As the United States Senate opens the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump – one of the most far-reaching actions in American political history – the nation is engulfed in a miasma of conflicting public tensions.
Consider a new report on the January 6th U.S. Capitol riot: The Chicago Project on Security and Threats at the University of Chicago examined the demographics of 193 individuals charged with being inside the Capitol building or breaking through barriers to enter the Capitol grounds. “The Face of Insurrection”. Key findings:
. “What we are dealing with here is not merely a mix of right-wing organizations, but a broader mass movement with violence at its core ▪ This is fundamentally a political movement, one not only centered in “red” parts of the country, but also consisting of pro-Trump supporters who are in the political minority in many places ▪ Normal CVE won’t work in this case. What we need is not simply social programs for [the] poor, unemployed or arrests targeting pre-existing extremist organizations, but de-escalation approaches for anger among large swaths of mainstream society [emphasis added].
The report’s supporting data may surprise: The riot involved a preponderance of middle-class, middle age, employed participants unaffiliated with anti-social groups. About one-tenth of the Capitol insurrectionists studied were classified as supporters of gangs, militias, or militia-like groups such as the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters. But overall, the number of participants indicate that this movement has evolved broadly in America – and elsewhere – over an extended period.
However, the incendiary for the invasion of the Capitol was the avalanche of lies – in high places and low – about the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Senator Mitch McConnell noted: “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.” “Trump provoked deadly Capitol riot, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell says.”
So, is some semblance of political unity, or at least civility, in America possible in the foreseeable future?
An incurable optimist points to early – very early – signs:
. The grievances of some in the movement identified by The Chicago Project study may be at least partially assuaged by political progress addressing their interests, beliefs and concerns. A recent New York Times analytical article, “How the Biden Administration Can Help Solve Our Reality Crisis” offers “… steps experts say could prod more people to abandon the scourge of hoaxes and lies”.
. Surprising developments last week among right-wing media. For example, Fox fired conspiracy-fantasy champion Lou Dobbs. And this startling Newsmax admission in a prepared statement : “… the election results in every state were certified and Newsmax accepts the results as legal and final. The courts have also supported that view” https://cnn.it/3cQF1Nm .The financial aspect: Major companies withdrawing ad support from media (as well as from the political PACs), that project 2020 election myths. So the motives of these media may be questioned, but they do reach the target audiences – and now, with conspiracy-weakening content. )
Some may say that because we are facing what has been called a mass addiction to disinformation and alternative realities, efforts at this time may be in vain. Perhaps. But Thomas Friedman has flashed the urgency of what is at stake “Only Truth Can Save Our Democracy” :
“The war for truth is now the war to preserve democracy … We need to restore the stigma to lying and liars before it is too late. We need to hunt for truth, fight for truth and mercilessly discredit the forces of disinformation. It is the freedom battle of our generation.”
Impeachment trial acquittal or conviction, the country will still face a long, arduous – but necessary – road toward greater unity.