The Politico Report

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Emmalyn Meyer, Editor-in-Chief

A Runaway Vote

Just when you thought the election season was over in 2020, the beginning of January stirred the pot in Georgia with a Senate runoff race. Normally, the runoffs of Southern states aren’t something to pay much attention to, but this year, they had the possibility to make a big change in Congress.

The runoff electoral system overtook the state’s old “county-unit” system in 1962, which amplified rural voting power while disadvantaging black voters. The new system, however, was created with an intent to break up “blocs” of black voters who would all vote for the same candidate, unlike white Georgian voters. 

The new electoral system required a majority of the vote (over 50 percent) rather than a plurality (not over 50, but more than the other candidates), for a candidate to win. It has resulted in 20 Georgia county elections “where at least 35 black candidates won the most votes in their initial primaries, but then lost in runoffs as voters coalesced around a white opponent,” the United States Department of Justice said in 1990 per a lawsuit against Georgia’s runoff system.

Nevertheless, Rev. Raphael Warnock, a black Democratic candidate, succeeded this year in his runoff election on January 5th against incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler. Jon Ossoff, the youngest elected senator since 1980 and first Jewish senator from the deep south, won as a Democrat against incumbent Republican David Perdue. 

In the Nov. 3 election, Ossoff secured 47.95 percent of the vote to Perdue’s 49.73, and Warnock had 32.9 to Loeffler’s 25.9, with the other two candidates, Doug Collins and Deborah Jackson, earning 20 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively. In the runoff, however, Ossoff won 50.6 percent of the vote and Warnock won 51 percent, leading to both yanking the Senate seats from the Republican party. 

Voter turnout played a major role in these unprecedented wins. According to FiveThirtyEight, an ABC News Internet Venture, 4.4 million people voted in the runoff, which is 90 percent of the turnout in the general election. Stacey Abrams, voting rights activist and founder of the organization Fair Fight, was a key player in getting the vote out for both the general and runoff elections.

These last-minute seat grabs were able to slightly tip the scales in the Senate in the Democrats’ favor, as it is now split 50-50 down party lines. With Democrat VP Kamala Harris being the tie breaking vote and the House staying in a Democrat majority, the party once again has the chance to pursue more progressive and liberal bills such as increasing the minimum wage and passing/amending the Environmental Protection Act.

Another Day at the Capitol

Jan. 6 was a day that began unnoticed by most American people, with only a few cautiously paying notice to the proceedings of the House and Senate, who were counting the votes of the Electoral College and certifying the election results. Anyone who had been following the “election fraud” lawsuits brought on by former president Donald Trump suspected some pushback by Trump supporters during this vote count, but few could have guessed the magnitude of the fight.

That morning, Trump was holding a rally in Washington, D.C.: A “March to Save America” to continue convincing his followers that the election had been stolen from him and president-elect Joe Biden would be an illegitimate leader. The narrative of the “rigged election” and rampant voter fraud that Trump and his fans stirred up since before the election came to a head on the first Wednesday of the new year. 

At around 1 pm, Trump finished his speech with a push to directly confront the congressional leaders on their acceptance of the fraudulent election results. This incited the crowd to walk down Pennsylvania Ave. towards the Capitol, subsequently clashing with the police outside the building. Three men were involved in the call for the National Guard to intervene: Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, House Sergeant Paul Irving, and Senate Sergeant Michael Stenger. By the time the call was approved by Capitol security, an hour later, the outnumbered police officers backed off from the barricade to the building’s entrance due to an increased threat from the rioters, allowing them to enter.

The armed mob broke windows and stormed through the halls towards the unsealed meeting chambers, where the Senate proceedings continued until police entered to evacuate the room at 2:30. At the same time, the House chamber disbanded and members were instructed to wear gas masks as protection from the tear gas used against resisting rioters.

The mob was able to enter and loot the offices of several Congressional leaders, making away with valuable possessions. The panic buttons installed in every office were also removed at some point, which made it impossible for terrified staff members to receive help while in hiding. Also, police discovered two pipe bombs planted just a few blocks from the Capitol, which were detonated immediately and never exploded; however, they served as evidence that the event was planned and the pipe bombs were meant to keep the police away from the Capitol.

There were clear attempts made by Trump to incite violence inside the Capitol once the swarm had entered, as he tweeted that Vice President Mike Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done.” Pence made it clear in the joint session that he was going to certify the vote, which angered the president. This led to rioters chanting to “Hang Pence,” among other pieces of violent speech.

Several of the President’s tweets were flagged or removed by Twitter for inciting violence and hateful speech, and those statements became evidence against Trump in his following impeachment given by the House and trial by the Senate (*as of February 10th, the publishing date, the Senate has not voted to convict or acquit the former president).

Although the two houses were able to count the votes and certify the election results in the end, the incident caused the deaths of one Capitol police officer and four protesters, as well as the injuries of more than 150 Capitol police officers. It also left lasting trauma on members of Congress: notably, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has come forward on both Instagram and Twitter to inform her followers of how the riot affected her and the other congressmen and women.

A month later, the details of the incident and the individuals involved are still being investigated to ensure justice prevails and future attempts at violence at such a large scale are prevented.

A Cause to Unite

Although it could be considered less ceremonious than previous years allowed for, the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Jan. 20 drew the nation’s attention for several reasons. 

As it was the first presidential inaugural ceremony to occur during a global pandemic, many precautions were taken to ensure the safety of the attendees and those who would normally attend the event. The National Mall, for example, is a gathering place for Americans watching the event, who can number in the hundreds of thousands in a normal year. This year, though, 200,000 flags from all 50 states and U.S. territories decorated the strip, representing all who could not attend.

The ceremony involved performances from several well-known artists, including Garth Brooks singing “Amazing Grace,” Lady Gaga singing the National Anthem, and Jennifer Lopez singing “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful.”

Amanda Gorman performed an inaugural poem she wrote, titled “The Hill We Climb.” Gorman was the youngest inaugural poet in history at 23 years old, and her poem contained messages of establishing national unity and facilitating healing for the traumatic events that mark the history of the nation. Pieces of her poem were inspired by the events of the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol.

“Poetry is typically the touchstone that we go back to when we have to remind ourselves of the history that we stand on, and the future that we stand for,” Gorman said in an interview with the New York Times. 

One facet of the inauguration that resonated with many Gen-Z individuals was the attire of many leaders at the event, including First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and even Former First Lady Michelle Obama, who remains, along with her husband, a key figure of the Democratic party today. 

Fitting with the inauguration’s theme, “America United,” the three women wore monochrome dresses and coats, and each had symbolic reasons for their style. Jill Biden and Harris wore different shades of blue to represent the Democratic party’s signature color. All of Harris’s inaugural pieces featured the work of young independent Black designers, as a testament to her heritage and the future of Black Americans in power.

Another recurring theme was the color purple in the appearances of many attendees. The color is often associated with regality, as well as the suffrage movement of the early 1900s. Purple could also represent the blending of American blue and red politics, once again symbolizing unity for the country. 

And, of course, one cannot go without mentioning the Twitter meme hallmark of inaugural fashion: Bernie Sanders and his mittens. A testament to his Vermont roots and the cold inauguration day weather, his stature and style remained in the mainstream for a notably long time, and several people, to much criticism, even appreciated the senator with a tattoo to commemorate the occasion.

Biden and Harris brought about their message of American unity to the people through this ceremony and memorialized the dawn of a new era as they promised the country a strong executive leadership for the next four years.