On Tuesday November 3rd, 2020 Joseph R Biden of Scranton, Pennsylvania was elected the forty sixth President of the United States. This highly contested and emotional campaign was the culmination of more than a year of record-breaking voter registration and participation while in the context of a global pandemic, and a U. S President in Donald J Trump with a penchant for lying and misrepresentation not typically seen in a president. Despite the historic victory for Mister Biden, there were several constitutionally mandated steps that had to be completed before he could assume the office. The final step, prior to Inauguration Day, was the certification of the electoral college results by the United States Congress and that was to occur on January 6th, 2021. On that day, domestic terrorist, and insurrectionist in support of and at the encouragement of President Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in a failed attempt to stop the certification of the results. This resulted in the deaths of civilians and capitol police and did untold damage to this particularly important and sacred government institution. In the immediate aftermath of January 6th, there was universal and bipartisan condemnation of the rioters and of the president’s actions (and inactions) that eventually led to a second impeachment of the president. Though acquitted of the charges by the Senate, it was the first time in U.S history that a United States President had been impeached twice.
The article for this paper is from the New York Times website entitled Republicans Rewrite History of the Capitol Riot, Hampering an Inquiry by Luke Broadwater(https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/13/us/politics/republicans-capitol-riot.html?searchResultPosition=2) (Broadwater, 2021). The article details the efforts of the House of Representatives attempt to form a bipartisan committee to examine the events of the January 6th, Capitol attack. The article points out that republicans, namely Representatives Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, and Andrew Clyde of Georgia, are simultaneously misrepresenting the events of that day and are wanting to include left leaning groups such as ANTIFA and Black Lives Matter in the investigation. It is noteworthy that the article points out that Former President Trump is still lying about the validity of the election results and that the equivalence of left wing and right-wing involvement in the January 6th attacks are false. Democrats believe the investigation should be narrowly focus on the events at the Capitol, and republican Representative Liz Cheney (recently ousted from House leadership position) is quoted as saying “That kind of intense, narrow focus threatens people in my party who may have been playing a role they should not have been playing.” The continued assertion by Ms. Cheney that Mister Trump is promoting a “Big Lie” has put her at odds with republican members of her own party.
While there are many ways to frame the issues covered in this news article, it seems to me that the paradigms of Conflict Theory and StructuraL Functionalism adequately provides two frameworks for viewing the various aspects involved. Conflict Theory, initiated by Karl Marx as a critique of capitalism, is best articulated by Lewis A. Coser. Coser, a German sociologist, views societal conflict revolving around “the withdrawal of legitimacy by subordinates in a system of inequality…with violence increasing when conflict is over nonrealistic issues such as values and morality (Turner, 2014).” I believe Conflict theory explains the precipitating event. StructuraL Functionalism, views societies as “super organisms “whose constituent parts are made up of various social institutions that functions to maintain a state of homeostasis for the collective. Along with that framing, I believe a further abstraction of Ecological Theorizing (societies face selective pressures, just as biological entities do) helps explains the republican’s response to January 6th.
The first conceptual framework of Conflict Theory applies to the precipitating event itself. Many of the former president’s constituencies are usually White, rural, evangelical Christian that are on average less educated than those that may tend towards the democrats. In the past decade or so there have been much dialogue and progress in the areas of Civil Rights for Black people, women, the LGBTG and other marginalized people. This is particularly salient with the election of President Barack Obama. One could imagine that from the standpoint of a person of typical of conservative leanings, it may appear that other groups (Blacks, Hispanics, LBGTQ, etc.) are getting an outsized share of resources. For example, they may perceive people of color getting their jobs (via immigrants or affirmative action). They can begin to feel as though the gains of other groups is coming at the expense of their own. Added to this is the fact that there is not much upward mobility for these people at their jobs and the United States at the time was going the Great Recession. This can cause what has been described as White resentment, the feeling that they are losing the America they are used to along with the resources and perceived prestige it brings. A charismatic personality such as Donald Trump that can articulate these grievances and is also able to frame the existing administration as illegitimate (Birtherism), leads to a situation ripe for him to ascend to power.
The four years of the Trump presidency was infused with a high state of emotion and narratives that framed national discourse in terms of values, morals and an “us against them” mentality. Fueled by the lies told by the president that the November 3rd election was fraudulent and stolen and that the final chance to right the wrongs of that election had to happen during the certification led to the January 6th riots. This is in keeping with Randall Collins discussion on how interaction rituals are used along with group symbols (Trump flags, MAGA hats, confederate symbols) are focused on the “enemy” to commit violence (Turner, 2014, p. 50).
That is how we got to the Capitol riot itself. Contemporaneously, the framing of the incident can best be visualized within a StructuraL Functionalism framework. As described earlier functionalism views societies as analogous to living beings or “super organisms.” As such, just like biological entities, they are subjected to selection pressures (Turner, 2014, p. 31). This viewpoint can be abstracted out to any organization within a society too. These organizations will still have to face “ecological dynamics (Turner, 2014, p. 69)”. Viewed this way the U.S Congress generally and republicans and democrats specifically can be thought of as groups competing for a valuable resource(votes). Votes brings an enormous amount of power, prestige, wealth, and resources. Using Talcott Parson’s Action Theory illustration, both the Democratic and Republican National party fulfills his requisites. Adaptation (they must secure votes and turn them into power and influence), Goal Attainment (Party Platform and vision), Integration (majority leaders, committee chairs and minority whips), Pattern Maintenance and Tension management (Rallies and other means of emotional investments (Turner, 2014, p. 18). The Republican leadership’s reframing of the Capitol riots is in accordance with the selection pressures of trying not to be seen in a negative light. Former president Trump still enjoys much support from his election base, and this reality means that as a collective unit, the party must pivot away from the narrative of that day. The party is evolving in platform, practices, and values that it had not been before. People often view evolution as improving into better form. Evolution is simply adaptation to the environment over time into something that is suitable to survive that environment. This is devoid of any notions of “better” “worse” or “advanced.”
In the final analysis, there are many ways of parsing the different issues presented in the article. I felt that the overriding dynamic, even in the context of functionalism, is conflictual in nature. In matters of politics and democracy that should come as no surprise.
Broadwater, L. (2021, May 13). The New York Times. Retrieved from (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/13/us/politics/republicans-capitol-riot.html?searchResultPosition=2
Turner, J. H. (2014). Theoretical Sociology A Concise Introduction to Twelve Sociological Theories. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.