Instead of a day of celebration and a fresh start to mediating partisan differences, Joe Biden’s inauguration came amidst a shocking insurgency. Donald Trump supporters, or “loyalists”, were seen breaking into the windows and the halls of the US Capitol Building in an unprecedented attack against democracy, claiming their “prizes” as they stole lecterns from the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office. Now, the consequences are bound to be faced, and they are as frightening as the attack.
It’s dangerous to have a mentality that elections are “stolen”, attempting to not only destabilize the government, but also discredit democratic institutions. A peaceful transition of power has always been a key foundation of a well functioning and stable republic. When election results are violently disputed and challenged, it can pave a leeway for tolerating acts of destruction and vandalism, and also send a symbolic message that the laws and democratic processes are not worth protecting.
Particularly, the precedent that former president, Donald Trump, had set for his loss is troubling. By using social media to spread malicious and false rumors of a stolen election, and inciting the mob to “take back the country” and fight, the urging of violence has been undeniably irresponsible. And it certainly has not been Trump’s first attempt at broadcasting misinformation to the general public regarding the election. Armed with little more than a Twitter account and a keyboard, the former US president managed to rack up nine Tweets flagged for misinformation just two days after the election. Leaving office with such a legacy of lies, we can only imagine how this impact can cross national borders to other countries, especially given how powerful social media can be in mobilizing entire communities. In 2010, we saw how entire swaths of the Middle East and North Africa overturned governments during Arab Spring as a result of social media communication. Following the Capitol Hill riot of 2021, it is scary to imagine where history will repeat itself next.
Despite Trump’s role in fueling the riot, it is naive to say that this attack was unfounded, or even unpredictable. America has been extremely divided over recent decades, and the insurgency is deeply rooted in the anti-sentiments and political tensions along party lines. Democrats and Republicans almost take diametrically opposed positions on every issue— even ones that used to be compromised like the environment and abortion rights. Behind ideological differences are a pattern of hatred. Trump was previously successful on a campaign that demonized immigrants for stealing domestic jobs, appealing specifically to rural workers who express their growing disillusionment and frustration with the “urban elites”.
So, what now?
Recovery from a fearful tragedy will take time, and even longer to fully restore our confidence and trust in the government, but the Capitol Attack may be a proper warning and a turning point in history. We need to understand how fragile democracy is, and how hard we have to fight to sustain it. The responsibility lies upon representatives and politicians to act ethically and transparently, and also upon citizens to act with personal integrity to ensure the rule of law. Only when we all respect the basic components of democracy can we continue on a path to mend the divisions that tear nations apart.