Assault on the Capitol: “For some, the insurrection of January 6 was a source of pride. Unless there is a corrective for them, we are going to have problems as a country in the US “

A year after a mob of Donald Trump supporters violently invaded the Capitol, the United States is still searching for a way to close one of the darkest chapters of its democracy.

Yes OK 71 people have been sentenced so far for participating in the assault To stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory, there are still hundreds of pending criminal cases.

On the other hand, a committee of the House of Representatives is investigating the possible responsibility of those who could have instigated the invasion of the Capitol on January 6, 2021, including then-President Trump and his entourage.

And key questions remain open, such as how much the White House was involved in organizing the marches that ended in the deadly events of that day, or how Trump himself acted upon learning of the attack.

However, the former president has already been acquitted of impeachment for allegedly inciting an insurrection against US democracy and maintains enormous political influence, especially in his Republican Party.

“Most of the elected officials of the Republican Party continue to support the former president and spread his lies without insisting that there is some kind of responsibility for what he did,” says William Howell, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, in an interview. with BBC Mundo on the anniversary of the attack on the Capitol.

Here is a synthesis of the telephone dialogue with Howell, author of the book “Presidents, populism and the crisis of democracy”.


What is the state of democracy in the US one year after the events of January 6?

The state of democracy in the US one year after the January 6 insurrection is problematic, controversial and uncertain.

The insurrection of January 6 damaged our democracy and revealed its deep vulnerabilities.

It was a real wake-up call for people who care about the health of our democracy, our political system, and our country.

William Howell
University of Chicago
William Howell is a professor of political science and directs the Center for Effective Government at the University of Chicago.

Since that day there has been a lot of talk about responsibilities. But a year later there are 71 sentences in more than 700 people arrested. Is it a reasonable number or too little?

The effort to ensure that there is some sort of liability is a huge task for the Justice Department – tracking all of these people across the country, finding out precisely what they are responsible for, and prosecuting is going to take time, I think years.

The big question has more to do with what kind of meaning we will give that event as a country. What lessons do we learn?

For some in this country that insurrection was a source of pride, a kind of effort to roll back a political system that they saw broken and an election that they considered illegitimate.

Unless there is a corrective for those who are spreading such claims, we are really going to have problems as a country in the future.

Those arrested so far are people who stormed the Capitol. But the question remains of who else could be held accountable and whether former President Trump will face charges for what happened that day. What do you think?

I do not know. I hope that at least the majority of our country will repudiate the leadership failures and abuses of power it committed, not just that day but throughout the entire period after the 2020 elections.

Donald trump
Donald Trump “remains the top Republican in America,” Howell argues.

A sad fact about the state of American politics is that the majority of the elected officials of the Republican Party continue to support the former president and spread his lies without insisting that there is some kind of responsibility for what he did, not just criminal but political. That is deeply disturbing.

At the same time there was already a political trial in February from 2021 against Trump that ended with his acquittal. Many on his side may wonder how much this effort will continue to hold him and his inner circle accountable …

There are a number of ongoing investigations in the House that will address that.

I think there will be a debate and deliberation on the meaning of this event and its cause. There will be elections and we will see whether or not he runs again in 2024 and then whether the Republican Party backs him, as it has largely done.

True, there was a political trial and he was not convicted in the Senate. That’s largely because the vast majority of Republicans supported him and refused to hold him accountable. They did so in large part by a series of political calculations.

If a Democrat had behaved as Trump did, those same Republicans would have voted for impeachment and conviction.

So nothing has been resolved. Everything is in dispute. But the stakes are substantial.

Trump still seems politically strong and there is speculation that he could be a candidate in the 2024 presidential election.HHas he paid any political cost for what his supporters did on January 6?

Today he is still the most important Republican in the United States.

And the small number of Republicans in Congress who voted for impeachment or spoke out against the president became pariahs within their own party. Some of them do not seek re-election. Others have been removed from leadership positions.

Trump sympathizer
Getty Images
Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021 as sessions were held to certify the election of Joe Biden.

What we have then is a great American party that remains focused behind a demagogue and the lies he spreads, and refuses to acknowledge his behavior and guilt.

That is very concerning to those who recognize that a vibrant and competitive two-party system is essential to the functioning of our democracy.

How has Trump managed keep so influential?

It’s a great question. And there is no single answer.

But I want to emphasize that Trump managed to tap into some deep anxieties, disappointments, and discontent from a significant segment of the American public.

Some of that anxiety, disaffection and anger is due to the huge demographic changes that are taking place in the United States and in many Western democracies, and to a fear that the meaning of being an American is at stake.

But there is also the sense that Trump, as a populist, offered a repudiation of a political system that had failed them.

He took advantage of that as successful populists can and channeled it, not in the service of rejuvenating democracy, but of subverting it and improving his own political fortune to the detriment of the health of our two-party system.

Polls show Americans are divided on what happened on January 6, Trump’s responsibility for the riots or the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency. How can a country heal or find a path of progress with such a level of divisions, which follow clear partisan lines?

As for Trump, we know that he played an important role in the events surrounding January 6, at least in the spread of the big lie, saying that the system was rigged and that Biden’s election was illegitimate. Those lines were a force behind the willingness of so many people to go to the Capitol.

As for Biden, he talks a lot about unity and I suspect he will do so again in his speech to mark the first anniversary of this insurrection. But much more is needed to heal the deep wounds in this country.

Joe biden
Getty Images
Joe Biden promised to unify the United States, but the country remains as divided as when he took office.

The rejuvenation of our democracy must be done on multiple fronts, including institutional reform and our political system to better serve the problems of so many Americans.

Until we have a more effective government, anger, discontent and the conditions for populist appeals to continue will persist, and our democracy will remain vulnerable.

There is much work ahead to mend the deep divisions in our country.

Do you think that what happened on January 6 in the US had consequences for democracy around the world?

You probably have them in two ways. For those working for democracy around the world, American democracy was something they could point to as a guide, inspiration, or sense of the possible. And all of that experienced a major setback on January 6, 2021.

Furthermore, autocrats and would-be autocrats who want to claim that democracy is not all that is promoted and that there is no democracy in the US now have an example to say that even there you see violence, bloodshed, deep divisions. That fits the political arguments they need to get or stay in power.

So yes, the consequences are not just for American democracy, but for democracy around the world.

Are these consequences applicable to Latin America, a region in which democracy faces significant challenges?

The question I would ask myself is to what extent the United States figures in the imagination of other nations. And to the extent that it does, then the importance of January 6 will only increase.

So for Latin America these events will also have a great impact.

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