By Derek Wilson
The inauguration of a United States president usually brings thousands of people crowding into the National Mall to witness history and to ponder what the next four years will bring. But the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol and threats of further violent protests by Trump supporters created an atmosphere of unrest during the January 20 ceremony as President Joe Biden officially took the oath of office.
“It doesn’t look like a peaceful transition right now. Washington looks like a battleground,” said Yolanda Bellisimo, who has taught political science at College of Marin for the past 30 years. “There is an armed attempt to get Biden into power in a safe way. It’s frightening to think about the possibilities if there is no peaceful transition.”
Bellisimo, a Mill Valley resident, agreed to give her perspective into the violent events of the past two weeks and the effects on the U.S. government at this crucial time.
This is not the first time in U.S. history the transition from one president to the next has been tainted by controversy. Andrew Jackson won the popular vote in 1824, but John Quincy Adams used political maneuvering to become the sixth U.S. president. With Martin Van Buren’s support, Jackson — who gained fame as a general — ran a political campaign with all the military vigor he could muster to become the seventh U.S. President. He served from 1829 to 1837.
Abraham Lincoln swept the North to win the 1860 presidential election, but pro-slavery leaders in the South sounded the call for secession from the union, which led to the Civil War.
“We seem to have this under control right now,” Bellisimo said. “There is not a complete breakdown of the system, but if there was a breakdown, the military would have to take sides or possibly states would secede.”
More recently, Democrats suspicious of election fraud cried foul after the 2016 upset win of Donald Trump. There were investigations into foreign involvement and other matters, but no organized mass violence.
So what happened to change things in 2020?
“Countries in general tend to be more vulnerable to things like the Capitol siege when they are hit with catastrophes: Job losses, the pandemic,” Bellisimo said. “You put it all together and it creates a tremendous amount of fear. Politicians manipulate that fear for their own gains. That’s a lot of what happened here. When people are angry like that and they’re afraid, they go along with the message. … Trump is a genius at being able to play people. He’s an amazing sociopath.”
Bellisimo explained the populism movement is fueled in part when people fear their enemies are trying to take things away from them, such as their money, their jobs and their country.
The final days of Trump’s presidency have been marked by controversy. After his loss to Biden in the November 3 election, Trump made several calls for vote recounts and lashed out with charges of voter fraud that he said should void the election results.