January 6, 2021, just as the U.S. Senate counted the presidential election, thousands of Trump supporters gathered on Capitol Hill in Washington and forcibly broke into the Capitol to prevent the Senate from confirming Biden as president, causing the emergency evacuation of members of Congress. The counting was suspended for a time, and caused 5 Death.
More than four hours later, the intruders were dispersed by the police and the National Guard, and the Senate resumed counting, and eventually announced Biden’s election as President of the United States. This incident has aroused the simultaneous attention and heated discussion around the world, which has had a very significant impact.
The China American History Research Association and Shanghai University invited some senior experts and young and middle-aged scholars in American history to hold an online round table on January 13, 2021.
From the perspective of American history majors, the participants conducted an in-depth analysis of the causes, consequences and effects of the “Capitol” incident, showing the reality of historians. Care and professional thinking.
I. The severity and complexity of the Capitol incident
Participants look back on history and find that there have been many similar events in American history, such as: in 1856, a South Carolina congressman beat a senator from Massachusetts in Congress; in 1915, a Harvard professor detonated a bomb in the Senate reception room; and in 1932, about 25,000 World War I veterans besieged the Capitol; in 1954, four Puerto Rican separatists broke into the House of Representatives and killed and injured five members; in 1983, there was an explosion on Capitol Hill; in 1998, gunmen attacked Congress.
Cai Meng (Shanghai Normal University) attributed such incidents to a form of protest that “the people impact the existing system through collective action outside the system or extrajudicial action”.
The constitutional system established in 1787 does not deny the legitimacy of this form of protest, and a series of institutional designs such as electoral system, judicial system, constitutional amendment mechanism, political party system, etc. enable the United States to absorb social dissatisfaction and eliminate the risk of riots or revolution in a way of institutional reform. Du Hua (Wuhan University) believes that this is an effective supplement to democratic politics.
However, participants believe that the Capitol Hill incident is an unprecedented violence. Wang Xi (Penn Indiana University) said that the seriousness of the incident is reflected in the following aspects: first, the Capitol Hill is the seat of Congress and a symbol of American democracy; second, the Capitol Hill incident is the President (the law enforcement department) mobilizes his supporters to attack Congress (the legislature), which is reflected in the two major power of the United States.
Branches – Conflict between law enforcement and legislation; third, the Capitol Hill incident also involves the opposition of social classes, that is, the confrontation between presidential supporters and congressional supporters, in which Trump supporters bring together multiple groups such as anti-Obama, anti-Democratic, anti-Republican establishment and minority communities, further complicating the problem.
Former Zujie (Sichuan University) said that the Capitol Hill incident has not developed to a more serious extent, depending on many accidental factors, so the dangerous information implied by the incident cannot be underestimated. Zhang Yong’an (Shanghai University) questioned President Trump’s connection with the occupation of Capitol Hill.
He also said that as a historian, we need more information and literature to sort out the relevance of Trump, the surrounding dignitaries and his staff to this violence. Jiao Yi (Shanghai University) believes that some of the basic facts of the incident are not clear, and some “weird” details have not been reasonably explained, such as why the police did not arrive in time, the missing protagonist of the incident. The truth of the incident needs to wait until the final investigation results are released.
In view of public opinion comparing the Capitol Hill incident to the “Bastille incident” or the “National Arson Case”, Wang Lixin (Peking University) believes that this is obviously an analogy and exaggerated. In his view, the current domestic division and political tension in the United States are not sharp political conflicts aimed at overthrowing the legislature.
Du Hua (Wuhan University) supplemented the above point of view: he compared the current division and intensity of conflict between American society and that of American society before the Civil War, and found that the division of American society today presents the characteristics of network and fragmentation, and there is no serious opposition between geography and politics and economy.
II. The nature of the Capitol Hill incident and its impact on American democracy
At present, there are many kinds of statements about the characterization of the Capitol Hill incident in the United States by public opinion, such as “riot”, “riot”, “coup” and “revolution”.
However, participants believe that this violent impact on Congress is of a “insurgency” nature and is a concentrated outbreak of multiple contradictions currently facing the United States.
Wang Lixin believes that the actual impact of this incident is very limited in terms of scale. The incident lasted for a short time, the level of violence was low, and the situation quickly subsided within a few hours.
The participants were not tightly organized and failed to prevent Congress from confirming Biden’s election as president. But this incident has had a very bad impact on the psychology of the American people, the national image and democratic reputation of the United States.
At the same time, this time reflects the current situation of increasing division of American society, the profound crisis suffered, and the multiple challenges facing American democracy.
Wang Xi said that on the surface, since Trump took office in 2017, the constitutional crisis in the United States has begun; after Trump’s defeat, the Trump team’s appeal was accepted and rejected in courts at all levels, and a series of behaviors such as requesting a re-examination of votes have further highlighted the constitutional crisis.
