The Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol felt like something right out of a movie: a surreal depiction of a dystopian America. Unfortunately, such threats to American democracy are neither novel nor surprising. Our country’s ails of white supremacy and institutionalized racism threaten our idyllic democracy. It saddens me to write yet another Viewpoint article about the different ways a person’s race can be beneficial or detrimental in this country, but even more sorrowful is the fact that the United States’ grim past of white supremacy and inequitable institutions still persists.
These acts of domestic terrorism, breaching and destroying federal property, threatened the pillars of democracy on which the American government rests. In a world where the United States acts as the judge, jury and executioner of determining the validity of other forms of government around the world, it is disturbing that we have failed to protect even the most important of our own institutions.
It shouldn’t come as a shock, then, that world leaders were quick to criticize the United States given our interventions in other countries. Hassan Rouhani, the current president of Iran, said the rioters “showed that first how brittle and weak western democracy is, and how weak its foundations are.” America being chastised on the world stage reveals that our history of white power, which is core to the attempted coup that happened at the Capitol, is both a domestic and international embarrassment and has implications for democracies globally. We could learn quite a bit from the Germans on how to address our past, given the way they have addressed Nazism and the Holocaust.
President Trump’s failure to condemn violence throughout his presidency has spanned from the deadly events in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 to the attempted coup at the Capitol last Wednesday. His inaction has created a large faction of the American public that believes conspiracies over facts and the messages of QAnon over thoroughly audited election results. This mass campaign of disinformation helped to fuel the fire of the attempted coup, along with the words of President Trump at his rally just hours before. Steps in the direction of clear leadership and the restoration of the truth, through measures like the article of impeachment or the 25th Amendment, are necessary to prevent any events of this nature from occurring again.
Furthermore, leading through social media is problematic. Twitter and Facebook amplify hate through their polarizing algorithms that place more weight on incendiary content. In America, this directly relates to the racism and white privilege that are still very present. A plethora of social media sites have banned or permanently suspended Trump’s accounts after the riots, such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Fringe sites such as Parler and content related to the Stop the Steal conspiracy theory have also been purged. But the damage that has been done since the beginning of his campaign will long outlast the benefits of these bans. President Trump proved his ambition for divisiveness and power overshadows any desire to mend a broken country.
The stark differences in police readiness and response between Black Lives Matter protests and the chaos at the Capitol prove there are two different rulebooks based on the color of your skin. These events highlighted the blatant racism that permeates American institutions, especially law enforcement. Given the historical and cultural importance of the Capitol and all the money this country spends on law enforcement, it’s baffling to see the ease with which the mob broke in. This is a reflection of the lack of pervasive and institutionalized fear officers have when confronting their white counterparts compared to Black citizens.
The militarized police forces that often confronted BLM protests, like before Trump’s June 1 photo op at St. John’s Church, differed enormously from the unprepared officers guarding the Capitol last Wednesday. This contrast shows whom the police are here to serve and protect and whom they are here to control and suppress. Clearly the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment still only applies to a select few. I am still seen as three-fifths of a person in the eyes of the law. America’s grim past has never gone away and has been a festering wound that we saw break open Wednesday.
Videos of police officers holding the hand of those who breached multiple security barriers and carefully walking them down the Capitol steps or taking selfies with them are indisputable evidence that white supremacy is the norm. The Georgetown University community must play an active role in rejecting the United States’ racial injustices. We must continue to address the university’s own past of owning slaves and making students from marginalized backgrounds more comfortable in different spaces around campus.
Racial justice has yet to be achieved. Days before the riot, it was announced that officer Rusten Sheskey, who shot and paralyzed Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., would not face criminal charges. Breonna Taylor still does not have justice. This is America: the land of the privileged. Black Americans suffer from comorbidities that have yet to be treated: a lack of federal leadership and white privilege.
As members of the larger Washington, D.C. community, Georgetown students are in a unique situation as national events affect our college experience at an individual level. Every student should use their time in the nation’s capital to make progressive changes that will have positive effects for all Americans. We have the prime opportunity to prevent undemocratic demonstrations from happening in the future by getting involved with local organizations, such as Showing Up for Racial Justice DC, to promote unity over divisiveness.
The lack of any condemnation of racial violence, combined with mass disinformation campaigns and conspiracy theories, build upon the long history of white supremacy in America. This country needs firm leadership and a raw conversation about the divides in our country. Without intervention, those divides will only become worse. The attempted coup gave Americans a glimpse of what may come without further action: the crumbling of our democracy as we know it. We must take active steps to ensure liberty and justice for all and defend our democracy to create an inclusive American dream.
Alexis Smith is a junior in the McDonough School of Business.