US higher education condemns Trump after Capitol assault

University leaders fear Trump harming democracy as voters hand more power to Democrats

January 7, 2021
Foggy Capitol Building
Source: iStock

Leaders of US higher education recoiled in horror at the deadly storming of the US Capitol by a mob instigated by Donald Trump and his bid to overturn his election loss.

Several university presidents and heads of university groupings called the attack on the national legislative building a tragic culmination of years of efforts by Mr Trump to rule through misinformation and violence.

“President Trump has failed to act in the best interests of the country or respond to his constitutional and moral obligations,” Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education (ACE), said in his statement.

“It’s imperative,” Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said of Mr Trump, “that he stop spreading false information that incited today’s violence and has led many others to deny the true election outcome.”

Pro-Trump rioters made the biggest violent incursion of the Capitol building since British soldiers in the War of 1812 immediately after Mr Trump urged them in a speech to march to the Capitol and deter lawmakers from certifying Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

The act prompted at least one major industry group, the National Association of Manufacturers, to urge Mr Trump’s immediate removal from office, and reports that administration members were actively considering such a dire move just two weeks before Mr Biden takes office.

Mr Biden won 81 million votes to 74 million for Mr Trump in the November election, and through that, a 306 to 232 victory in the state-by-state Electoral College. The violence came as lawmakers met in the Capitol to formally certify that outcome.

The American Council on Education and other higher education leaders took the unusual step of publicly commenting on the matter because of the seriousness of the situation and the principle of free public expression, said Terry Hartle, the ACE’s senior vice-president for government and public affairs.

“It’s such an assault on the basic premise of American democracy that college and university leaders feel a need to express their concern,” Dr Hartle said in an interview.

“Civic engagement in the public square is a huge issue for all colleges and universities, and things that happen in those areas that undermine American democracy are a matter of great concern to us,” he said.

The crisis engulfed the nation just as two final run-off elections from the November voting concluded in Georgia with Democrats capturing the state’s two seats in the US Senate.

The wins by Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff give Democrats a 50-50 tie with Republicans in the Senate. Tie votes in the Senate are broken by the US vice-president, who soon will be a Democrat.

That means that Mr Biden’s allies will control both houses of Congress, boosting his ability to pursue his political priorities. Still, Dr Hartle and other experts were predicting that the narrow Democratic majority and sharp partisan divisions in Congress and the country will make it difficult for Mr Biden to fulfil his promise to eliminate tuition costs for the broad majority of college students.

“The Georgia Senate races change everything, but guarantee nothing,” Dr Hartle said. “The Democrats are driving the bus, but they’re not going to be able to drive it very fast.”

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