Democracy is threatened by events like Jan. 6
My almost neurotic fascination with America and everything American began when I was just a child. I was born in Egypt and by the time I was a teenager, that fascination became an obsession. Naturally, at that age, all my reasons had nothing to do with democracy. I left my place of birth and headed out to my dreamland. It was my fortune that the first woman I dated in America became my ultimate teacher about what America is and is not.
She was a professor of American history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was authentically progressive, and devotedly a Democrat. My love for and admiration of America and its democracy never waned. It is my love for our country that creates my fear for her, most particularly after the Jan. 6 insurrection.
On that day, the United States suffered its most serious brush with constitutional failure since the Civil War. Many things remain unknown about the tragic and horrifying assault on the U.S. Capitol. However, let there be no doubt about the scale of the violence or about how close the United States came to seeing the peaceful transfer of power sabotaged for the first time in the country’s history.
The damage of former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie”–that he did not really lose the 2020 presidential election–has been poisonous and long lasting. Most Republicans and up to a third of the American public do not believe that President Joe Biden was legitimately elected.
And a variety of different polls, using varying wording and methodologies, have all documented a growing willingness of the American people to consider or condone political violence. When the polarization between two political camps reaches the point that each side regards the other as morally intolerable, as an existential threat to the country’s future, democracy is at risk.
Antony Fiola of the Washington post wrote about why and how the insurrection of Jan. 6 must be evaluated. His concerns about our global “place” were expressed this way ” as we and the world watches a drastically split nation at war with itself, our allies are delivering their own verdict: That an erratic United States can no longer be seen as the model democracy or reliable partner that some once thought it to be.”
Clearly, this is a year in which the crisis of American democracy has become incredibly visible to all. Frankly, what I fear most is the impossibility to judge the longer-term effect on American democracy now.
I am certain that the Founding Fathers never anticipated that a major political party in which most followers embrace falsehoods and some traffic in conspiracy theories; a former president unrelenting in his efforts to sow division and spread misinformation; and a largely broken Congress that struggles to function collectively to protect democracy or lacks the will to do so. A century and a half ago, the bitter debate over slavery ultimately brought on the Civil War, the outcome of which prevented the United States from splitting apart, north and south. Today, concerns about the future have become so acute that three retired generals warned in a recent op-ed that the country could be heading toward another insurrection after the 2024 election, and a possible military breakdown that could lead to civil war. They are not alone in their fears.
It will never be known exactly how many people took part in the assault, but as of mid-December, 727 people have been arrested for their actions that day. More than 150 of them have already plead guilty. The bulk of the rioters arrested have no documented prior ties to traditional extremist ideologies or movements. Rather, they can be considered radicalized supporters of the former president.
They are people who bought into a cult of personality surrounding the former president and accepted his conspiracy theories about the election at face value. A substantial minority of the hundreds arrested did, however, have a prior history of right-wing extremism, ranging from far-right Proud Boys to white supremacists to QAnon conspiracy theorists. On that day it was the first time we entered a dangerous status that scholars call “anocracy”, meaning a confusing blend of autocracy and democracy.
Meaning, for the first time in two hundred years, we are suspended between democracy and autocracy. And that sense of uncertainty radically heightens the likelihood of episodic bloodletting in America, and even the risk of civil war.
Editor’s note: Mohey Mowafy is a retired Northern Michigan University professor residing in the Marquette area and occasional contributor to The Mining Journal.