However, at the institutional level, American democracy is not in crisis, and the constitutional operation mechanism is still functioning in an orderly and effective manner.
Liang Maoxin (Northeast Normal University) agrees with Wang Xi that this incident is neither a constitutional crisis nor a social crisis, but only an integral part of the current social crisis facing the United States. Trump is undoubtedly the main person responsible for this incident. The words and deeds of prosecuting, checking votes and calling on voters to fight for justice and freedom after losing the election are contrary to the U.S. Constitution. Relevant accountability procedures have also been initiated.
Trump’s presidential campaign is a process of integrating value ideological identity and interests between social groups such as conservatives, racists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, which is completely different from the social structure that focused on class boundaries in the past. At the same time, the American individualist tradition is also one of the factors that prompted the event. The tradition of individualism that blindly emphasizes rights and ignores social responsibility implies ethnic identity and ideology. This ultimately endangers the social order of the United States and causes the imbalance of the state power structure. This incident is actually a mixture of individualism, racial issues, bipartisanship and Trump’s extreme egoism.
Jiao Ye pointed out whether the Capitol incident can be regarded as a decentralized social movement launched by the bottom from the perspective of the constitutional crisis.
Starting to understand the attributes and demands of various groups of Trump supporters and conducting in-depth local research on emerging right-wing groups in the United States is an urgent task at present, which is of great significance for clarifying the context of the incident.
Xu Tian (American Catholic University) believes that these people who broke into the Capitol may have been incited by Trump, but from the history of American party politics, the Democratic coalition has been counterattacked by Republican liberal supremacists for a long time since the New Deal, the actions of Republican and Trump supporters, and Capitol.
The outbreak of piece can be said to be a continuation of this history.
Based on Tocqueville’s research results, Duhua illustrates three dangers facing the United States today: first, administrative centralization, second, so-called tyranny of the majority, and third, democratic tyranny caused by the depoliticization of the democratic political order. He believes that the above dangers are not a special case of American democracy, but a common problem that is difficult to overcome in democratic society.
Former Zujie saw some dangerous signals from this incident, including: How to solve the institutional hidden dangers caused by the more popular institutional design in the representative democracy of the United States? How to solve a series of problems caused by globalization, such as the formation of poor strata and the intensification of social division? The media has actually become the “fourth power”, and social media, as a private enterprise, is free from the principle of freedom of expression.
Under the combination of the seven major media in the United States, the power of the president and even the government can be limited and changed. For example, social media such as Twitter and Google blocked Trump. Should media power be restricted? In what way is it restricted? These outstanding issues challenge contemporary American society.
Zhang Yong’an said that Trump could not accept the fact that he lost the election and still encouraged people to re-elect after the Supreme Court judgment, which actually showed that the United States is currently in a social structural crisis.
This kind of crisis can be traced back to the global impact of the 1998 financial crisis. Despite a series of pro-bottom policies adopted during Trump’s presidency.
However, due to the outbreak of the epidemic and the spread of the trend of anti-globalization, the political division of all sectors of American society has further expanded.
Scholars at the meeting did not think that this incident was an organized and planned violence, but why did an unplanned incident have a huge impact? Wang Xi believes that this has a lot to do with Trump’s political influence.
Trump’s appearance is a rebellion against the existing pattern of party politics. Previously, bipartisan politics and extremist policies in the United States had rigidized the American democracy system. Trump won the primary election in a populist way and became the leader of the Republican Party. Later, he used mass media such as Twitter to establish more effective channels of communication with the people, creating a Trump model and Trump’s personality cult.
This worship is similar to some kind of “cult”. Trump also used the propaganda of “losers” to stimulate antipathy to multiculturalism and racial justice, emphasizing China’s threat theory, and finally pooling all forces against Obama, anti-Democracy and even the anti-Republican establishment under his banner.
Xu Tian interpreted the complex elements of Trump supporters from the intuitive image of the flag held by the intruders of the Capitol with the help of being in the United States. Using QAnon as an example, he explained the role of conspiracy theories as negative adhesive in this incident. At the same time, under the decline of liberalism, the power of ideas is worried about the threat and impact of American society.
The question of how many social strata with different views will balance each other’s interests is solved. The impact of contemporary conspiracy theories on the fate of the United States under the support of the Internet needs to be further explored.
Li Jianming (Fudan University) talked about the impact of this incident from the alienation of republicanism and party politics. He believes that in the formation and development of modern republicanism, “domestication” of the administrative power held by a single person is one of the keys to ensuring the deterioration of republicanism.
