Posted on: January 28, 2021 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Trump supporters gather in front of the Capitol. Jon Cherry / Getty Images / NBC News

By Mariah Trujillo, Kaitlyn Davies, and Gabel Dardovski, JRN 111 Students

The actions required to save our democracy, the threats that could cause it to crumble, and the implications of a new presidential administration were the topics of a panel discussion during a Moraine Valley Democracy Commitment event Wednesday morning.

“We need to be good citizens,” said panelist Jeremy Shermak. “We need to take care of our democracy.”

Shermak, a former communications professor at Moraine, returned virtually to participate in the event, along with political science professor Kevin Navratil and moderator Troy Swanson, who is department chair of the library. Psychology professor Amy Williamson was scheduled to join as a panelist, but she had a family emergency and could not attend. 

The event, entitled The Divided States of America: Insurrection, Impeachment, and Inauguration, was held on the videoconferencing tool Webex from 9 to 10:15 a.m.  

Insurrection shows ‘cult-like behavior’

The panel began with a discussion of what Swanson called the “unthinkable” attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, a day that will go down in infamy.

“I was gutted that day,” Navratil said. “As it unfolded, I was emotionally gutted.”  He called it a, “9/11 type day” saying that was the only thing that compared to Jan. 6 in all his years studying politics. “You didn’t know how this would end.”

Much of the discussion then was spent on how “traumatizing” the day was.

Navratil said he was watching the news with his son and was at a loss for words, unable to come up with a reasonable answer for any of the questions coming his way.

I was gutted that day…As it unfolded, I was emotionally gutted. You didn’t know how this would end.”

Political science professor Kevin Navratil, speaking about the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol

Shermak, who now teaches journalism at Orange Coast College in California, recalls seeing “Murder the Media” on a door leading into the Capitol.

“I saw that, that day, and it really got me thinking, and it was pretty emotional for me, quite honestly,” he said. He began to think about his career in journalism and his students, and thought, “How do I turn around in class and talk to my students about this? How do I encourage my students to go out into a profession that is under such attack?” 

The panel delved into the demographics of those who participated in what Navratil called “cult-like behavior” during the attack on the Capitol.

Key demographic factors in one’s political alignment include college education, religious beliefs and environment, according to the panel. But it is important to recognize, Navratil explained, that identity is not destiny. With 74 million people voting for Trump, there are clearly people from various groups of society, he said.

While not all supporters of former President Donald Trump are white men with a lack of education, Swanson said, “You can’t help but notice that the vast majority of people [attacking the Capitol] were white…white men, especially.”

Shermak said these people bought into “the big lie” that the presidential election was “stolen” from Trump.

When asked, “Why did you do it?” many of those being arrested are saying, “I was just listening to my president,” Shermak said, which he finds “disturbing.” 

Impeachment needed to restore trust

By attacking our very democracy through his attempts to disrupt the certification of election results, Trump put himself in a position to be impeached twice within one presidency, a rare occurrence in the duration of our entire democracy, the panel said.

Navratil said Trump fanned the flames of Americans’ distrust in government.

 “I definitely think we are at historic lows with trust in government,” he said. “So I think it’s easy to just be cynical and think that there’s a deep state or that there are conspiracies and so forth.”

Shermak pointed out that “a big driver” of this distrust is fear, as people watch “a country changing, moving in a direction they’re not comfortable with.” 

But, he said, we cannot allow fear of change to make us resist the truth.

“Truth is not subjective. Truth is truth,” he said. “We have to remember that moving forward when we’re starting to discuss these ideas.

“Democracy was never really intended to be a great unifier. It wasn’t designed to make us all think the same way. But what democracy is at its core is designed to allow us to have a conversation… We’ve lost that. And I think it’s really important to get back to it or at least try to.”

Inauguration: return to ‘normalcy’

The inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States took place on Jan. 20, 2021, on the steps of the Capitol building where the insurrection attempt took place two weeks earlier.

Shermak said Biden appears to be centered on “unity” and “transparency” which is an enlightening difference from what we’ve seen over the past four years. He quoted Biden as saying unity means “debate without the vitriol.”

Navratil agreed, adding that this is a good change for the American people, “making people feel a sense of maturity… Boring can be okay sometimes.” 

Navratil hopes Biden’s vaccine plan will make phenomenal changes for the health and safety of all Americans: “I am hopeful by the fall of this year that the virus will be manageable.”

Democracy was never really intended to be a great unifier…But what democracy is at its core is designed to allow us to have a conversation…We’ve lost that.”

Former MV communications professor Jeremy Shermak

Shermak said he hopes this presidency will reinstate a sense of normalcy. With temperatures in the U.S. at a record high, he hopes that this presidency will “dial down the temperature.” 

About 43 people attended the event virtually to watch and ask questions, which Swanson would read aloud to his fellow panel members. 

The event is one of many the Democracy Commitment has held. Typically, Navratil, the coordinator of the program, moderates the panel, but he said Swanson thought it was important to have someone else leading, and he agreed.

“Democracy on campus needs to be more than just me,” Navratil said, pointing out that “we are [all] fundamental. Now let’s play our part.”

Shermak pointed out the importance of every American participating actively in our democracy.

“This still is a great experiment,” Shermak said, but “it is still fragile. We need to take care of it.”

Valerie Olivares, T’naya Anderson, and Isacc Velasquez contributed to this report.