Local political experts explain what violence at Capitol means for America's future

'We'll be talking about this for the rest of our lives'
Congress Electoral College
Posted at 10:49 PM, Jan 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-06 23:23:52-05

Wednesday’s events on Capitol Hill likely won’t fade from Americans’ minds anytime soon, as the steps of the U.S. Capitol were overtaken by armed supporters of President Donald Trump, who for months has alleged election fraud without evidence.

And even in real time, local political science experts say they understand the gravity of Wednesday's unprecedented events as people stormed the Capitol Building, which resulted in one woman's shooting death and several injured Capitol Police.

“We'll be talking about this for the rest of our lives,” said Ryan Salzman, associate professor of political science at Northern Kentucky University.

“When we think about the Civil Rights Movement, think about the Vietnam War Era protests, anything over my life -- there has not been an instance where leadership has stoked the flames of the mob to the extent we're seeing right now,” he said.

And those flames burn hotter, he said, in large part because of social media, only made available over the past two decades.

“Where we sit right now is leadership guiding the mob through this thing,” Salzman said. “This is what we're experiencing right now. Anyone who claims political leadership isn't to blame for what's happening today is being willfully ignorant.”

Dr. Richard Harknett, the head of the political science department at the University of Cincinnati, said an incident like this hasn't unfolded in American history since the War of 1812.

“The fact that we have a segment of our population that believes that the institutional authority around the election is so illegitimate that ... the only action they could take would be to storm the proceedings. To stop the democratic process," he said.

Wednesday afternoon, President Trump posted a video on social media calling for an end to violence before doubling down on previous unsubstantiated claims. That video has since been taken off Twitter and Facebook.

“The most significant aspect of this is probably going to be: how does the Republican party leadership moving forward handle that statement?” asked Harknett.

Both Harknett and Salzman said the future of the GOP may well hinge on Republican politicians’ next moves.

“That's the fork in the road here: are you going to run on the legacy of, ‘it was taken away from you?’ Or are you going to run on a more traditional route of ideas and principles associated with Republicanism?” asked Harknett.

Even through the ugliest of hours, in the darkest of days, Salzman said America has proven time and time again that it will remain resilient.

“We can't understand what's beautiful and resilient about our country without understanding our dark days,” he said. “Today is a dark day for American politics. It's a dark day for Americans. But after most dark days comes the sunlight. And it'll be sunny again.”