The events earlier in the week established a new set of circumstances with a lack of clarity on how to progress.
Less than a week ago on January 6, various supporters of Donald Trump and the Make America Great Again movement stormed the Capitol in Washington, D.C. The protesters, who began the day with signs and chants aimed at the electoral process, quickly turned into rioters as they pushed past the guards and police to enter the legislative building.
The last time that the Capitol was breached in this fashion occurred more than 200 years ago. A group of British troops, during the war of 1812, set the building on fire.
This is the first time that American people entered the building and destroyed it on their own accord. The Trump supporters destroying the location where the representatives elected by the people unite to craft legislation marks a moment in history which has never been seen before.
LaGina Gause, a political science professor at UC San Diego, attempts to figure out the reasons that people protest and how effective the protests can be in terms of influencing legislation. In her study “How Legislative Behavior Following Protest Advantages Low-Resource Groups,” she connects the lack of representation from legislators to race and class.
“Legislators are less likely to represent the preferences of low-income constituents than higher income constituents … Legislators are also less likely to represent the preferences of Black or Latino constituents than White constituents “
The lack of representation that these groups feel in terms of policy and arguments showcase the creation of resentment towards their officials. And on January 6, this resentment boiled over in an extreme fashion.
This subsection of Trump supporters always existed. According to a study from Pew Research, 47 percent of 2016 Trump voters had no college degree. A portion of Trump supporters are not in the higher income bracket which places them on the middle to lower income part of the spectrum. These people are not happy with their current circumstances and are open to doing irrational things.
The Trump supporters without a college degree remain a part of a group that has low resources and has gone through monetary disadvantages in life. Their reaction was fostered from the attention that legislators tend to pay to those that are a part of the non-elite section of the party.
“This suggests that while technology may alter the way people protest, things probably have not changed enough to alter many of the circumstances that make legislators more likely to support the concerns raised during protest by low-resource groups relative to high-resource groups. Disparities in resource capacity and representation remain, which makes legislative roll call voting behavior following protest more likely to support disadvantaged, low-resource groups.”
While the groups of Trump supporters may have been from low resource groups, they are not as disadvantaged as the black people that protested during the Black Lives Matter protests. These protests were able to happen without violence aimed at the Washington D.C. area and remained peaceful for the most part.
There must be some kind of difference between the Black Lives Matter protests that happened in the Washington area that remained peaceful and the violence shown at the capitol storming. The key factor was the cost for the mainly white Trump supporters was lower than that for the Black Lives Matter protests that feature more people of color.
Brandon Ives, a professor at the University of Maryland, studied which factors played the biggest role in escalating a protest into a violent riot. His publication centered around the idea that it is the lack of consequences that can give rise to the violence.
The actions of the protestors crossed a new line in terms of pushing the bounds of a protest and the ultimate, immediate consequences of the gathering becoming violent.
In a similar fashion, people are questioning the various institutions of democracy more often which is leading to more uncertainty.
The trend is growing to the extent that more experts are picking up on its popularity. Barbara F. Walter, a political scientist at UCSD, believes that this trend is one of the factors that could cause a second civil war. The aspects of democracy being attacked are foundational which means their weakening could cause massive damage to the country as a whole.
“And I think most Americans don’t know that what happened yesterday dropped the U S even further on the democracy scale that scholars use to measure the level of democracy,” Walter told KPBS. “What really was under attack yesterday was the cornerstone of our democracy, which is free and fair elections. So it was surprising because it was so extreme, but it’s part of a larger pattern that we’ve been observing over the last four years.”
Donald Trump has been the president during the last four years and while in power, has pushed the checks and balances of power more than many presidents have prior.
The consequences of this behavior are beginning to arise with all of the political backlash aimed at Trump for the behavior of his supporters. People on the right side of the political spectrum are beginning to abandon their support of Republican Party. A fourth year student from Thurgood Marshall College is one of the conservatives that is identifying herself as a “never-Trump” conservative.
“I thought Trump, policywise, was doing good enough to outweigh all of the bad that he did in office. It became a good defense for his actions until Wednesday. His comments following the violent protest were indefensible to me. My parents are not going to be happy with me, but I am done with the Republican Party.”
The ramifications within the GOP are clear: there are voters and legislators that are distancing themselves from his wing of the party.
Both the protestors and Donald Trump created new precedents in terms of handling key American ideals and beliefs. The protestors took advantage of the freedom to protest so that they could send a message to the legislators while Donald Trump used his position of power to question the integrity of the mechanism that will give representatives power and influence. Americans are left to figure out how to adjust and strengthen things that have never needed to be touched before.
The party will make decisions about where they will go after president Joe Biden is inaugurated. In the long term future of the country, the new precedents set with the events on Capitol Hill from Trump and his supporters leave democracy and the country as a whole on uncharted territory.
Future generations of America are left with this mess of precedents as it relates to freedom to assemble and populist leaders question internal parts of the country. The following actions will take careful consideration, but there are ways to move forward, starting now.
“We need to remove the barriers to voting that have been increasingly placed on certain citizens over the last few years,” Walter told KPBS. “And then we need to reduce the influence of money in politics. So strengthen our democracy, full democracies, don’t tend to have civil Wars. Um, and then the second big thing is I do think we need to regulate big technology companies. I think it’s no coincidence that, um, civil society has become more divided and more angry.”
Photo by Thomas Lin from Pexels.