Obama: 'Democracy is at a greater risk today'

Some of the Democratic Party’s most prominent figures on Thursday used the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to warn that work is needed to protect American democracy.

Former President Barack Obama released a statement saying that “while the broken windows have been repaired and many of the rioters have been brought to justice, the truth is that our democracy is at a greater risk today than it was back then.”

Former President Barack Obama sits at a table, flanked by other participants, during a meeting at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
Former President Barack Obama at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 8. (Alastair Grant/AP)

“State legislatures across the country have not only made it harder to vote, but some have tried to assert power over core election processes including the ability to certify election results,” Obama wrote. “And those remaining Republican officials and thought leaders who have courageously stood their ground and rejected such anti-democratic efforts have been ostracized, primaried, and driven from the party.

“Historically, Americans have been defenders of democracy and freedom around the world — especially when it’s under attack,” he continued. “But we can’t serve the role when leading figures in one of our two major political parties are actively undermining democracy at home. We can’t set an example when our leaders are willing to fabricate lies and cast doubt on the results of free and fair elections.”

Former President Jimmy Carter, who held the office from 1977 to 1981, wrote an op-ed Wednesday for the New York Times in which he said he feared for American democracy.

“Politicians in my home state of Georgia, as well as in others, such as Texas and Florida, have leveraged the distrust they have created to enact laws that empower partisan legislatures to intervene in election processes,” wrote Carter. “They seek to win by any means, and many Americans are being persuaded to think and act likewise, threatening to collapse the foundations of our security and democracy with breathtaking speed. I now fear that what we have fought so hard to achieve globally — the right to free, fair elections, unhindered by strongman politicians who seek nothing more than to grow their own power — has become dangerously fragile at home.”

Former President Jimmy Carter sits before a microphone during a press conference.
Former President Jimmy Carter in 2015. (Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Carter offered his suggestions for averting his fears, including agreement on fundamental constitutional principles, reforms that ensure the security and accessibility of elections, resisting polarization, ensuring there is no violence in politics and curbing the spread of misinformation.

“Our great nation now teeters on the brink of a widening abyss,” Carter concluded. “Without immediate action, we are at genuine risk of civil conflict and losing our precious democracy. Americans must set aside differences and work together before it is too late.”

Former Vice President Al Gore, who served in the role under Bill Clinton from 1993 to 2001, wrote on Twitter that “one year after the violent events of Jan. 6, our Nation remains bruised. But in the face of growing threats to our democracy, we’ve also seen the rise of a new determination to revitalize it. We must foster these efforts and move decisively forward.”

In a speech from the Capitol’s Statuary Hall Thursday morning, Biden also directly tore into Donald Trump, blaming the former president for fueling the insurrection with the lie that the election was stolen from him.

“His bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution,” Biden said. “He can’t accept that he lost.”

A leading Republican also echoed those sentiments. Former presidential nominee Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah wrote: “We ignore the lessons of January 6 at our own peril. Democracy is fragile; it cannot survive without leaders of integrity and character who care more about the strength of our Republic than about winning the next election.”

Trump supporters clash with police as people try to storm the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

Their statements came as the country marked one year since a violent mob of supporters of then-President Trump stormed the Capitol building as Congress was certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.

Five people died in connection to the Jan. 6 attack, including Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed by police as she tried to break into the House chamber, and a Capitol Police officer who died from a stroke one day after two rioters allegedly assaulted him. More than 140 other police officers were injured defending the Capitol; four have since taken their own lives.

According to the FBI, more than 725 people have been criminally charged in connection with the riot, which occurred after a rally during which Trump repeated false election fraud claims.

According to a Yahoo News/YouGov poll released this week, three-quarters of Trump voters (75 percent) believe the false conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was “rigged and stolen” from him. (Just 9 percent of them think Biden “won fair and square” — down from 13 percent in January 2021.) But there is something that Biden voters and Trump voters agree on: According to the poll, 88 percent of the former and 89 percent of the latter say they are “worried about the future of U.S. democracy.” And a full 6 in 10 (60 percent) of the 1,537 U.S. adults Yahoo and YouGov polled believe an attack like the one that happened a year ago could happen again.

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