Skip to main content
Skip to main content
for

‘The American people are largely content to watch their democracy burn,’ professor says

Experts assess Jan. 6 siege one year later

EVANSTON, Ill. --- One year after the violent siege on the U.S. Capitol that disrupted electoral vote proceedings, professors of U.S. history and political science at Northwestern University are available to provide historical analysis on the national climate and ongoing threats to American democracy.   

Reach out to professors directly using contact information below, or contact Stephanie Kulke at stephanie.kulke@northwestern.edu or (847) 491-4819.

Interview the Experts

 Headshort

Alvin B. Tillery Jr.

Associate Professor of Political Science and African American studies; Director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy

“My warning to Americans, particularly people of color, is we are not safe,” said Alvin B. Tillery Jr., director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy at Northwestern.

Tillery is an associate professor of political science. His research and teaching interests are in the fields of American politics and political theory. His research focuses on American political development, racial and ethnic politics and media and politics. 

Quote from Professor Tillery:

“We have learned several things over the past 12 months that make me fearful for our future as a diverse, prosperous democracy.

“First, the Republican Party has become more committed to ensuring that America has an authoritarian future predicated on minority-rule than it was in the hours after the damage that Mr. Trump’s supporters unleashed on the Capitol last year. The spate of electoral nullification laws passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures is the most brazenly anti-democratic threat to this country that we have seen since the Counter-Reconstruction movement between 1874 and 1876.

“Second, we have learned that there is no branch of government capable of putting down the Republican Party’s march to authoritarianism. Just like when white supremacist groups rose up to steal local, state and federal elections during the Counter-Reconstruction in the 1870s, the Democrats slow-footed, weak-kneed rhetorical and legislative responses are burning valuable time that may ultimately prove the undoing of the republic. The fact that the Democrats made a spending bill their top legislative priority of 2021 at a time when Republican members of Congress, state legislators and operatives remain engaged in an active coup attempt is just dumbfounding. The people who sacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and their supporters did not do so for better healthcare, roads and bridges, and a child tax-credit. They sacked the Capitol because they simply do not share the values that are ascendant in America’s increasingly diversifying democracy. 

“Perhaps the most disappointing thing that we have learned is that the American people are largely content to watch their democracy burn. Two years after the largest mass protest movement in American history in the name of #BlackLivesMatter and after watching incredibly brave young people strike out for Democracy in places like Hong Kong and Nigeria, the American people are greeting the continuing assault on our democracy with a resounding: ‘meh.’

“So, on this eve of the one-year anniversary of the Capitol uprising, my warning to Americans, particularly people of color, is that we are not safe.”  

Focus Areas:

Kevin Boyle

Kevin Boyle

William Mason Smith Professor of American History

“The greatest danger to the nation came in the vote that followed,” said Kevin Boyle, the William Mason Smith Professor of American History.

Boyle’s focus areas include economic and labor history, African Diaspora and African American history and legal and criminal history. He is the author of “The Shattering: America in the 1960s” (W.W. Norton, 2021) and was a Pulitzer finalist for “The Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age.” 

Quote from Professor Boyle:

“In the terror of the moment, it was impossible to see past the violence of last January 6. Now the day’s meaning is clearer. The greatest danger to the nation came not in the afternoon’s assault but that evening, when the insurrection had been beaten back, the Capitol secured and Congress reconvened to complete the Constitutional duty the assault had disrupted. In the vote that followed, 147 Republicans refused to certify an election they knew the opposing party had won. 

“The truth is no mob is going to topple our democracy. If the system is going to fall, it will be brought down by those men and women powerful enough to destroy it from within, through deception, manipulation and a brutal cynicism they’ll portray as principle. That’s the deep danger that flashed through the Capitol on January 6, a sign of threats to come.”

Focus Areas:

 Headshort

Kate Masur

Professor of History

“An 1871 law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act has been used by lawyers this year to bring perpetrators of violence to justice,” said history professor Kate Masur.

Masur is a professor of history at Northwestern. African American studies, civil rights and U.S. political elections are among her research focus areas. She is the author of “Until Justice Be Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction,” (W.W. Norton, 2021), which takes a long look at America’s long history of anti-Black racism and organized efforts to build a multiracial democracy. 

Quote from Professor Masur:

“American democracy has been more fragile than many people realize. One of the key tools lawyers have used this year to bring perpetrators of political violence to justice is an 1871 law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act. The law, which targeted the violence committed by the Ku Klux Klan, was intended to protect people’s rights under the 14th and 15th Amendments, which had just been adopted. Now it comes in handy again. This country has been dealing with antidemocratic violence for a very long time. 

“You would think Congress could pass legislation to protect Americans’ access to the ballot and secure elections against partisan interference. But Congress is stymied by the filibuster, a Senate tradition regularly used to kill measures designed to make the United States more democratic. Republicans seem to want to return the country to the era before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and indeed before the Reconstruction amendments, when states had almost total control over elections and voting rights. What happens in the next nine months is likely to be highly significant for the long-term future of American democracy.”

“We have learned that an element of the Republican Party and its base of support is prepared to use violence and threats of violence to seize and hold power in defiance of the democratic majority.”

Focus areas:

Michael Allen

Michael Allen

Associate Professor of History

“The Republican party’s continued allegiance to Donald Trump who instigated the insurrection is a threat too serious and durable to ignore,” said Michael Allen, associate professor of history.

Allen’s research interests focus on U.S. political and diplomatic history. He is the author of “Until the Last Man Comes Home: POWs, MIAs, and the Unending Vietnam War.” His current work-in-progress, “New Politics: The Imperial Presidency, The Pragmatic Left, and the Problem of Democratic Power, 1933-1981,” treats evolving left-liberal relations to presidential power in the postwar era. 

Quote from Professor Allen:

“In the year since January 6, 2021, we have learned that an element of the Republican Party and its base of support is prepared to use violence and threats of violence to seize and hold power in defiance of the democratic majority. That fact has been made apparent less by the mob action that transpired one year ago than by the refusal of leading Republican officials and opinion-makers to condemn that action, to hold its leaders accountable or to act to prevent its recurrence. Above all, it has been clarified by the party’s continued allegiance to Donald Trump, who instigated the insurrection and who continues to foment undemocratic forces to the present day. Precisely how large this element is — or how capable it is of realizing its insurrectionist goals — remains uncertain. But if the past year proved anything, it is that this threat is too serious and durable to ignore and must be urgently resisted.”

Focus Areas: