As the January 6 Select Committee held its hearings this past month, many Americans, or at least those who chose to tune in, had an opportunity to revisit one of the more pivotal events that has occurred in our Republic’s relatively short existence.
It’s an event that doesn’t seem to have occurred spontaneously, but rather was an organized, planned coalescence of extremist groups and disgruntled individuals, coming together to attempt to change the outcome of a legitimate election and thereby alter the course of history.
No matter which lens one chooses to look through, there appears to be an overwhelming reality that the status of our uniquely-American democratic way of doing things is much more fragile than we ever could have imagined.
Of course, what many people tend to forget when referring to our nation as “the world’s oldest democracy,” is that we truly haven’t been so for a significant portion of the past 200+ years.
Not until the 20th Century did both women and African-Americans have the ability to cast their votes. The general election to determine our president every four years is not based solely upon which candidate collected the most votes. And clearly, not until this modern era have the rights of all persons begun to be recognized for unions such as marriage.
So to think that our system was infallible or that it didn’t require closer attention to detail may have been a bit myopic on our part.
As usual, I turned to a few sources that typically provide me with some additional perspective when seeking validation, and not surprisingly, each seemed to confirm much of what I’d already suspected — that the state of the union is far from being unified.
In a provocative piece in The Guardian by Bhaskar Sunkara, the founding editor of Jacobin and current president of The Nation, he suggests “that when American democracy crumbles, it won’t be televised.”
He places full blame on the democratic motives of the American elites when he suggests “They are, after all, helping to bankroll gerrymandering efforts across the country that dilute democracy and skew results in their favor. They are pouring in millions to support the campaigns of politicians who would roll back voting rights. And they are rallying their resources to oppose legislation that would give working-class people greater power in the economy.”
One of the more revealing outcomes from that fateful day was the introduction of additional footage not yet seen. The brute force being exerted upon those defending the Capitol was quite disturbing to view.
These were Americans assaulting fellow Americans, whose only job was to protect the occupants of a government building. In the aftermath of it all, I’d hoped it might spur on a call for unity, but that hasn’t been the case.
In an interview with political scientist Claudine Gay, the Harvard Gazette’s Colleen Walsh too concluded: “So many of the assumptions that typically ground our thinking have been upended.”
In reference to the Jan. 6 insurrection, she adds: “Here was a moment when thousands of people turned against American democracy itself, choosing violence as the way to achieve their aims. I thought a threat that profound would shock and unify us. But it, instead, has generated as polarizing a response as any other issue or event.”
At the moment, it’s very hard to imagine what it will take to bring together such diametrically opposed camps in order to preserve our Republic.
Clearly, massive reforms of all sorts are required so that we might achieve a more balanced, equitable electorate. Or as The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik put it: “The way to shore up American democracy is to shore up American democracy – that is, to strengthen liberal institutions, in ways that are unglamorously specific and discouragingly minute. The task here is not so much to peer into our souls as to reduce the enormous democratic deficits under which the country labors, most notable an electoral landscape in which farmland tilts to power while city blocks are flattened. This means remedying manipulative redistricting while reforming the Electoral College and the Senate.”
Indeed, those are some lofty goals, but I do think that it will take more than that to rebuild and create a healthier democracy. It has to go beyond politics. It needs to address the shortcomings of a system that for decades has allowed the very core of our most highly-regarded democratic institutions to rot from the inside out.