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Trump supporters stormed the United States Capitol on Jan. 6.

Credit: Chase Sutton

I enjoy writing articles that encourage Penn students to take action. But after an attempted coup, it is naive to argue that students alone can resolve the partisan tensions that are threatening to tear the United States apart. Collectively, we are students entering Philadelphia, the birthplace of the Constitution, at a time when the document’s power is weaker than ever. We just lived through an insurrection. And the more I watch the news, the more powerless I feel.

As peaceful Black Lives Matter protests spread across the nation last summer, they were met with immeasurable police force. But when domestic terrorists attacked the Capitol building this week, some officers seemingly offered little resistance and others even took selfies with them. We are living in what feels like an alternate reality, where assaults on our most fundamental political structures barely make the news for more than a few days. In the wee hours of Thursday morning, members of the House of Representatives spent two hours pontificating about illegitimate elections, when questioning the election’s verdict is exactly what led to Wednesday’s attack. To save American democracy, the Republican Party must denounce its culture of lies and distrust immediately.

What is most frustrating about the invasion of the Capitol is how little has changed politically in the aftermath. Challenges were still lodged against the electoral results of Arizona and Pennsylvania. After the day’s horrific events, 147 Republicans still voted to override one or both of these election results. In a YouGov poll, 45% of Republicans, or one in five voters, approve of the storming of the Capitol building. The millions of Americans who endorsed violence to achieve political success are a sizable minority, and it is downright dangerous to ignore them. Supporting this violence is unacceptable — and even unexplainable — but we must understand it if we can ever hope to salvage America’s democracy. 

Wednesday evening, my family was watching Fox News. The network was struggling to put President Donald Trump in a positive light, as Tucker Carlson refrained from mentioning him by name, and Laura Ingraham insisted that there were leftist protesters in the mob. My family found the invasion “funny,” noting how out of place some of the rioters were against the backdrop of the Capitol. They mocked Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden as they spoke with a somber tone. The lack of condemnation from the right had erased what would otherwise be empathetic, concerned reactions from my family.

When a prominent politician like former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who is also credited as the architect of the Republican Party's rise to congressional power, claims that Democrats are brainwashing their supporters, it’s unsurprising that my family says that I am manipulated by “liberal news” networks. When Fox continues to exaggerate the danger of BLM protests, though the majority of the protests were peaceful, it’s unsurprising that some are saying that BLM’s actions are worse than that of the Capitol’s invaders. When representatives and officials tell their supporters over and over again to distrust the election, when they pin the blame on vague, loosely defined entities like “Antifa” and “mass media,” when they uplift the voice of a president that repeatedly endorses violence, how can we be surprised that millions of Americans now view these opinions as valid and substantiated?

Words are powerful, which is why I have previously urged Penn students to speak to relatives they disagree with, and to sympathize with avid consumers of disinformation. I still encourage speaking with those you disagree with whenever possible, but any productive discussion demands mutual respect. There can’t be mutual respect when weapons are involved. Even Congress could not speechify to save their lives on Wednesday, when the National Guard had to be called in against the armed terrorists.

In the November elections and the Georgia runoffs, many Penn students, Republicans and Democrats alike, did their part through voting, volunteering, and donating. Though the final results of these elections were tight, Americans voted for a Democratic trifecta. 

Now, the onus is on all elected officials to enforce the results that America has chosen. What defines democracy is that our representatives are guided by the mandate of the people. Right now, Trump and the 147 Republicans that contradicted the electoral results are throwing this mandate out, and democracy with it.

The First Lady’s Chief of Staff Stephanie Grisham, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, among many others, have resigned from the Trump administration. Only eight of the fourteen Republican senators that were expected to object results followed through. Several top Republicans spoke out against Trump on the Congress floor.

But this is not enough. America is brimming with lies, and until all politicians speak out, confirming that the election was legitimate, these violent attacks will only continue, and the 147 Republicans opposing the election will have even more blood on their hands. 

CAROLINE MAGDOLEN is a College and Engineering first-year student studying Systems Engineering & Environmental Science from New York City. Her email address is magdolen@sas.upenn.edu.

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