America’s Broken Democracy: Implications of Capitol Hill
Katherine Ashley Chen
Feb 24, 2021
On January 6th, an armed, angry mob descended upon Capitol Hill, clashing against the police in an offensive and deplorable act against American democracy. Less than an hour earlier, the now-former President Trump spoke at a “Save America” rally, which was itself located in close proximity to Capitol Hill. There, he continued to groundlessly proclaim election fraud. Meanwhile, the Congress members upon the Hill commenced their preparation for the upcoming sitting, where they planned to confirm election results.
Nonetheless, Trump persisted in his urge for Mike Pence to “do the right thing” and overturn the election results, a legally unrealistic demand, as the Vice President occupies an exclusively ceremonial role in the ballot confirmation. Upon a statement from Pence that he would not intervene during the Capitol proceeding, Trump announced to his faithful acolytes, “After this, we're going to walk down there, and I'll be there with you, we're going to walk down ... to the Capitol and we are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women”, and thousands of men and women responded by marching down to the Capitol.
As they approached Capitol Hill in a fray of anarchy, the rioters began breaking down the peripheral barriers surrounding the edifice, creating a general atmosphere of uncontrolled chaos and disarray. They subsequently breached the building’s entrances, leading to an influx of insurgents who closed in on the Senate and House chambers, which were in session at the time. Five people were killed during the ensuing and sustained violence, including a Capitol police officer who was bashed to death, while dozens more were injured.
However, the damages inflicted by the rioters were not merely confined to physical injuries—certain extremists displayed “Camp Auschwitz: Work Brings Freedom” hoodies, deliberately degrading the torture that Jews were involuntarily forced to endure during the mid-twentieth century in Nazi Germany. Others heralded far-right white supremacist symbols, many of which have been misappropriated from Norse mythology or Viking symbols. Still others brandished confederate flags and nooses, egregiously reopening past wounds that only recently have begun to heal. There remains substantial controversy surrounding the siege on the Capitol, but the symbols of hate and contempt are unambiguously palpable.
Millions of Americans watched in horror as Trump’s rioters destroyed the ultimate symbol of America’s once-sacred democracy. Countless around the world remained rooted to their seats as they witnessed the unprecedented havoc play out on television. Even weeks after the incident, many continue to flounder around in a mixture of surprise and shock. Others, on the contrary, appear unsurprised and seem almost expectant. Many blame Trump for this unequivocally heinous and distressing rampage against the government. For instance, Derrick Johnson, the president of NAACP, for instance, declared that “What we are witnessing at this moment is the manifestation and culmination of reckless leadership, a pervasive misuse of power, and anarchy”, while The Guardian published a piece on the “natural culmination of Donald Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud.”
Now, Trump is facing yet another impeachment, making him the first president in history to ever receive the nefarious charge twice. He was impeached by the House on January 13th, only several days prior to his official departure from the White House. The impeachment contained a single article accusing Trump of “incitement of insurrection” in regard to the Capitol riots discussed above, and the trial will begin in the Senate on February 9th. If Trump is ultimately convicted, there will be an additional vote to determine Trump’s future election eligibility, which will only require a simple majority to pass. Current Vice President Kamala Harris will serve as the tie-breaking vote if necessary.
The former President’s words were his last clear play as the power he held onto began precariously slipping away. While his rhetoric and word choice were undeniably well-chosen for its single purpose of invigorating and persuading his loyal group of supporters, his entire speech was riddled with falsehoods. His claims such as “we won this election, and we won it by a landslide” or “Joe Biden… had 80 million computer votes” or “if Mike Pence does the right thing, we will win this election”, or really any of the other postulations that were spewed from his mouth, were permeated with lies and deception.
Throughout his presentation, Trump also made several references to the Capitol, saying “After this, we’re going to walk down and I’ll be there with you. We’re going to walk down. We’re going to walk down anyone you want, but I think right here. We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, and congressmen and women. We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them because you’ll never take back our country with weakness.” He finally concluded his speech by shouting, “So… we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue… we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” In doing so, Trump essentially goaded his thousands of deranged disciples into the ensuing violence on Capitol Hill.
Impeachment is unlikely, however, as the Senate is currently composed of 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, but only a small Democratic majority with the inclusion of Harris’s tie-breaking vote. Due to the ⅔ requirement for Senate conviction, 17 Republicans will need to vote in favor alongside the Democrats in order to convict Trump. The Senate remains highly politicized, and such an exaggeration of Party lines seems almost unthinkable at the moment, even with many of the Senator’s lives placed in immediate danger by the same person that they are so ardently defending. Several Republican politicians outside of the Senate have joined in on the call for Trump’s removal, but as of January 28th, only six Republican Senators have voiced their possible consideration of voting outside partisan lines.
Amidst the growing disbelief and horror for the individuals who died, the hundreds of Americans who were injured, and the countless elected officials whose lives were exposed to the peril the during Capitol Hill siege, there is also the beginnings of a sense of despair. The Senators, who trembled in the face of violence, now want to exonerate a man who has shown himself, time and again, to have no moral qualms or sensible deterrents. These Senators, whom if they had not been so hurriedly escorted away, would perhaps have themselves gotten incapacitated or slaughtered, nonetheless continue to defend the man who was responsible for it all. If this isn’t the limit, what is? Perhaps there is no limit in America’s devastatingly broken government.