For a moment immediately after the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6 last year, it was possible to imagine that the events of that day would have brought the country back to political normalcy.
In the hours after a mob of insurgents, driven by former President Donald Trump’s false claims about a stolen election, were driven from the Capitol, it was possible to imagine that the shocking scenes of violence in the seat of the US government would force the acceptable. Countries to reevaluate what counts as political discourse.
It was possible to imagine that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, was right when he came on the Senate floor later that night and declared, “Our Democratic Republic is strong.”
In the weeks and months following the attack, however, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain optimism about the state of democracy in America.
Public polling indicates that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that American democracy is “in crisis and in danger of failing.” And what is even more worrying is that nearly one-third of Americans now say that political violence is sometimes an appropriate response.
In the face of false claims about Trump’s repeated election, senior Republican Party officials who criticized the mob attack on the US Capitol went silent, and those who condoned or justified the rioters’ actions, They were extended.
Today, opinion polls indicate that an overwhelming majority of self-identified Republican voters in the US now believe, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, that the results of the 2020 presidential election were fraudulent, and that President Joe Biden was illegal. was selected from.
The most recent survey from the University of Massachusetts put the percentage of Republicans who believe the election was fraudulent at 71%, accounting for about 33% of the population overall.
According to Susan Stokes, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and director of the Chicago Center on Democracy, the reaction of Republican state legislatures was predictable.
He told the VOA, “Once you have your election base assuming that the presidential election has been stolen from their side, you have a very strong constituency in favor of changing the election laws.”
restricted voting law
Last year at the state level, Republican-led legislatures began passing new election laws. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a Washington-based think tank, 19 states have passed 33 laws that restrict access to the ballot.
Other Republican-controlled states passed laws designed to take over election administration from secretaries of state or local election officials and place it in the hands of lawmakers themselves. This especially happened in places like Georgia and Arizona, Republican-leaning states that voted for Biden in 2020.
In both states, Republican election officials reaffirmed the integrity of the 2020 election results in the face of Trump’s false claims of fraud.
The actions of Republican state legislatures may quell the concerns of some part of their political base about the integrity of election results, but it will come at the cost of creating heightened suspicion among Democrats.
This will be particularly acute in states such as Georgia, Arizona and Texas, where Democrats have been improving their electoral performance in recent years, but Republicans still control the state legislature. Those states have passed laws that Republicans claim are “common sense” fixes to the election process, but Democrats say are aimed at restricting ballot access and weakening them politically.
Other State Level Changes
Not all changes to state laws this year restricted voting. In several states, mostly controlled by Democrats, new laws expanding access to the ballot were passed.
These changes include increased opportunities for voters to vote before Election Day, greater access to mail-in voting, simpler voter registration rules, wider use of drop boxes for absentee voting, and improved support for voters whose primary Language is not English, is included. ,
While the changes will be widely supported by Democratic voters, virtually all of these measures are criticized by prominent Republicans – Trump chief among them – as easing election fraud. While there is no evidence that fraud has played a significant role in any national election in recent history, the changes are likely to strengthen confidence among many in the GOP that trust in election results in Democrat-run states. cannot be done.
“We are reaching a point where there are many reasons for both sides to discount election results at the national level,” said Seth Muskett, director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver.
“This is a very dangerous area, a delicate area, for democracy to find itself in,” Masquet told VOA. “It has led to the collapse of other countries, other democracies.”
Stokes of the University of Chicago agreed that the “nightmare scenario” for America is an outcome where, whatever the outcome of the presidential election, large sections of the population view the result as not only disappointing, but illegitimate.
Pointing to the polling data showing a heightened belief that political violence may be acceptable, Stokes said, “We have a lot of people in the public who think violence is justified, and a small number.” , of course, those who will actually take action. That. But it doesn’t need to lead too many people to a very violent situation, and possibly a state of armed civil strife.”
voice of optimism
“I think we should be concerned whenever there are attacks on the internal operations of our republic,” said Mary Frances Berry, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, an attorney and former chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights. “So, we have a right to be worried, but we shouldn’t be afraid, or overly concerned.”
Berry told the VOA that America has faced and survived democratic crises in the past. As recently as 2000, he pointed out, it was Democrats who were insisting that former President George W. Bush was elected illegally.
Democratic lawmakers, some still in Congress, demanded that then-Vice President Al Gore refuse to certify the election results in the Senate. This is the demand that the rioters at the Capitol on January 6 were making to the then Vice President Mike Pence.
In both cases, the vice presidents performed their constitutional duties and oversaw the certification of election results in which they were defeated.
“We have short memories,” Berry said. “But if we remember things, it will scare us less.”