Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine got personal about his experience with attacks on democracy in the past five years during a speech and subsequent panel discussion with the University of Virginia religious studies professors recently.
Kaine made his statements at the “Religion, Secularity and Public Life after Charlottesville,” the final conference in the “Religion and Its Publics” series hosted by the Virginia Center for the Study of Religion and the UVa Department of Religious Studies.
The six-year program began when the Henry Luce Foundation awarded a $1 million grant to the Virginia Center for the Study of Religion at the University of Virginia in 2015.
Kaine addressed faculty, staff and visitors at UVa’s Cabell Hall and answered attendees’ questions with input from co-directors Paul Dafydd Jones and Charles Mathewes, both professors of religious studies at UVa.
Panel discussions throughout the day, and Kaine’s speech, pondered the best course of action for political, community, religious and educational leaders in addressing ideologies that led to the January 6 insurrection and Unite the Right rally.
“The attacks were explicitly anti-democratic: rejecting a decision by a democratically elected Charlottesville city council regarding statues, and rejecting a decision to live by eight-plus million Americans in the 2020 presidential election,” Kaine said.
“The attacks were driven by a fear of being replaced,” he said. “A fear that the removal of a statue or the removal of a defeated president signified to the perpetrators that they were being somehow replaced or displaced in the social order.”
Kaine offered perspective on understanding the Charlottesville and Capitol attacks as well as the attacks on democracy around the globe.
“Democracies are under attack, and they should be when they don’t produce results,” he said. “Part of the crisis in American democracy and global diversity is based on a citizenry believing that the system isn’t listening, isn’t responding and isn’t producing. Further, no democracy can succeed if it produces results only for some not for all.”
Kaine said the latest policies reflect Congress’ effort to make life easier for all Americans, which include the Firearms Safety Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the American Rescue Plan.
The attacks during August 2017 and January 6 proved a widespread white male detachment from a government that no longer looks like them or exclusively serves their demographic, Kaine said.
A poll on public trust in government from Pew Research Center shows that Americans are losing respect for the basic components of democracy like elections, representative government, the rule of law, roles of the free press and equal civil rights.
“Maybe people trust representative government more when those in government overwhelmingly look like them. Maybe the notion of majority rule is more accepted by people who are confident that they’re in the majority,” Kaine said. “But today, in increasingly diverse American society, there’s a strong likelihood that a population that has always been comfortable in the majority may not be the majority in future.”
Kaine noted former President Donald Trump and his supporters’ response to the 2020 election results as one example. Although Trump voters were able to practice their democratic right to vote, the group decided that it had been disenfranchised when the results did not meet their expectations.
Kaine said he believes the adjustment period for white men to come to terms with a more diverse America will resolve itself in the short or mid-term and not become a long-term issue.
The senator admitted that he has been naïve about America’s racial and social challenges in spite of growing up in the Civil Rights era. He came to face the evolving war on democracy when officers from the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and U.S. Capitol Police escorted him and more than a hundred other senators into the tunnels beneath the Capitol building to hide from insurrectionists on Jan. 6, 2021.
After attending the final “Religion and Its Publics” conference, Kaine spoke to a group of honored law enforcement officials who served Charlottesville in August 2017 and Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 2021.
The officers were recognized by University of Virginia Center for Politics for protecting citizens during the riots.
University Police Department Deputy Chief Bryant Hall presented the Defender of Democracy awards to Officers Harry Dunn, Caroline Edwards, Michael Fanone, Aquilino Gonell, Eugene Goodman and Daniel Hodges. The officers have testified and spoken publicly against both of the attacks while some have opened up about battles with post-traumatic stress disorder and maintaining mental health since surviving the incidents.
Former D.C. police officer and now a CNN correspondent, Fanone said the metropolitan department has yet to acknowledge the sacrifices several law enforcement officers made as they protected the public and people in the Capitol last year.
The partners of fallen Officers Howard Liebengood, Brian Sicknick and Jeffrey Smith also accepted awards on behalf of their loved ones. Each of the officers died in the line of duty or as a result of injuries or trauma during the Capitol riot.
“You cannot kill an ideology and I think that’s where we are struggling right now,” said Dunn. “But for all those who were directly involved, throw them in jail.”