“Our Democracy is Fragile:” Notes from Prof. Sabato’s “Democracy Dialogues”

After one of the most dramatic days in American history, UVA Professor Larry Sabato hosted the first of his series of “Democracy Dialogues: The Room Where It Happens,” created as a bipartisan analysis of current US and global politics. 

Anticipation for the event continued to climb as supporters of President Donald Trump mobbed the Capitol building in a shocking display of violence to protest against the American institution of the transfer of power. The world watched in astonishment as the police blundered in their attempt to regain control over the scene. At least one woman is confirmed dead, but there are reports of up to four individuals who lost their lives.

There could not be a starker contrast between the actions of the day and information presented at the seminar, with speakers decrying the violence and the calls of election fraud. Guest speaker and former Department of Homeland Cybersecurity Chris Krebs, fired under the Trump administration in November, strongly asserted that the election was free and fair as a result of “four years of preparation.” Members of the press who joined the call fiercely defended their role in separating the truth from the lies concerning the Trump presidency and his claims that the election was fraudulent. The host of CNN Tonight, Don Lemon, attributed part of the insurgency at the Capitol to the media’s tendency to “give sanity and insanity equal levels.” CBS’ Face the Nation Margaret Brennan echoed these remarks, asserting that there was a “clear linkage to the rhetoric of the President” and the mob today. 

Looking forward, nearly every guest believed foresaw a massive reckoning among the Republican Party and the approximately 74 million people who voted for President Trump. Tara Setmayer, a former life-long Republican and political commentator, said their loss in Georgia was “a political earthquake for the party.” Professor Sabato spoke with Former Speaker Ryan before the mob broke into the Capitol. Ryan began his interview by blasting the members of the Sedition Caucus, saying that people need to choose between “[pledging] fealty to a man or our democracy.” 

Despite the predicted disturbance among the Republican party, many guest speakers remained optimistic about President-elect Joe Biden’s ability to stabilize the nation. Paul Ryan referred to his “transactional nature” that he believed would allow him to pass meaningful legislation, while Democratic strategist Paul Begala cited Biden’s empathy as his greatest tool for bridging the gap among Americans. In his concluding remarks, Professor Sabato remarked that democracy dialogues are “always chaotic,” but they are “necessary.”

After the seminar wrapped up, Congress resumed—successfully confirming Joe Biden to be the 46th president of the United States. Many Congressmen who were previously a part of the Sedition Party declined to push further, such as Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), who lost her reelection in Georgia that very morning. However, six GOP Senators remained opposed to the certification, despite the mob that was incited by cries of a fraudulent election. While the results may be certified, the fallout will continue, with over 100 lawmakers (142 Democrats and 29 Republicans) calling for Trump’s removal from office in his final days of this presidency.

With the Inauguration of Joe Biden on January 20, Professor Sabato will continue to host these events to further contextualize our politics and ground them in history. To view the first installment in this series, click here.


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