But in a specific social situation, the executive power has expanded and its independence has been increasing; Trump has been molded (or self-molded) as the spiritual leader of a specific voter group and the general public, and the political storm has occurred at his instigation. This shows that what Schlesinger called the “imperial presidency” was no longer a scary illusion, but a living reality.
On the other hand, Trump’s arbitrary and strong actions are the result of the political alienation of political parties that seriously undermines the United States’ checks and balances system.
The checks and balances mechanism designed by the U.S. Constitution was originally based on a purely functional relationship of power, and did not take into account the corrosive effect of party activities, political interests and factional struggles on the checks and balances mechanism. In fact, if a political party controls both the legislature and the executive branch, the power checks and balances will fail. Trump’s arbitrary action and great influence are partly due to the damage caused by alienated party politics to the United States’ decentralized checks and balances.
Wang Lixin pointed out that American democracy currently faces five challenges: first, the development of the global capitalist system challenges American democracy – the inequality and polarization brought about by globalization are threatening American democracy; second, the challenge of cultural conflict in the broad sense to American democracy – cultural conflict Increasing the tribalization of society and the political polarization, weakening many people’s recognition of the United States of the United States; Third, the challenge of the Internet revolution to American democracy – the rise of social media provides a wonderful opportunity to spread false news and spread conspiracy theories; fourth, the challenge of the novel coronavirus to American democracy – the United States The country’s political system is not conducive to the prevention and control of the coronavirus epidemic, which has also led to the expansion of the controversy over the election results; fifth, Trump’s challenge to American democracy.
III. Follow-up impact of the Capitol incident in the United States and the world
Participants believe that the Capitol Hill incident may further aggravate the division of American society; how to suppress the evil in the hearts of the people, how to deal with similar events by constitutional and judicial means, whether this event will become the prelude to further crises, what impact will it have on the power transfer between Republicans and Democrats, and how will it These issues deserve further attention about the changes that have brought to the global political landscape.
Liang Maoxin raised three questions:
1. The COVID-19 situation in the United States is serious. What role should the government play at the time of the transfer of power?
2. How should individuals (citizens) better express their power? How to restrict the negative impact of individualism and the expansion of individual rights?
3. How to prevent Trump-like politicians from being elected from both institutional and legal levels in the future?
Xie Guorong (Wuhan University) and Cai Meng have the same concerns.
Under the influence of factors such as the intensification of American society, the serious polarization of political parties and the unfettered media power, will the Democratic Party crack down on the polarization of the Republican Party and polarization of political politics? Can the Capitol Hill incident inspire domestic political reform? What is the source of power for reform? Where is the consensus of society? Will there be another Trump? How to put an end to the spread and imitation of the political line of extreme political ideas? These will all be the real problems that the United States needs to solve.
Zhang Yong’an talked about the short-term perspective that this incident released the psychological evil of the people.
How should we regulate and restrict it?
How can the judiciary and law respond to this crisis?
At the same time, this incident may affect the transition and alternation of Republican and Democratic politics. The final direction of the event is still waiting for the final decision of the law.
In the long run, this incident may affect the distribution of bipartisan votes and democratic elections in the United States.
Trump’s election to the United States that year and Democratic Biden’s election to the United States at an advanced age all have a certain random element, but there is also the possibility of becoming the norm. After Biden took power, how will the domestic social crisis and political division in the United States affect domestic and foreign policies, including China policy and foreign policy?
Li Jianming said that the Capitol Hill incident may leave a deep mark in the process of world history.
First of all, the Capitol Hill incident may aggravate the global trend of “dedemocratization”, because the model effect of American democracy and the efforts of the United States to promote democracy overseas have greatly promoted the global democratization process since the 20th century, and this event will undoubtedly lead to the demonization of American democracy, which will undoubtedly be the whole.
The ebb of spherical democratization has contributed to the wave. Secondly, this event may further promote the development of global “anti-Americanism”.
Finally, this event is extremely negative symbolic, and the leadership and influence of the United States, especially moral appeal, will be greatly weakened. The combination of these three trends may leave a long-term negative impact on world politics. Xie Guorong, in combination with the United States’ efforts to repair its international image during the civil rights movement, believes that after this incident, the U.S. government needs to exert great efforts to repair the image of American democracy.
As Chinese scholars, how should we view the history of the United States?
This is a question worth thinking about. Our original motivation for studying American history is to learn from the United States.
Therefore, the United States we see has always been advanced, developed and democratic, and the history and reality of the United States are not perfect myths.
There is indeed a crisis in American society, which often contains the driving force for reform. Only by breaking the stereotypes can historians look at it correctly.
It is under this premise that the participants in this round-table seminar fully explored the complex meaning hidden behind the Capitol incident, and explained in detail the historical root and practical factors of the social crisis facing the United States today and the inevitable impact of the event.
Present a more real American image for Chinese scholars.