Written by Huanan Liao
Edited by Bhromor Rahman
Four years ago, Donald J. Trump was sworn into office and he vowed to end “American carnage”, today he is the author of one. On January 6th, the world was watching, aghast and perturbed, what had been transpiring in Washington D.C. Hours after Trump delivered a tirade in a rally falsely claiming that last November’s presidential election had been “stolen” from him, his audience heeded the call and sieged the U.S Capitol. Pandemonium broke out, with moments of vandalism and violence as rioters smashed doors and windows, resulting in the death of five people. The situation quickly reached a boiling point when lawmakers had to be evacuated for their safety. Describing her on-the-ground experience as “traumatizing”, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat Congresswoman later recalled, “I had a close encounter where I thought I was going to die.” As a result of the bedlam, the certification process of the electoral college victory of Joseph R. Biden Jr. was brought to a standstill. So far dozens of rioters have been prosecuted and charged, with still up to hundreds more to follow.
The aftermath of it hardly bodes well for Trump and his henchmen. For one thing, a number of high-profile Trump administration officials, including Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, have resigned out of dismay over the Capitol Riot. Before long, Trump earned himself the ignominious honour of becoming the first U.S president to be impeached twice. On January 13th, one week after the assault on the Capitol, he was accused by a majority in the House of Representatives of “incitement of insurrection”. Though the tradition of partisan dichotomy remains by and large unscathed, a handful of Republicans were foolhardy enough to acknowledge the culpability of their fearless leader through concrete action, at the palpable risk of jeopardizing their own political career. Notably 10 Republicans joined all 222 Democrats in voting for the motion. Nevertheless, It is encouraging to see, given the hitherto growing partisan antipathy after an annus horribilis.
The repercussions do not stop there. In the wake of the crisis, Trump was banished from multiple social media networks including Twitter, citing risk of inciting further violence, effectively shutting down his megaphone. It marked the first time since Trump began his obsession of tweeting during his candidacy, Silicon Valley has finally conceded, after years of dithering and dodging, that politicians are not exempt from the rules that govern acceptable speech. Tens of thousands of accounts linked to disinformation and political extremism were subsequently terminated. Amplifiers were down. While this series of crackdown by Big Techs has brought many with a sense of relief, a dearth of cacophony on the surface belies a chilling reality.
Just as on the Capitol Hill where Trump supporters have been side by side with conspiracy-minded enthusiasts and avowed extremists, the jumble is even more pronounced on social media. The likes of QAnon and Proud Boys have found opportunities to exploit in the Wild West of the Internet, recruited the unwary into their cults, thereby enlarging their community and expanding their outreach. The societal penetration of conspiracy theories and extremist ideologies is inordinately real and problematic. It has been the source of undercurrents of rancour, hatred and resentment that led to the Capitol Riot. As forces on the fringe make use of social ills, gradually move towards the mainstream, polarization increasingly seeps into the public discourse. Worse still, the inherent proclivity of social media algorithms to feed people with personalized information that subconsciously reinforces their preconceptions, has breeded echo chambers within which the ideologically- aligned are self-complacently ensconced, where dissenting voices are not welcomed. Aided by confirmation bias, it can further magnify the divisiveness, facilitate the spread of disinformation, and radicalize the political discourse. For the moderates, the middle ground has become bruisingly turbulent to stand firm, without being perceived by either side of the political aisle as their foe. The deep-seated antagonism has started to have an adverse impact on our social and interpersonal relationships, overshadowing our most innate instinct for mutual compassion and understanding. One example to illustrate this point is a teenager who took to Twitter to publicly shame her mother for partaking in the Capitol Riot. She revealed being kicked out of home for supporting the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement last June. It is no exaggeration now to say that everything political is personal, whether in a good or bad way.
Febrile political division, rising tide of alt-right extremism, widening economic chasm, exacerbating social and racial inequities, the apocalypse of covid-19, a parallel pandemic of “alternative facts”, heightened authoritarian tendency… These are remnants of Trumpism that the incumbent Biden administration has no choice but to tackle head on. And bear in mind that Trump, despite his defeat, nonetheless garnered more than 70 million votes, the second highest in American history. Yet another legacy Biden is left with. In addition to placating the gargantuan fan base of Trump, Biden is poised to face challenges within the establishment, which will complicate his efforts to implement his proposals on areas including economy, healthcare and environment in the future. Still, on a more positive note, Biden’s upbeat inauguration speech, in conjunction with his sweeping executive orders to rejoin Paris Agreement and re-enter the World Health Organization (WHO), effectively undoing Trump’s policy, offer cautious optimism for starting to restore normalcy (whatever that means nowadays) at home, and salvage America’s reputation abroad, at the end of a nasty, brutish and short year.