An Ideological Chasm*

*Editor’s note: On March 4, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.

Konstantin Sukhoverkhov, program coordinator at the Russian International Affairs Council, on the polarization of American society that led to the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

Two years have passed since the storming of the Capitol. For some time, this incident dominated news headlines and online discussions. However, it’s worth casting our minds back to how the situation developed to understand why a mob attacked the building on Jan. 6, 2021.

On Nov. 3, 2020, Donald Trump, then president, and Joe Biden, now the country’s leader, faced off in a presidential election. Biden’s victory ended up triggering the insurrection.

After the vote count, Trump and his supporters began questioning the results, claiming widespread election fraud. It’s worth noting, however, that the vast majority of such claims were dismissed. However, Trump still filed lawsuits contesting alleged election fraud, mainly to delay counting of ballots and to overturn the results, at least in some swing states.

On Jan. 6, Trump staged a protest rally in Washington, D.C. — the day when Congress was scheduled to certify the election results. In staging the rally, the 45th president in essence encouraged disappointed citizens to march to the Capitol, although he did not directly call for the subsequent break-in and violence.

However, as the crowd approached the Capitol, the most radical and furious Republicans clashed with police and stormed the building, managing to reach the Senate chamber. In the end, the attack led to casualties among police and protesters. In this heated atmosphere, Trump’s call for protesters to disperse and his admonishment not to play into the hands of his opponents failed. Nevertheless, by evening, the police and National Guard had dispersed the crowd. A few hours later, Congress reconvened to certify Biden’s victory, making him the 46th president of the United States.

Two years after these events, one still wonders how it could have happened in the U.S., which many consider the cradle of democracy. After all, the storming of the Capitol is quite different from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, for example, an event during which celebrated American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

The answer to how Jan. 6 could have happened is this. The political spectrum in modern America has changed dramatically leading to the Jan.6 events. Over the past 20 years, political and ideological polarization has not only divided the Republicans and Democrats as political entities. It has also become entrenched in the minds of their supporters — ordinary citizens. At the same time, of course, a vast chasm has developed between the parties, too.

The Democrats are now perceived almost as socialists. (The Democratic left wing has indeed become quite strong.) Meanwhile, the Republicans are now known as the party of the rich, which only supports big business. In other words, a powerful ideological split has occurred between the two main political forces. Previously, such powerful divisions were only evident in containing communism during the 1930s and 1950s.

Polarization has caused many Republicans not to hear or refuse to hear Democrats and vice versa. This process has affected not only the political elite but ordinary citizens. For instance, while you could often see candidates’ supporters embracing and shaking hands after previous elections, it was difficult to find examples of such behavior in 2020. Indeed, America was divided into “red” and “blue” camps. Now, being a member of either camp can significantly change the way a person is perceived by others.

It’s common to blame Trump for the polarization of American society. However, this process began before he entered politics. In this way, the billionaire’s presidency was only a litmus test that revealed the problem.

After the assault on the Capitol, the House of Representatives formed a select committee to investigate the insurrection. The committee was supposed to identify those responsible and hold Trump accountable, thus delaying the former president’s return to politics. It’s noteworthy that this body was bipartisan — several of Trump’s Republican supporters rejected him as a result of the Jan. 6 attack. On Dec. 19, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol referred criminal charges against Trump to the U.S. Justice Department, including charges related to instigating the insurrection. The Justice Department has indicated it will consider the referral, noting that the committee’s findings are advisory in nature.

However, the main result of the insurrection at the Capitol was not the creation of committees but an epiphany for the American political elite. Many Democrats and Republicans realized that a polarized country would do them no good and backfire in the future. Hence, both parties now face the difficult task of reconciling their views on the most pressing issues.

In addition, opinion polls about the upcoming 2024 presidential election make you wonder about potential candidates. After all, if you trust the polls, most Americans don’t want either Biden or Trump as president. However, American society knows how to cope with challenges, as it has repeatedly demonstrated throughout modern history. Therefore, we should not expect another such assault, such as the one that happened on Jan. 6, 2021, in the near future.

The author is the program coordinator of the Russian International Affairs Council. The author’s opinion may not necessarily reflect the views of Izvestia’s editorial board.

About this publication

About Nikita Gubankov 89 Articles
Originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, I've recently graduated from University College London, UK, with an MSc in Translation and Technology. My interests include history, current affairs and languages. I'm currently working full-time as an account executive in a translation and localization agency, but I'm also a keen translator from English into Russian and vice-versa, as well as Spanish into English.

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