The U.S. House of Representatives made history Wednesday by impeaching a president for a second time, voting to charge Donald J. Trump with inciting the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol with false claims that the November election was fraudulently handed to President-elected Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Some Harvard historians and political scientists say American democracy could very well be at an inflection point as the events of the last week continue to unravel. But all agree that what the future holds in the days leading up to Biden’s inauguration next week, beyond the likelihood of more pro-Trump protests by his supporters and partisan hostilities in Congress, remains unclear.
“American democracy has had a number of inflection points — the founding, the Civil War and Reconstruction, women’s suffrage, the New Deal’s promise of social citizenship, and the Civil Rights Movement being perhaps the most important,” said Kenneth Mack, Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and affiliate professor of history.
“By definition, it’s hard to know if something is an inflection point without some historical distance, but after seeing an American president help incite a mob to violently attack Congress in order to keep himself in power illegitimately, one must wonder” if this is another, he said. “Whether it is will depend on the actions of many people in the coming months and years.”
The nation is “likely” at an inflection point, but which direction the change is headed is not yet known, said Alex Keyssar, Matthew W. Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). “These events could lead to a reinvigoration of democratic norms, a backing off from hostile partisan rhetoric, a greater respect for institutions. Or this could be the beginning (although not really the beginning) of a prolonged period of acute recriminations and hostility.”