Showing the disaffected that democracy still works

Infrastructure deal looms
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When insurrectionists came to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the perpetrators were not limited to members of militias and white supremacist groups. Only 13 percent of the insurrectionists boasted those odious affiliations, according to Dr. Robert Pape, Director of the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Threats. Instead, more than half of the participants in the Jan. 6 attack on our democracy were from the mainstream of American society — the kind of people who might live just down the street.

American society now appears to consist of three groups of citizens of descending size: the mainstream, the disaffected, and the violent extremists.

The violent extremists are driven by racist ideology and anti-democratic values that are a direct threat to America’s future. According to Pape, 21 million American adults believe that the 2020 election was “stolen” and that the use of force to restore Donald Trump to the presidency is justified. Some of the strongest predictors for members of this group include a belief that the federal government is the enemy, embrace of the Great Replacement conspiracy theory (that minorities are gradually replacing white populations as deliberately engineered through immigration policy), or inclusion in the QAnon cult. Many of these everyday Americans had been radicalized through online forums, misinformation, and demagogic politicians. Any attempts to use violence to carry out their seditious intent should be met with the strongest condemnation and forceful application of the law.

There is another group of Americans that lies between violent extremism and the mainstream: the disaffected. They are dissatisfied with government and have a general mistrust of its leaders and institutions. The scale of this group reveals a growing sense of fear and listlessness as trust in our nation’s institutions has declined. They have become disaffected from government institutions and democratic norms.

I believe this group can be drawn back into our democracy and can return to the mainstream values of our society if government is willing and able to reach out to them. Our goal must be to connect with this sector of disaffected Americans, quell their growing anxiety, and prevent them from falling under the sway of violent extremists. We must restore their trust by demonstrating that government can respond to their needs, economic anxieties, and concerns. That starts by reversing the poisonous polarization in Washington. Bringing together members of both parties in the act of governing can help reduce the number of Americans tempted by dangerous ideologies. We must restore trust in our democratic institutions for our social contract to work.

It can be done. A good example is the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year, proving that important work on behalf of our country’s future can still be accomplished in Congress. The benefits of this legislation will accrue to every state across America, employing millions of workers and strengthening our ability to compete in the world. After all, there is no Democratic or Republican bridge or transit system. These public facilities and services belong to — and benefit — us all.

Another example: In the previous Congress, I worked successfully with Republican colleagues to rewrite our nation’s laws governing career and technical education for the two-thirds of Americans who haven’t obtained a four-year college degree. On a bipartisan basis, we expanded opportunities for millions of Americans to obtain good jobs through which they can prosper, support a family, and achieve the American Dream.

In the months remaining in this Congress, we can choose to work together on similar initiatives that benefit all Americans and build a strong future filled with opportunity. Only in this way can we reach out to the disaffected and address the anxiety and frustration that is undermining Americans’ faith in our national institutions and capabilities.

On Jan. 6, 2021, the American people witnessed a dangerous crack in our democracy. To repair it, we must aggressively confront the violent extremists in our midst while reassuring the larger group of disaffected Americans that their government still works for them.

Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Illinois, is a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Tags attack on democracy disaffected domestic violent extremists Donald Trump QAnon Raja Krishnamoorthi

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