Tuesday, January 25, 2022
Jan. 25, 2022

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In Our View: Capitol riot revealed cracks in our democracy

The Columbian
Published:

As detailed in editorials the past two days, the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021, was precipitated by lies from Donald Trump and came perilously close to overthrowing American democracy. But as we mark the anniversary of one of the darkest days in our nation’s history, the overriding question is: How do we prevent a repeat?

Indeed, there is no guarantee that a weakened democracy can survive another event like the attack of 2021. There is no guarantee that our constitutional foundation can withstand a demagogue, or that officials at the state level will not bend to the will of a delusional narcissist.

One year ago this week, domestic terrorists, urged on by Donald Trump, invaded the U.S. Capitol and sent members of Congress scurrying for shelter. Five people died during the attack or shortly after; the Senate chamber and congressional offices were breached; and rioters fought with Capitol Police officers. The impetus: A misguided belief that Joe Biden’s election victory the previous November was fraudulent.

A reminder: One year later, there is scant evidence of widespread fraud during the most scrutinized election in American history. Yet Trump’s lies about a “stolen” election continue to hold traction among his supporters; in the process, those lies have damaged our country, diminishing faith in election security and the democratic process. Never mind that Biden won the popular vote by more than 7 million and won the electoral vote 306 to 232.

While democracy — the notion of checks and balances, along with government by the will of the people — held sway, its cracks were revealed. If state officials had valued loyalty to Trump more than democracy, a constitutional crisis could have ensued. If enough judges embraced fealty rather than the law, a free and fair election could have been overturned.

In the United States, we have protections against such dictatorial tactics, provided by the right to vote. In Washington, voters may register through the secretary of state’s website; a state-issued driver’s license or ID is required.

Most important, registered voters must exercise their right. Electing officials who value democracy rather than partisanship and who will stand for the rule of law is essential for the survival of our nation. That requires informed voters who understand how elections and government work, and who have the tools to reject misinformation.

Trump himself demonstrated little understanding of the U.S. Constitution, insisting that Vice President Mike Pence had the authority to prevent certification of the election. Pence rightly ignored that suggestion. Robust civics education is needed to boost the public’s understanding and prevent a charlatan from leading the people astray.

Meanwhile, social media has facilitated the spread of false information, whether about elections or vaccines or climate change. The most popular platforms not only allow for the posting of misinformation, they incentivize the sharing of it. As MediaLiteracyNow.org explains: “Media literacy skills are essential to health, well-being, and full participation in economic and civic life today. Therefore these skills must be taught in all schools.”

For example, “news” articles from nonexistent sources have been rampant on social media in recent elections.

Multiple factors played a role in creating a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, revealing fissures in our democracy and the need for strong measures to prevent a recurrence. Our nation was threatened one year ago; it is up to us to us to preserve it.

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