This past Monday, Americans observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day. While many view this day as a time to celebrate the racial progress we have made as a nation since King’s assassination in 1968, the events of the past few months have made clear that the time for celebration has not yet arrived. Against the backdrop of a nation still reeling from the trauma brought on by the Capitol Hill riot, King’s vision of America as a just, multiracial democracy feels ever more necessary, yet ever further away.
Among those who stand in the way of this vision is Sen. Ted Cruz ’92 (R-Texas), one of Princeton’s most prominent alumni. Cruz was an active and willing participant in former President Donald Trump’s voter-fraud disinformation campaign that disproportionately targeted Black and brown Americans, seeking to discount their votes in an effort to overturn an election deemed by many officials as the most secure in American history.
It was this effort that caused 147 Republican members of Congress and senators to object to the official certification of President Joe Biden’s victory. And it was this effort that culminated in a day of white supremacist violence that will live in infamy in our nation’s history.
Cruz’s hands are all over this fraudulent effort, from offering to argue for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s voter fraud lawsuit before the Supreme Court to spearheading efforts to object to certification at the Capitol on Jan. 6. He led the group of 11 senators that joined Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) in objecting, and even as multiple members of that group reversed course following the Capitol siege, Cruz continued validating baseless fraud claims. The fact that the Trump supporters who raided the Senate floor believed Cruz would approve of their conduct makes clear Cruz’s culpability in this attack.
In a blog post following the riots, President Eisgruber condemned the events of the day — a necessary step. We agree that the violence was abhorrent and that “every leader has a responsibility to oppose [lawless behavior] and never to stoke or encourage it,” as he wrote. However, Eisgruber neglected to mention Cruz’s role leading up to the riots.
In the following days, as multiple student and alumni petitions condemned Cruz for his singular role in the day’s events, a statement from a University spokesperson made clear that Eisgruber would not follow suit, noting that Eisgruber “believes that the role of a university president should be to articulate the values of the institution, not to pass judgement upon which alumni may be falling short of those values.”
There may indeed be a good rule of thumb for university presidents to refrain from calling out every alum who has done wrong. However, this instance of a particularly high profile alumnus whose actions not only undermined the structures essential to our democracy, but also played a direct causal role in perpetuating systemic racism should be an exception.
We find Eisgruber’s silence on this issue not only disappointing but also antithetical to his past commitments. This summer, in response to the Black Lives Matter protests, Eisgruber stated that “confronting the realities and legacy of racism, both in our own community and in the world at large, requires commitment at every level of our institution.” Such a commitment must start at the top.
We call on President Eisgruber to acknowledge the racist nature of this voter-fraud disinformation campaign and to explicitly condemn Cruz for his role in it. These actions must be taken not solely because of Cruz’s complicity in the attack on the Capitol, but also because his actions have perpetuated the systemic racism that for so long has prevented America from becoming the true democracy it purports to be — the same systemic racism President Eisgruber ensured this summer that the University would now fight against.
A brief survey of the voter fraud complaints launched by Trump, Cruz, and other Republican officials makes clear the racist underpinnings of this effort. Their allegations focused most heavily on cities with large Black and/or Latinx populations like Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, and Phoenix, despite the fact that many election experts have argued that suburban voters were a larger determining factor in Biden’s victory. Trump and his lawyers repeatedly argued that these cities were bastions of corruption and that the votes from residents of these cities must be thrown out.
In making this argument, these Republican officials drew on centuries-old stereotypes used to justify America’s long history of denying Black Americans the right to vote. The idea that Black people are fundamentally corrupt and incapable of participating in America’s democracy has historically inspired racial violence that dismantled democratically elected, multiracial governments. Reconstruction-era Louisiana and North Carolina exemplify this pattern, as historian Eric Foner explains. And it was this idea that states employed in the post-Reconstruction era to implement laws preventing non-white people from voting, laws that remained intact until the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s.
Cruz may argue that he did not propagate these specific allegations. He may point to his call for the creation of an election commission as an innocent desire to give voice to the “concerned” Americans who believed that the election was unfair, as he claimed in his speech on Jan. 6 objecting to the certification of electoral votes in Arizona and in defense of his actions after the riots.
Never mind the fact that Republicans and the lies they have spread are to blame for distrust in their base of the election, Cruz cannot extract himself from the racist assumptions upon which this effort was built. Even his colleague, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who initially planned to object to certification but reversed course after the riots, acknowledged that his role in this farce perpetuated the myth that Black voters were corrupt and their votes fraudulent.
No, Ted Cruz cannot absolve himself of the role that he played. Nor should Princeton absolve itself from its connections to Cruz. Many alumni and current students have recognized that Cruz’s actions were antithetical to Princeton’s values, as petitions and letters circulated since the events of Jan. 6 demonstrate.
Though the Editorial Board has not reached a consensus on the merits of the specific actions called for in these petitions, the petitions nevertheless show Princetonians of conviction and character, unafraid to acknowledge and hold accountable a member of our community responsible for undermining our democracy. By not directly condemning Cruz, Eisgruber and the Princeton administration have shown a lack of courage.
While presidential power has officially transitioned to Biden, our country’s democratic systems remain in jeopardy because of the actions of Cruz and his Republican colleagues. Already, states like Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are planning to enact stricter voting laws based on these lies that will, in all likelihood, disproportionately affect people of color. Such actions make clear the damage these allegations have had on the prospect of true multiracial democracy, even if they were ultimately unsuccessful in overturning this election.
It is in these perilous times when leading institutions like Princeton need to take a clear stance and firmly place themselves on the right side of history. This is a chance for Princeton to take a stand against racism, and for the multiracial democracy that King and so many others have dedicated, or are dedicating, their lives to creating. Anything less is an unacceptable retreat on the commitment Eisgruber and the administration made over the summer when they declared this institution would no longer tolerate the systemic racism that continues to rot through America.
It is time for Princeton to take responsibility in this fight for a more just future, and that starts with condemning its most prominent opponents. For these reasons, the administration cannot remain silent about Ted Cruz.
145th Editorial Board
Mollika Jai Singh ’24
Shannon Chaffers ’22
Won-Jae Chang ’24
Kristal Grant ’24
Harsimran Makkad ’22
Anna McGee ’22
Collin Riggins ’24
Zachary Shevin ’22