VERMILLION — This week’s violence at the U.S. Capitol represented terrorism with more battles ahead for the nation, a University of South Dakota professor says.
Tim Schorn teaches political science, specializing on the subjects of international relations and terrorism. He said, as he watched Wednesday’s unfolding events in Washington, he viewed the scene as something found in a foreign country.
“It was a shock to see the attack on the United States Capitol, while at the same time not being completely surprising,” he said. “We have been building to this for the last 4-1/2 years. President (Donald) Trump has consistently attacked the democratic process and has encouraged his supporters to doubt the veracity of election outcomes.”
Wednesday’s breach of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters represented terrorism, even if many Americans didn’t recognize it as such, Schorn said. He pointed to the 1995 bombing of the federal Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, which was committed by a white man who was an American citizen.
“It was another case of domestic terrorism that we as a country have managed to largely forget in favor of thinking only about foreign attacks on us,” Schorn said.
Americans need to realize the intent of those engaged in the action, Schorn said.
“When we talk about political terrorism, we are talking about individuals or groups who use force or the threat of force to reach a political goal,” he said. “We saw the mob attack the Capitol building in order to intimidate the members of the House and Senate, to stop the certification of the Electoral College vote in order to prevent President-elect (Joe) Biden from taking office and retaining President Trump, and to subvert the democratic process and the will of the people. This was terrorism.”
Social media quickly drew a flood of responses from those defending the Capitol activities and condemning the damage during this summer’s riots in the midst of racial tensions. They linked those uprisings around the nation to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and to Antifa, an anti-fascist collection of groups.
Schorn made a distinction between the two situations.
“BLM and Antifa never tried to overthrow the democratic process and Constitution,” he said. “BLM has been largely peaceful, and Antifa never represented any threat to the government. The (U.S. Capitol) participants were insurrectionists and terrorists.”
The violence may continue even after Trump leaves office, Schorn predicted.
REPAIRING THE NATION
The nation’s leaders must repair the divide that has torn the country apart, Schorn said. “President-elect Biden and the leaders of the House and Senate have a long, difficult road ahead of them,” he said.
Schorn listed three areas in which national leaders must restore the nation both at home and abroad.
“First, they have to reassure Americans that our election system does work and that the American government can do the people’s work,” he said. “Second, President-elect Biden and his team will have to repair relations with our allies and the doubts that they now have about the stability and trustworthiness of the U.S.
“Finally, people who attacked the Capitol and those who encouraged them, including President Trump and folks like Senators (Josh) Hawley and (Ted) Cruz, need to be held accountable. In some cases, that will mean criminal prosecution and in others official censure.”
The South Dakota congressional delegation — Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds and Rep. Dusty Johnson, all Republicans — helped create the situation leading up to Wednesday’s violence, Schorn said.
“(The three lawmakers) were very aware of what President Trump and some of his followers were capable of,” Schorn said. “They needed to begin speaking out loudly and clearly months ago when President Trump began calling into question voting and vote-counting in America and sending signals to his followers.
“By remaining as quiet as they were, and only rarely speaking out, they enabled the president and allowed the lies to be spread and accepted much too easily.”
The current situation rings similar to the Watergate era in the 1970s, Schorn said.
“It reminds me of the period when President (Richard) Nixon was being investigated and losing his support, there was real concern within the White House about someone who was evidencing signs of instability still having the nuclear codes,” the professor said. “I don’t expect (Trump) to launch the weapons, but there are many actions he can take that will do lasting damage to the nation.”
In terms of foreign relations, this week’s violence at the Capitol undermined the United States’ standing in the world, Schorn said. The nation has proven itself “divided, unstable and potentially immobilized by crisis,” he added.
“Our allies were horrified by what they saw,” he said. “How can this supposed model of democracy and constitutional governance find itself in a position like this where people storm the capitol and the president attempts to overturn election results? Our ‘enemies,’ like Russia and China, have to be dancing with glee.”
Schorn expects many Trump followers will remain loyal after he leaves office. Trump will try to remain part of the national discussion, but his broad influence will quickly fade, the professor predicted.
“He will continue, though, to lob figurative grenades that continue to diminish the reputation of the Republican Party,” Schorn said. “The question becomes will the Trumpians like Cruz, Hawley and others become the face and leadership of the party, or will more moderate voices like Senators (Mitt) Romney, (Lisa) Murkowski and (Ben) Sasse become the leaders of the party.”
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