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Anger that fed Jan. 6 attack remains prevalent in American politics, IU professor says

Jan. 6 Capitol riot
Posted at 2:45 PM, Jan 06, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana University professor who studies the role of anger in American politics said Thursday that the country needs to reduce the vitriol that persists a year after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. However, there is no easy way to fix the problem.

Steven Webster, an associate professor of political science and author of the book “American Rage: How Anger Shapes Our Politics,” said the riots were not a sudden development.

He noted that the environment leading up to Jan. 6 was compounded by nasty rhetoric coming from political figures and some in the media.

“What we saw on the sixth of last year was a very unhealthy form of anger in politics,” Webster said. “I don’t think we’ve done much to heal as a country.”

Part of that is because the country cannot agree on a common set of facts to describe what happened. Webster said Democrats say what happened was an insurrection, while Republicans call it a protest.

An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll this week found that about two-thirds of Americans describe the day as very or extremely violent, including about nine in 10 Democrats. However, only about four in 10 Republicans recall the attack by supporters of former President Donald Trump the same way.

Misinformation, Weaver said, is a problem in our society that has real effects on our politics and feeds political anger.

“The fact that we can't even discuss the same event and in the same way, I think goes a long way in illustrating how polarized this country really is,” Webster said.

Anger in American politics is nothing new. However, Weaver said it has become easier to get mad and stay mad in an age of social media and 24/7 cable news. Anger is a useful campaign strategy for politicians, he said.

An angry voter is a loyal voter, he explained, and people who are angry are more likely to vote loyally for their own political party.

“And politicians, of course, want this,” Weaver said. “Unless we can change the incentives that politicians face, I think it's unlikely that we're going to tamp down this anger that we see.”

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