The following is a commentary from Dr. Robert Smith, Dean of the College of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Illinois Springfield.
Well I must say 2021 has not started the way I and many others had hoped! As a dean of a college of public affairs, a former chair of a department of political science and international affairs, a candidate for public office, an aide to a US Senator and a bureaucrat in local and state government, but mostly as a citizen of the United States of America… I am distraught, disgusted and disappointed by the rioting that occurred on Wednesday, January 6 in our Nation’s Capital. How can I or anyone dedicated to the study and administration of political and public institutions and processes not be troubled by what American citizens witnessed on Capitol Hill? And imagine what our international neighbors thought of the “Beacon of Democracy” that America is supposed to be on this tumultuous day? More significant, is what do our children and our next generations think and feel and take away from this event? How can anyone rationalize or justify what took place? It was not just a protest, a parade, a march, or even a riot, trespassing or breaking and entering, it was an insurrection that attempted to thwart the counting of electoral votes to officially signify the election of the next president of the United States. No matter how anyone may sugarcoat or deflect what we witnessed on Wednesday it was a travesty of democracy. What separates this country from every other nation over the course of modern history is the orderly transfer of power after duly constituted elections. You may not like the outcome, I may not like the outcome..but what do we do…we try again in four years or whenever the next election cycle is… What is most disturbing about this calamity…is that in some ways… it was not even surprising given our state of politics in 2020! Politics today is about the “I am Right Party”…and you and everyone else is wrong! This view has shaped our political parties, our politicians, our news media, our neighborhoods, our social circles and how we interact with one another. And more than that it fosters a view that encourages selfishness, narrow thinking, guarded relationships, distrust, doubt and cynicism. And this spills over to cast doubt on what it means to be an American citizen these days. What do we stand for…what should we stand for? I suppose the dust from this event will eventually settle. But there will likely be ongoing fallout, rhetoric and more doubt just as we are about to inaugurate a new President. But I hope what we witnessed will not be repeated. More to the point, I hope Wednesday January 6 will be remembered not for the wrong reasons but for the right reasons. It should serve as a reminder to all of us that our democracy is fragile. And think about the day and the disturbing images as reaffirmation of the importance of the rule of law, free elections, and law and order as the basis of our democracy. But most important, a reminder that our political differences need not be settled in such a way that puts democracy itself at risk in these United States. We can only hope calmer heads and processes prevail in the months and year ahead. No…not just hope…maybe we should demand it!