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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

US Capitol Attack: How the Public Response to the January 6 Hearing Reflects Deep Divisions in the US

After nearly a year of investigating the attack on the US Capitol, on January 6, 2021, a Democratic-led select committee of the House of Representatives is holding a series of public hearings to present its findings to the US public. These findings include that former US President Donald Trump and his allies made illegal attempts to reverse the 2020 election results.

The committee, co-chaired by Republican Liz Cheney, also found that they were deliberately spreading lies about the integrity of the electoral system, resulting in an attack on the very heart of American democracy.

According to one New York Times report, at least 20 million people watched the first prime-time hearing. It was broadcast live by every major public and private news outlet in the United States, with the notable exception of Fox News.

It is worth reiterating that, by all measures, the 2020 general election was one of the safest elections in American history, with no evidence of widespread electoral fraud. These facts have been corroborated time and time again by federal agencies and courts, most recently by Trump administration Attorney General Bill Barr in the form of video evidence presented at hearings. Barr said he told Trump after the election that his allegations of fraud were “bullshit.”

Despite these facts, Trump waged an aggressive disinformation campaign to undermine public confidence in the integrity of the 2020 presidential election. This is a campaign that continues to this day. Trump and other Republicans, including those running for elected office, continue to spread lies about this election.

At its mid-June convention, the Texas Republican Party approved its 2022 political platform, which is based on false allegations of electoral fraud, to formally reject the 2020 election results and declare Joe Biden’s victory illegitimate.

Party lines

While much attention is paid to the attitude of the Americans in general, it is justified to pay more attention to the guerrilla units. An ABC News/Ipsos poll released Jan. 19 showed that American public attitudes about Trump’s guilt in the Jan. 6 attack remained largely unchanged.

Predilection appears to be the biggest determinant of American attitudes toward attack. For example, 91% of Democrats believe Trump is responsible, compared to 19% of Republicans.

Democrats are also more likely to follow committee hearings, at 43% versus just 22% of Republicans. In addition, while 88% of Democrats approve of the committee’s work, only 32% of Republicans share this view.

The poll also testifies to the enduring success of Trump’s disinformation campaign. For example, in January 2022, only 17% of Republicans said they considered voting for a candidate who accurately characterized Biden’s victory as legitimate. Also, while there is no legitimate reason to be concerned about statewide voter fraud, Republicans are three or four times more likely than Democrats to say that voter fraud is a problem in their state.

The divergence of views between Democrats and Republicans on Jan. 6 and Trump’s false election announcements, while deeply troubling, is not surprising given partisan differences in how and where Americans access information on matters of public interest.

For example, a January 2020 Pew Research Center report found Republicans and Democrats to trust two “almost opposite news media environments.” Republicans have less trust in more established news sources and are increasingly distancing themselves from them, while Democrats’ trust in them remains stable.

The study also found that Republicans are less likely to use news sources than Democrats. The recent decline in trust in and engagement with traditional media by Republicans coincides with the recent rise in GOP illiberalism.

Media polarization

Such a disturbing trend is not evident in European democracies. Comparative studies show that the US has a much higher level of production, consumption and polarization of partisan news than Europe, and a lower level of trust in traditional media.

On trial: Members of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the US Capitol.
EPA-EFE/Sean Tew

Even with differences within European nations and the rise of social media as a source of news across Europe, the American information ecosystem is much more polluted, fragmented and polarized. For example, according to Ofcom, BBC One remains the most popular source of news for people living in the UK. This is in stark contrast to the US, where the ratings of the largest state news outlets are much lower than those of many of the country’s private news outlets.

The decrease in the level of trust in traditional media and the rejection of them is alarming. Traditional media perform important democratic functions by accurately informing the public on matters of public interest and by holding those in power accountable. Without these guarantees, democracies become more vulnerable to disinformation campaigns and other threats to democracy, especially from politicians.

Democracy in action?

The committee hearings provide the United States with an opportunity to share a collective experience that contributes to public understanding of the events surrounding January 6 and the ongoing threat to American democracy from those who seek to undermine democratic institutions. This includes spreading disinformation and laying the groundwork for canceling future elections if the Democrats win.

So far, though, we’ve only seen a relatively small percentage of Americans, mostly Democrats, actively participating in the hearings. Opinions about the legitimacy of the investigation and the lies that provoked the attack tend to reflect party affiliation more than adherence to facts and the search for truth.

This demonstrates the enduring viability of disinformation campaigns by leaders and politicians, especially when public access to information is highly dependent on party affiliation and one party is actively trying to disinform its base. It also suggests that while the US prides itself on supporting a marketplace of ideas where truth ultimately wins out, such belief in the power of unrestricted public discourse is foolish.

This raises the question of whether the committee hearing will bring the political and legal reckoning needed to neutralize the threat to American democracy posed by Trump and his allies. So far, there is little reason for optimism.

World Nation News Desk
World Nation News Deskhttps://worldnationnews.com/
World Nation News is a digital news portal website. Which provides important and latest breaking news updates to our audience in an effective and efficient ways, like world’s top stories, entertainment, sports, technology and much more news.
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