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New year, old problem: How do Americans define January 6?

Former U.S. President Donald Trump applauds at the end of a campaign event in Waterloo, Iowa, December 19, 2023. /CFP
Former U.S. President Donald Trump applauds at the end of a campaign event in Waterloo, Iowa, December 19, 2023. /CFP

Former U.S. President Donald Trump applauds at the end of a campaign event in Waterloo, Iowa, December 19, 2023. /CFP

Editor's note: Anthony Moretti, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is an associate professor at the Department of Communication and Organizational Leadership at Robert Morris University. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily those of CGTN.

The third anniversary of one of the most pivotal days in America's democracy arrives with Americans still divided on what to call it. In my attempt here to synthesize the arguments and present them in a dispassionate way, I accept I am leaving myself wide open for criticism from the left and the right of the U.S. political spectrum. But if I were to make this an emotionally driven editorial, it would become a screed, which, come to think of it, defines too much political thinking in this country at the moment.

So, here we go.

Voters on the left suggest that on January 6, 2021, an insurrection led by then President Donald Trump, who did not want to surrender the presidency, and carried out by a mob determined to kill any politician who denied them what they wanted, took place at the Capitol. Inside, members of Congress were certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Voters on the right assert that unnamed forces, all aligned against Trump, fixed the election so that Joe Biden would win. As a result, in their minds, Trump's rightful re-election was stolen, so they had to prevent Congress from approving what was illegal.

What no one can dispute is that the actions of that mob (according to the left) or patriots (according to the right) led to five deaths and well over 100 injuries. Meanwhile, more than 1,100 people have been charged or convicted of crimes relating to their actions on that fateful day. 

Perhaps more importantly, two states – Colorado and Maine – want Trump off the primary ballot in their states in 2024; officials there say Trump's actions leading up to and in the immediate aftermath of the events at the Capitol affirm he is not worthy of returning to the White House. Keep in mind that Trump remains atop the list of Republican voters as the new year begins.

Journalists and academics agree on one more thing: What happened on January 6, 2021, was a culmination of almost three decades of divisive politics. Beginning with the Republicans taking the majority in the House of Representatives in 1994, the hollowing out of the center – those politicians who knew good government required talking to and compromising with the other side – commenced. Soon, liberal and conservative voters demanded their politicians do just the opposite: Talking to and compromising with the other side was seen as a weakness; a commitment to "their" side had to be made for a politician to have any chance of winning an election. This led to ever more extreme ideas being passed off as legitimate or mainstream and gaining momentum inside Congress and throughout the country.

Donald Trump's supporters gather outside the Capitol building in Washington D.C., January 06, 2021. /CFP
Donald Trump's supporters gather outside the Capitol building in Washington D.C., January 06, 2021. /CFP

Donald Trump's supporters gather outside the Capitol building in Washington D.C., January 06, 2021. /CFP

America's media ecosystem has contributed to this mess. Cable television most especially has become an echo chamber: Americans can tune in to specific channels that will support their political positions and will gleefully criticize voters and politicians who disagree with them. Granted, the number of people watching these networks is small when compared to the over-the-air broadcast networks; however, many of these people can be defined as zealots, the most uncompromising and most determined to get their way.

In 2023, two international events demonstrated the danger of the hardened positions on the left and right along with the absence of a center.

First, the Ukraine conflict. The left unites around the idea that Congress must allocate more and more aid – whether it be military or financial – to that country. The right remains skeptical, insisting that unless President Joe Biden does more to combat the surge of illegal immigrants trying to breach the U.S.-Mexico border that money for Ukraine is a non-starter. Their opinion matters because the Republican Party has a majority in the House of Representatives and can therefore prevent aid packages from coming up for a vote. The left, and yes in unison, quickly argue that equating Ukraine with the border is ridiculous. But instead of discussing what kind of aid, if any, ought to go to Ukraine, and what American interests would be served in that decision, the left wants Americans to believe that the right are traitors, and the right wants to characterize the left as wasteful spenders. Nothing good comes from such nonsense.

Next, is the Israel-Gaza conflict. The right – linking the longstanding history of Judeo-Christian thought in the U.S. – demands that the U.S. do all it can to support Israel. According to the right, Hamas declared war on Israel when it invaded about three months ago; as a result, Israel can, and should, do whatever it takes to win now and prevent future threats from Hamas. The left views the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza as proof that Israel has gone too far in its promise to eradicate Hamas from Gaza. Win the war, yes, but do so in a way that leaves innocent people as safe as possible. Do you think politicians will hold a serious conversation about Israel's actions right now?

You and I know that answer.

As 2024 begins, America is desperately in need of conversations relating to inequality, racism, guns and more at home and about its role on the global stage. Those discussions will not happen with the electorate as bitterly divided as it is. The global audience is watching, carefully examining how this chaos aligns with America's constant claim to exceptionalism.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.)

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