January 6th, 2021 was a significant day in the United States in which individuals from all over the country stormed the capitol. Joanne B. Freeman from the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/12/10/january-6-congress-line/) explains how this event crossed a line in which it was an assault on our democratic processes and principles of the United States government. She described how after this occurrence, the government is still under attack, the right to vote is now under siege, and trust in the electoral process is fading. However, even though this is such a significant issue, many Republicans are ignoring the importance of this and there is no accountability being taken. Freeman states that this is dangerous to America’s democracy, and this should never happen again, as it could further the collapse of democracy. This concept of unaccountability is a major aspect of democratic erosion, and attention should be called to it. Overall, Freeman conveys a very strong argument that I agree with. This attack on the capitol was a crucial event in American history and it should have more attention called to it, as disregarding it can lead to democratic collapse. Although Freeman’s argument was influential, there is one aspect that could be expanded more upon to enhance the importance of this attack. Particularly, Freeman could go into more detail about what led up to this event and the cause of it. My argument is that Donald Trump’s populism was the main contributor. Throughout his presidency, he has exhibited certain characteristics that have influenced events that caused America’s democracy to decay, and in regard to this article, the storming on the capitol was one of them. Specifically, Trump has portrayed traits of a populist which, as multiple scholars note, is one of the main causes of democratic erosion.
Jan-Werner Müller crafted a book titled What is Populism, and claims that a populist is an anti-pluralist. They corrupt the phrase “We the People,” due to their anti-pluralism. They view individuals who agree with them as belonging to “We the People,” while those who do not are seen as being illegitimate. Since pluralism is essential for democracy, the concept of anti-pluralism poses a danger to liberal democracy. In contrast, liberal democracy, which encourages pluralism and respect for all people regardless of demographics, views “We the People” to represent the population as a whole, compared to populists who believe that phrase represents only a small segment of society. Donald Trump has exhibited anti-pluralism numerous times, as he has openly expressed that the unification of the people is important, but that all others who do not support him are implied to be damaging to our country. This anti-pluralist characteristic creates danger for America’s democracy, and this played into the attacks on the capitol as well. Those who support Trump were the ones to engage in this event, and his supporters are encouraging this trait by emphasizing those associated with the capitol and the electoral process are illegitimate, as they are upset with the 2020 election results. Additionally, Trump has openly stated that he wants his supporters to walk down on the capitol and that if they do not fight, they will not have a country anymore. As aforementioned, the rioters saw the 2020 election results and the opposition as illegitimate and views the others who are not with them negatively.
Donald Trump has engaged in various practices that have made individuals not only feel uncomfortable, but eroded democracy. Levitsky and Ziblatt in chapter three of their book How Democracies Die comment on Donald Trump and how his demagoguery, extremist view on immigrants, tendency to violate basic norms of civility, and praise for various dictators put people at unease. Furthermore, Levitsky and Ziblatt created a litmus test, and Trump checked off all of the boxes for all four measurements. Specifically, these include his weak commitment to the democratic rules of the game. This was seen when he questioned the legitimacy of the electoral process and made the suggestion that he may not accept the rules of the 2016 election. In addition, he rejected the legitimacy of his competitors, condoned and promoted the use of violence, and was willing to restrict the civil liberties of rivals and critics. This again contributed to the storming of the capitol, especially with the toleration and encouragement of violence. Many individuals got injured that day and arrested as Freeman notes, and it is clear that Donald Trump was aware that violence would break out, yet he did nothing to stop it.
Conclusively, Freeman makes a very persuasive argument that the January 6th attack on the capitol was an event that must be acknowledged and accounted for. This greatly contributed to democratic erosion, and it was Donald Trump’s populist characteristics and actions that caused this event to occur. This would not have happened without Trump’s encouragement, and if Americans could have recognized his populism and danger to democracy sooner, this may have been avoided, or at least not gone to this extreme. Americans need to take accountability for actions like this so it does not happen again and continue to erode our democracy.
Image- Jane Norman (2021) https://lailluminator.com/2021/05/19/u-s-house-oks-commission-to-probe-capitol-attack-but-mcconnell-objections-may-doom-it/
Joanne B. Freeman (2021) https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/12/10/january-6-congress-line/
Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky (2018), How Democracies Die
Jan-Werner Müller (2016), What is Populism
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