The following is a guest contribution and reflects the authors’ views alone. For information on how to submit an article to the Opinion section, click here.
Former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial at the Senate began today. Arguably, with some serious accountability, he might not be able to hold a public office again. However, his legacy, his influence on his followers, his mob-cultured base, and his supporters across the country and in Congress are not going anywhere any time soon. Even though it will not appease many of Trump’s loyalists, it is better for the Republican Party — and even our local Princeton community — to hold Trump accountable.
There is no doubt that President Trump’s rhetoric over the past four years has had a lot to do with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. There is also no doubt that it had a lot to do with the bomb threat that shook the Princeton community on Sept. 19, 2020, merely three days after the Trump administration targeted our community.
On Sept. 2, University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 had issued a letter on the University’s efforts to combat systemic racism. The letter acknowledged that Princeton, “for most of its history, intentionally and systematically excluded people of color, women, Jews, and other minorities.” Instead of applauding this important step toward healing and reconciliation for the harm the university caused marginalized people, on Sept. 16, Trump’s Department of Education (ED) launched a bogus investigation and threatened to strip the University of funding. The ED accused the University of lying about its “nondiscrimination and equal opportunity assurances” in its funding contracts.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an Assistant Professor in the Department of African American Studies at Princeton, put it best in her tweet on the terrifying day of the bomb threat: “It is no coincidence that Princeton University was singled out for abuse by the Trump Administration earlier this week & this morning the campus must be evacuated because of bomb threats made across the campus. It is ritual: Trump gins up the base on racism & harassment ensues.”
What we experienced right here at home is a microcosm for what is happening across America: some of the Republican base has become violent and some GOP leaders have become inciters of division. The problem now is a political culture that seems now, more than ever, foreign to American democratic traditions. Unfortunately, we have reached a point in our political culture and history that James Madison and other Founding Fathers feared and warned us against a long time ago: political factions.
The Founders greatly feared politicians motivated by personal interest and political mobs and demagogue leaders who may sway the American public one way or another. Madison clearly expressed this concern in Federalist Papers No. 10. He especially feared politicians who incited citizens by playing with their “common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” He believed this kind of governance would inevitably bring a democratic republic to its end. And as one American constitutional law scholar put it, “America Is Living James Madison’s Nightmare.” Indeed, there is no better recent example of a demagogue leader than former President Trump, and the culture among some of his supporters is certainly one of a mob; this applies both to members of Congress and to ordinary people.
Yet despite the fact that Trump has brought about the very danger the Founders feared would threaten our republic, the Republican Party shows no desire to hold him accountable. It is extremely alarming that only 10 members out of the 211 House Republicans voted in favor of impeaching former President Trump. Even worse, 45 Republican senators voted against taking up the case in the recent vote in the Senate to move forward with the trial.
Even politicians right here in New Jersey’s Legislative District 16 (LD16), which includes Princeton, have conceded that this is a “soul-searching time for Republicans in New Jersey.” New Jersey Senator Kip Bateman (R-16) acknowledged that what Trump has done to the Republican party contributed to his decision not to seek reelection for the LD16 senate seat. In an interview with NJ Insider, Bateman said, “I am proud to be a Republican, but right now I think the Republican Party in New Jersey and across the country really needs to redefine ourselves ... and I think that it’s gonna be a while before we can turn things around.”
Senator Bateman is right — it is going to take the Republican Party “a while to turn things around.” That makes one thing crystal clear: ensuring safety in our communities and rescuing our democracy from the Trumpian danger our Founding Fathers warned us all about is going to take bold progressive leadership at the federal, state, and local levels of government.
Faris Zwirahn is a Lecturer at Princeton University and a 2021 MPhil Candidate at University of Pennsylvania. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deanna Dyer, Esq. is a 2011 alumnus of the Legal Education Opportunity Program at University of California, Hastings College of the Law and has worked as an anti-violence and social justice advocate since 2005.