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HOW WE GOT HERE: What led to Wednesday’s events in Washington, D.C. and how we move forward

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WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL)- More than 24 hours later, the images and video from Capitol Hill on Wednesday are still stunning. The U.S. Capitol Building was breached for the first time since 1814 when the British tried to burn it down during the War of 1812.

"I just felt shocked and watching the events that were unfolding," University of Iowa professor Sara Mitchell said. "I just felt like I can't believe this is happening in my country."

Mitchell is the F. Wendell Miller Professor at the university and specializes in international relations. She said the attack on the bastion of democracy could leave it vulnerable.

"An attack like this on a national capitol can embolden domestic and transnational terror groups because they see how easy it was for these insurrectionists to breach the Capitol," she said. "If there were groups like Al Qaeda out there that were planning attacks on the US, they would see something like this and think that, oh, we could do this and do something worse and kill members of Congress and their staff and police."

The U.S. has long been the champion of democracy and human rights, but Mitchell said it is a hard title to hold when the rule of law is attacked.

"When we have members of political parties who are not upholding their constitutional oath and the rule of law," she said. "This makes it difficult for the United States to be a leader in the free world and to ask other countries like China to improve their human rights practices to become more democratic."

KWWL Political Analyst and Coordinator for the Master of Public Policy Program at the University of Northern Iowa Chris Larimer said polarization has been on the rise for the past five to ten years. Still, President Trump has inflamed tensions like no other.

For weeks he has claimed without any evidence the election was stolen from him.

"When he started down that path of that really emotional rhetoric, there were those in the electorate who were following him," he said. "Voters take their cues from elected leaders. When you have a president who uses that type of rhetoric, this can sadly be the consequence."

Larimer said the President had a chance to choose a different path and bring the country together, but chose not to.

"He didn't tell them to hold back," Larimer said. "If they are hearing from their leader that they should do something, it's not surprising that they would perceive their actions as being legitimate if the President of the United States is telling them to do that."

"Especially in a highly polarized environment, what elected officials say matters a great, great deal," Cornell College Assistant Professor of American Politics Megan Goldberg said. "Those words matter, and that galvanizes people."

Goldberg said the country is in the midst of a decade's long ethnic and religious transformation.

"We are a multi-ethnic religiously pluralistic, diverse country, and that's not been reflected in our power structures and who our elected officials who call the shots are, and that has been starting to shift," She said. "I think what we saw yesterday is attempts to keep a hold of that power by groups that are no longer in power. We are finally starting to finally see the full enfranchisement of some of these groups that have previously not held political power."

Moving forward, the question for all of us will center around unity. It is hard to fathom considering the size of the division and how dug in some people are.

Larimer said some voters will always believe this election was stolen. KWWL knows of no evidence to support that statement.

"We are at that point where for people who really pay attention to politics, it is difficult to get them to change their pre-existing beliefs," he said. "A sizable portion of the electorate is just going to look at what happened yesterday, and it will embolden them even further, and they're going to dig into their own beliefs that the other side is wrong."

Larimer placed the responsibility for yesterday's events at the top with President Trump. H added President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris will be responsible for healing the country when they take office in a few weeks.

"It is going to be up to them in terms of how much they reach out to the other side, how far they want to push on particular policies," he said. "But the reality is that it's going to be very difficult to come back to any civil conversation between activists."

Goldberg suggested viewing those with different views for who they are -- our friends, neighbors, and family members.

"I think the way to approach those conversations perhaps is to first talk about what the reality of America is right now," she said. "I think a lot of this comes from feelings of threat that our way of life is changing. And that doesn't have to be a threat. As Americans, our values in a democratic society should be that we want the full inclusion of everyone in the power structures."

In these increasingly polarized times, unity is hard to come by.

"We have to empathize and try to see what's happening in our political system through the eyes of the other side," Mitchell said. "Forgive people for if you think they've wronged you, somehow making statements that upset you. We need to get information from our sources, we need to listen to each other better, and we need to get past this divisiveness that's happening, both in our communities, our families, and in the national political scene."

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Daniel Perreault

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