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U.S. Democracy Post-Insurrection

January 28, 2021

Part One

  • Opening remarks by Eliot A. Cohen, Dean of Johns Hopkins SAIS
  • Anne Applebaum, SNF Agora Institute Senior Fellow and Senior Fellow of International Affairs, Johns Hopkins SAIS
  • Henry Farrell, SNF Agora Institute Professor of International Affairs, Johns Hopkins SAIS
  • Yascha Mounk, Associate Professor of the Practice of International Affairs, Johns Hopkins SAIS
  • Moderated by Filipe Campante, Vice Dean for Education and Academic Affairs; Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor of International Economics, Johns Hopkins SAIS

Part Two

  • Opening remarks by Eliot A. Cohen, Dean of Johns Hopkins SAIS
  • Eugene Finkel, Associate Professor of International Affairs, Johns Hopkins SAIS
  • Lisel Hintz, Assistant Professor of International Relations and European Studies, Johns Hopkins SAIS
  • Pavithra Suryanarayan, Assistant Professor of International Political Economy, Johns Hopkins SAIS
  • Moderated by Filipe Campante, Vice Dean for Education and Academic Affairs; Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor of International Economics, Johns Hopkins SAIS

The school hosted a two-part panel on the changes to the domestic and international climate following the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
In opening remarks, Cohen condemned the attempted putsch by Trumpist forces. The conversation then turned to Campante who asked the panelists to share insights on how we got to this point.

Applebaum noted how Trump since day one was an illegitimate President who helped to push conspiracies that allowed him to ride into prominence. This she believed had laid the groundwork for the building of an alternate reality that is absorbing and fulfilling for its followers. She argued that only by holding Trump accountable could any genuine chance to heal the system come about.

Farrell said he believed that a feeling of skepticism had permeated American life, where the dominant feeling now is that the ‘elite’ do not play by the same rules as the masses. This he noted led to a willingness to believe Trump. In turn this phenomenon snowballed with the failure of the Republican party to quash extremists and restore reality. Though Farrell believed that democracy is in crisis everywhere today, a more accountable system could undo the damage of the Trump years.

Finally, Mounk discussed how while the Republicans do not have an alternative, their more democratic wing, should be accommodated. Furthermore, he believed that while populists are dangerous, January 6 failed, demonstrating that America is not Argentina. Still he cautioned that the ongoing scandal of Wall Street clamping down on everyday people trading through Robinhood, is increasing the feelings of anger and alienation towards the system. The political, economic, and social crisis in America is increasingly dividing people on class lines and making them feel dispossessed. Should it snowball it could lead to tragedy and catastrophe.

The second panel looked at the aftermath of the American insurrection and the international linkages to the January 6 events.

The event began with Campante noting how his home country of Brazil had gone through a similar fall to a populist strongman, even when no ethnic parties, existed, and asked how the panelists would relate their international expertise to the U.S., which is much more complex, diverse, and faces an extremely militarized police-force and society.

Finkel, who while noting certain similarities to events in Ukraine, believed that America’s case deserved exclusive attention. He further elaborated at his surprise that this could happen in America, and then cautioned that because of the acceptance of violence and violent non-state actors (militias) in American society, such an unravelling would prove far more horrific than imagination. Finkel also added that as long as the general officers remained loyal to the constitution, the chances of a military coup were low, but that general violence by the common soldiers, was high and likely.

Hintz argued that it is important to remember that the threat is serious and should be treated as such. After noting similarities to Turkey, Hintz stated that Trump’s personal hatred of the media, and the creation of fictitious events, was fundamental in what transpired. The belief that others are not just different but dangerous, is transforming society into a tinderbox. Ultimately, she felt that America faced a greater threat from militias as opposed to a military disintegration.

Suryanarayan concluded the conversation by discussing the similarities between India and America. In both cases she felt that the legacies of slavery and caste, as well capitalizing on the fears of the majority, helped fuel the backlash towards minority groups. She ultimately believed that while the attack showed the weakness of American political parties, it ended up showing the strength of the American legislature.