been met by calls from Republicans for “unity.” However, some Republicans in the Senate are, right now, demonstrating more unity than they ever have before. In stark contrast to many in the house, a good number of Senate Republicans are actively working with their Democratic colleagues to condemn violence, support the truth about the election and reach an agreement on what to do about the guilty parties involved. It’s a shame that we needed an unprecedented national crisis to bring about change in Washington, but that’s often just how things are. We never realize how important values like truth and camaraderie are until they’re all that’s holding us back from total anarchy.

But four years from now, whether Donald Trump is running again or not, there will be another presidential election, and the probability that a significant portion of the population will once again believe it was rigged is too high. Confidence in free and fair elections returns as well once Republicans come out in large enough numbers to reject Trump from their party. If they manage to distance themselves from the people crying “voter fraud” and “conspiracy,” they have a shot at restoring the faith of the voting public and thus, democracy itself.

Most of all, however, the Republican Party needs to understand that racial division is not a sustainable platform to run on. They were created as the party of business and minority rule, which is why they needed to resort to such a tactic in the first place. If they’re going to ditch the need for racist appeals in the future, they need to take a hint from the Democrats of the Gilded Age and become a party for the common people. Advocating for lower taxes and less government regulation is not necessarily incompatible with being an ally of the lower class, but continuing to sustain yourself with big money while cowering to the threat of racist mob rule cannot and will not work. They need to make like the big businesses they lobby for and rebrand, fast.

As for Democrats, there needs to be a level of understanding. Republican politicians are not necessarily racist, and Republican voters aren’t either. Many are caught in a situation that seems impossible to escape from: facing violence from their right and condemnation from their left. Anyone who actively takes up arms against our government is a seditionist and should be treated as such, but others should be reasoned within a normal fashion. The only way we will get through this is by doing the one thing President Trump has refused to do: have a respectful dialogue on the important issues. Resolving racial tensions, questions of economic imbalance and years of misinformation is not easy, but what’s easy is never effective.

Jan. 6, 2021, will live in infamy, but as Chuck Schumer said, the list of dates that stand beside it is very short. We have the ability to keep it very short, but we have to find the line between tolerating insurrection and tolerating each other, however fine it may be.