Capitol riots
America needs to look inward after the events of Jan. 6. (Image by Jackelberry from Pixabay)

Trump and the Capitol Riots Reveal a Democracy at Risk

We must hold everyone who incited or participated in the Capitol riots accountable, to protect the future of our system of government.

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Capitol riots

We must hold everyone who incited or participated in the Capitol riots accountable, to protect the future of our system of government.

On Jan. 6, like many Americans, I watched in horror as rioters tried to break into the U.S. Capitol Building, where Congress was convening to certify the election results. Bright red MAGA hats dotted the crowd. Huge Trump 2020 flags waved high above. The rioters — not protestors — fought police and smashed windows. Heart in my throat and nausea churning in my stomach, I watched as members of Congress were notified of the ensuing violence and ushered to safety.

When I woke up the next morning, the chaos had mostly ended. However, the post-analysis and released photos and videos were just as horrifying. Pipe bombs were found outside of the RNC and the DNC. People carried zip ties to kidnap members of Congress. Rioters isolated Capitol policemen and beat them with American flags, fire extinguishers and other hard objects while chanting U.S.A. They made nooses and chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.” The violence that led to the death of a police officer and a rioter rolled on and on across my news feed.

Words from Trump and His Campaign

Hours before the Capitol riots, President Donald Trump gave a speech at his rally, repeating his lies that the election was full of fraud and laying the blame at the feet of Democrats, “weak” Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence. While he called for peaceful marching at one point, his speech still encouraged aggression, urging his supporters to fight and to elect representatives who will fight. Rudy Giuliani went further, telling the crowd to “have trial by combat.” After the attack, while Trump did tell rioters to go home, he continued to repeat that the election was full of fraud, that he loved them, and that they were “special people.”

Trump’s words have obviously sparked backlash. Many of his administration officials have resigned, corporations are pulling their support, and his GOP allies and many Republicans have distanced themselves from him. He has since been impeached and now faces conviction for inciting the violence.

American Lies

Although Trump’s words at the rally have been largely cited as the cause and he should be punished for it, the real monster behind this has not been fully brought to light: lies. Beyond Trump, many Republicans have stated that the election is a fraud, that Democrats are stealing the election — despite the fact that numerous investigations have proven the opposite. Trump himself began calling the election fraudulent long before the voting began. Senator Ted Cruz led a Republican effort to overturn the election. They fanned the flames that led to the Capitol riots, giving out lies in place of facts.

Their words are dangerous and full of hypocrisy. Cruz, for example, has supported Hong Kong democracy efforts, calling China a dictatorship. Yet, when an election ended with results that he did not want, he tried to overthrow America’s democracy by attempting to overturn the results. Doesn’t the act of undermining an election without evidence pave the way for the dictatorships that Cruz so hates?

On a larger scale, Trump, Cruz and others are encouraging people to look at lies to fuel their views. Already, right-wing media and conservatives have already started to peddle the lie that the riot was infiltrated by Antifa — that it was not Trump supporters. Is our society supposed to be sewn together by conspiracies with Americans on opposite sides unable to have an honest conversation? Those who are calling the election fraudulent are tearing apart the fabric of our nation.

Teens on TikTok Give Advice

In the midst of the mess, teenagers on TikTok are giving advice to members of Congress on how to survive shootings, reminding them of the blood-chilling fact that students face similar kinds of violence on an almost regular basis. Ryan Bloomquist tweeted, “Have the members of Congress who ‘never could have imagined instructing their staffs to barricade themselves under desks’ considered what school teachers in our country do every day?” Another Twitter user, Barry “The Immune” Schapiro, MD, FAAOS, tweeted, “I’m sure it was absolutely terrifying for members of Congress to hear gunshots in their chamber today. This is only the 3rd time a gun has been fired in the Capitol Building since 1814. For context, American school children experience this on average of once every 47 days.”

As a student who grew up during the 2000s, I practiced active shooter drills alongside my earthquake and fire drills. We barricaded the classroom doors, learning how to balance desks on top of each other so that shooters could not ram in. I was taught how to form a desk barricade to prevent bullets from hitting us through the windows. I once had a teacher who handed out lollipops because candy was the best way to keep children quiet and calm. My childhood was traumatized with the knowledge that shootings were commonplace in American schools. These TikToks remind us that though “the photos of representatives hiding from domestic terrorists are disturbing,” compared to American children, the representatives are somehow lucky.

Comparisons to Black Lives Matter Movement

The Capitol riots have been compared to the Black Lives Matter movement on both sides. Liberals have been quick to point out how differently the police respond to white rioters compared to Black protestors. For many of the protests, the police were often the ones who fired first with tear gas and rubber bullets. A notable example was when Trump tear-gassed peaceful protestors to have a photo-op in front of a church. In contrast, several Capitol police officers helped and encouraged the rioters and many people have noticed how tame their response was.

Conservatives have tried to bring it back to Democrats, accusing them of being hypocrites for slamming Trump and the Capitol violence while remaining silent about the few incidences of violence during the BLM protests. This, however, is false. Several Democrats, including President-elect Joe Biden, have condemned any violence linked to the protests.

There are two important factors that differentiate BLM from the senseless Capitol riots. The first is that unlike the baseless conspiracy theories supported by the Capitol rioters, BLM activist claims were backed by facts and evidence. Statistics have shown that “black Americans are killed at a much higher rate than white Americans.”  We have seen the video footage of and/or heard the stories of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless others. The rioters’ claims of election fraud, however, have been backed up by nothing.

However, the biggest factor is that the leader of one of the most influential countries, the president of the United States, was the one to incite the violence and the one who refused to fully condemn the rioters. Regardless of whether or not you support the BLM protests, you have to admit that no mainstream Democratic politicians have condoned or encouraged the violent tactics committed by a few of the BLM supporters. In marked contrast, Trump’s speech gave rioters their target and fuel for their fire. Fight, he said, and fight they did.

Trump may be leaving office soon. But Trumpism and the implications of the Capitol riots are going nowhere. America needs to have a good inward look and decide what needs to be done.

Writer Profile

Aimi Wen

Duke University
Mechanical Engineering

Aimi is a mechanical engineering major at Duke University. She loves reading, hiking and baking.

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