While 2021 felt like the light at the end of the tunnel after a tumultuous year, the political division of 2020 reached a boiling point last Wednesday after supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol Building just as lawmakers were set to certify the Electoral College votes.
The attacks, which lasted about 4 hours, were followed by accusations and conspiracies from both sides of the political spectrum. Several Republican lawmakers have begun distancing themselves from President Trump despite supporting him throughout his presidency.
Twitter, Facebook and Instagram suspended Trump’s accounts in the aftermath, with all 3 platforms banning him indefinitely. However, Trump returned to Twitter Thursday with a nearly 3-minute video, saying he is working toward a “seamless and orderly transition of power.”
Friday morning, Trump also sent out tweets telling his supporters the “American First” and “Make American Great Again” will have a voice long into the future, and he will not be attending President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
However, Friday evening Twitter announced President Trump is permanently banned form the platform.
Even before this incident, the news has been filled with reports of voter fraud accusations, lawsuits and disgruntled parties on both sides.
Dr. Heather Katz and Dr. Fred Gates, both faculty at SWOSU, offer some perspective on the subject.
Dr. Gates, a social science professor, said incidents like this are very unusual, but have happened. During the War of 1812, British soldiers burned down the Capitol building, the only successful foreign attack to date. However, this was by a foreign nation during a war, and a completely different situation.
In 1932, World War I veterans formed the Bonus March, demanding President Herbert Hoover payout the promised bonuses. When Hoover refused, the veterans rioted, and the U.S. Army was called in to clear out the marchers campsites.
While this demonstration was on a much larger scale than what was seen earlier this week, the Capitol Building was never under siege.
In 2016, another group protested the election of President Trump, but the rioters were not able to take the Capitol.
Both Dr. Katz and Dr. Gates said Wednesday’s events were unprecedented.
“With the exception of the election of 1859, which led to the secession of the southern states, the elections have gotten more contentious in the last 20 years because politics have become much more partisan,” Gates said. “It’s almost as if both sides are more concerned with power and winning than doing what the people are sending them for, and it builds frustration. When frustration builds, sometimes people do things they would not normally do.”
Katz also noted the rise of partisanship in the last two decades by referencing a 1960s-era pole, which asked citizens if they would mind their child marrying outside of their political party. Less than 10 percent said they would have an issue. Today, that number is between 40 and 50 percent.
She said political identities have become entwined with the individual’s identities making it much more personal when their party loses the election. Katz recommends “How Democracies Die” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, which shows how this can play into things like Wednesday’s attempted coup.
“Americans should care more about the sanctity of our democratic institutions rather than who gets to be president or a Supreme Court justice,” Katz said.
Playing into this hyperpartisanship is the accusations of election fraud, which were heightened by the largescale use of mail-in ballots. Katz said this is a misinformation campaign with a couple of reasons behind it.
First, no one likes to lose.
“If they lose, they want to find evidence something happened rather accepting they legitimately lost,” she said. “The votes were rather close. They normally are, but they were particularly close in 2020. It’s natural to want to find those extra votes to validate your candidate actually won.”
Katz also said she doesn’t believe this feeling is limited to one side of the political spectrum, and we may have seen Biden supporters reacting similarly if President Trump had won a second term.
Secondly, there is evidence of foreign interference, especially from Russia, in the election but not in the way most people think. Instead of hacking voting machines, they hacked social media and other forms of communication.
Russia was retaliating to criticism it received during the Barak Obama administration, especially from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“Trump getting elected may have been beneficial to Vladimir Putin, but their whole point was if democracy can’t work in ‘the greatest country in the world’ how can it work anywhere else,” Katz said.
During the 2016 election, Iran sent out emails threatening people to “vote for Trump or else” while posing as the right-wing Proud Boys.
Situations like this have caused much distrust in the election process. However, Dr. Katz said Americans can have faith in their elections.
Several reliable sources such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Economist and Washington Post all have given evidence to dispute the claims made regarding election fraud.
Outside of these sources, recently resigned Attorney General William Barr, one of President Trump’s biggest supporters in Washington, D.C., has said there is no evidence of voter fraud during the recent election.
Another reason for the questions related to the recent election results is the seeming irregularities between how each state handles the elections. However, it doesn’t seem like that will change any time soon.
Article I Section 4 allows the federal government to regulate constitutional elections, and Article II Section 1 allows it to decide when electors are chosen and when they vote. However, states have the exclusive right to decide how they will handle the presidential election.
In addition to the conversation around the 2020 presidential election, social media sites have been getting criticism for silencing Trump’s accounts, claiming freedom of speech and the sites favoring more liberal voices.
Dr. Katz said social media is run by private corporations who can regulate information spread on their site as they please. In more recent years, Facebook and Twitter have faced great pressure to limit “dangerous speech” and “fake news” on their sites.
Katz said there has been a large consensus President Trump encouraged or “incited” the riot at the capitol building, leading to his ban. However, he still has more official channels such as press conferences to get his information to the public.
Media in general also has taken criticism for how it broadcasts political issues, but Katz said media is there to sell its product.
Narrowcasting has become more and more popular, especially on the Internet, reaching niche audiences and creating echo chambers. She said a Marxist architect or a conservative art teacher most likely could find a news source which caters to them.
While it may seem like a lot of information to wade through, www. mediabiasfactcheck.com can help. It is a non-profit organization Dr. Katz uses in her freshman classes to help them learn about media biases and check their sources of information. She said it has been pretty accurate.
With 11 days until President-elect Biden’s inauguration, only time will tell how peaceful this transition truly will be and what is next for the American people.