Viewed through a political history lens, Murphy sees both
contemporary influences and historical features to the recent events.
Forces that have contributed to the current crisis include an effort
to delegitimize the federal government, along with other institutions
in American society, such as the media, Murphy said. Different groups
of people cannot agree on facts because of a fractured view of the media.
Also, while there is intense partisanship, that is nothing new to the
U.S., Murphy noted, pointing to an era in the 19th century that was
dominated by political bosses who demanded loyalty and mobilized
vigorous participation in the process. He sees elements of this
"throwback" style in today's climate.
Another element with a long history in American is violence,
including threats to the Capitol. Murphy said duels, physical fights
and other altercations in Congress, and unrest among citizens and
riots, are all part of the landscape. "People act politically in
violent ways," he said.
The British burned the Capitol in 1814 during the War of 1812, and
the Capitol was the likely target for hijackers of the plane that
crashed in Pennsylvania during the Sept. 11 attacks.
Still, even knowing that history, the unique nature of recent events
-- including the sustained effort by President Donald Trump to
overturn election results -- is unsettling and will create a wide
swath of fallout, Murphy said.
Politically, he said, the fallout likely includes a reckoning among
Republicans, particularly those who aligned with Trump. An additional
consideration for those in the GOP is contending with a base that
through a complex evolution through the decades now has a significant
segment of citizens loyal to Trump's worldview, he said.
This situation joins other stress points in the nation's political
history, he said. Some examples:
- 1860 into 1861: "A key moment in American history. The nation
really did fall apart."
- 1932 to 1933: A country ravaged by the Great Depression is on the
brink -- "It was a moment when people thought a revolution
could occur" -- as the presidency transitioned from Herbert
Hoover to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
- Sept. 11, 2001: There is initial unity, then divisions develop
over the Iraq War, increased surveillance of citizens and other issues.
- Late 2007: The Great Recession starts.
But perhaps a vitriolic election during America's infancy could be
illuminating, Murphy said.
In 1800, the division among members of the Republican Party and the
Federalist Party was deep and the rancor at a high pitch. Each side
thought the other was going to ruin the young republic, he said. There
was a question about whether the Federalists would even accept the
election of Republican Thomas Jefferson.
But ultimately, in 1801: "As deeply as they opposed the
Republicans, the Federalists freely gave up their power to the
Republicans. They did it with the expectation that they would have a
chance to return to power if they win elections," he said.
"They were committed to the experiment of American self
government, and hopefully that's what we'll see take hold."