The political situation in the United States has earned another spotlight after a mass riot that occurred in the capital city of Washington DC. Thousands of people stormed the Capitol Building of the United States, which was the venue for the US Congress meeting, which would certify Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 election. In that incident, supporters of Donald Trump tried to stop the meeting, triggering clashes with authorities. It was reported that the mob succeeded occupying the Capitol Building, causing the congress meeting to be declared a recess and its members were evacuated (Koob, 2021). There were about five casualties and 50 people were arrested (Ortiz, Bacon, Yancey- Bragg and Culver, 2021). After the incident, Mayor of Washington DC, Muriel Bowser declared a state of emergency for 15 days with the possibility of extending the status if things were not deemed to be improving.
What happened was certainly a surprise to people of the United States and the international community. The United States, which has been regarded as a pilot in implementing democracy, had illustrated what should not be carried out in a democratic process. This criticism certainly come with reasons. For world leaders, this is certainly an alarm that the US was shaken by this event. The attack on democracy in the US could also mean an attack on democracy all around the world. If this kind of riot could happen in an established democratic country like the US, this could also happen in other parts of the world. (Bennhold & Myers, 2021). From this incident, a big question arises, will this kind of condition become a new normal for the implementation of democracy in the US?
Trump Political Communication Strategy and the Cause of the Riots
To understand the context of the political turmoil that occurred, we can track the history back to the 2016 elections when Donald Trump ran for president of the United States. In his campaign, Donald Trump relied on his Post-Truth style of communication to garner sympathy from his supporters. With the help of right-wing media and social media that personally launched their versions of truth narratives. The concept of post truth itself is not new to the world of politics. Oxford Dictionaries explains that Post-Truth is a state in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. Moreover, from recent studies of scholars it is concluded that the post-truth world emerged as a result of societal mega-trends such as: a decline in social capital, growing economic inequality, increased polarization, declining trust in science, and an increasingly fractionated media landscape (Lewandowsky, Elker, and Cook, 2017). Trump polarized the masses and divides the public through the information channels he has, both social media and right-wing mass media, which had so far fully supported the formation of good public opinion on Trump.
Trump played this post-truth concept actively not only during his campaign period in 2016 , but also during his tenure as president. Over the past four years, Trump had fed his supporters with the narratives they want to hear, even though the truth of these narratives had been either questioned or proven wrong. Data from the Washington Post states that during his presidency, Trump issued an average of fifty false narratives every day (Kesser, Rizo, and Kelly, 2020). Unfortunately, the concept of post-truth political communication was still being implemented until the 2020 election when Trump was defeated in a political contest against Biden. On this occasion, Trump narrated that there was fraud that made him lost his vote in the election process while at the same time refusing to recognize Biden’s victory. For the past two months Trump had misinformed his supporters that his defeat was unfair.
The group of Trump supporters that felt the result was unfair carried out a riot in the Capitol as an expression of their dissatisfaction with the legal system they consider unfair. Armed with their embraced beliefs, they believed their values should apply in that country. According to Paige in his article titled Political Orientation and Riot Participation (2017), riot actors are mostly found in community groups with high level of information on political issues, but have low trust on government or authority. This explanation illustrates what happened in the riot. A group of people who feel they have a lot of information about political realities (even though those were questionable informations) showed dissatisfaction towards the government and feelt more competent to carry out political process than the authority.
A New Normal for US Democracy?
The biggest question is whether this kind of incident will become the new normal for political process in the US? Riots themselves are not something new in the US. Since the beginning of US history, riots and violent political actions have been rhetorically symbolize acts of patriotism that support freedom and independence (Jackson, 2020). This also applies to riots related to general elections. Riots have happened a lot, especially before the second world war. However, this is the first time an unrest has occurred at the national level, especially with regard to issues with presidential elections, which is a symbol of democratic supremacy in the US.
Trump as the most responsible figure for this riot may not last much longer. Currently, Trump no longer has the institutional backing or legitimacy supporting him. Even his own party has now turned to condemn him after the riot in Washington DC. Republican figures such as Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina criticized Trump’s campaign promoting a conspiracy theory that sparked unrest. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton also urged Trump to immediately admit defeat and stop spreading fake news (Dennis and Dillard, 2021). Therefore, Trump’s existence as an individual is no longer a cause for concern in the future.
Something noteworthy is the legitimacy of the socio-political conditions left by Trump. America is now divided into several political spectrum. The society is polarized based on their values and beliefs. It is dangerous that a lot of people prefer to cling to the truth they want to believe instead of the facts. As long as these differences have not been harmonized, and the community continues to cling to their respective beliefs by ignoring facts and common sense, it is not impossible that they will continue to raise their voices in various ways including riots. Moreover, if later authority failed to give deterrence, people who perpetrated the riot would repeat their actions in the future. On the other hand, those who oppose this incident would lose their trust in the government if they considered them to have failed enforcing the law and create security stability for the citizens. The public is also responsible to prevent figures like Trump, who carry out the post-truth concept and have a “go big or go home” mentality, from being given the stage to carry out their actions. Society should learn a lesson that such person is a threat for democracy
The US’ condition as it is today will be a big homework for President-elect Joe Biden, who will carry out the mandate for the next four years. Biden must be able to become president for every community. The elected president must be able to embrace people trapped in the post-truth illusion created by Trump. Activities that tend to alienate Trump supporters as well as people with different political views will backfire on Biden and his administration as the group will have stronger legitimacy to launch future unrest under the pretext of political discrimination from the government in power. For this reason, Biden must convince everyone that the essence of democracy must be carried out in peace and dignity for all the people of the US. If this process is successful, the attack on the Capitol will only end up as a special case in the history of US democracy. On the other hand, if Biden fails to embrace and improve the condition, it is not impossible that this kind of protest will become a new normal in US democracy.
Bennhold, K., & Myers, S. (2021). America’s Friends and Foes Express Horror as Capitol Attack ‘Shakes the World’. Retrieved 8 January 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/06/world/europe/trump-capitol-2020-election-mob.html
Dennis, S., & Dillard, J. (2021). Republicans Recoil From Trump as Violence Proves Too Much. Retrieved 8 January 2021, from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-07/capitol-violence-marks-opening-for-gop-to-distance-from-trump
Jackson, K. (2020). The Double Standard of the American Riot. Retrieved 8 January 2021, from https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/06/riots-are-american-way-george-floyd-protests/612466/
Kessler, G., Rizzo, S., & Kelly, M. (2020). Trump is averaging more than 50 false or misleading claims a day. Retrieved 8 January 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/10/22/president-trump-is-averaging-more-than-50-false-or-misleading-claims-day/
Koob, S. (2021). What we know so far about the storming of the US Capitol. Retrieved 8 January 2021, from https://www.smh.com.au/world/north-america/us-protests-what-we-know-so-far-about-the-storming-of-the-capitol-20210107-p56sa1.html
Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U., & Cook, J. (2017). Beyond Misinformation: Understanding and Coping with the “Post-Truth” Era. Journal Of Applied Research In Memory And Cognition, 6(4), 353-369. doi: 10.1016/j.jarmac.2017.07.008
Ortiz, Bacon, Yancey- Bragg, & Culver. (2021). DC riots live updates: Capitol Police officer dies from injuries; FBI offers $50K reward for pipe bomb suspect info. Retrieved 8 January 2021, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/01/07/washington-dc-capitol-trump-riots-day-after-live-updates/6577841002/
Paige, J. (1971). Political Orientation and Riot Participation. American Sociological Review, 36(5), 810. doi: 10.2307/2093668
Writer : Muhammad Indrawan Jatmika
Editor : Angganararas Indriyosanti