The United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has resigned and US higher education leaders have reacted with horror and condemnation to the mob riot on Wednesday which breached the US Capitol, where Congressmen were meeting to certify the presidential election results, forcing them to run to shelter in fear of their lives.
Five people, including one law enforcement officer, died during or as a result of the invasion, as supporters of President Donald Trump disrupted the ceremony for certification of the election results, which, when resumed later, confirmed Joe Biden as president-elect, formally signalling the end of Trump’s hold on the reins of power.
Education Secretary DeVos on Thursday became the second member of Trump’s cabinet to resign over the disorder, accusing Trump in her resignation letter of inciting the “unconscionable” actions of the protesters.
Higher education leaders strongly condemned the attack on the Capitol and the president’s fuelling of anger among his supporters by spreading baseless claims of mass fraud during the election, which have been dismissed by the courts.
Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said: “We are horrified and saddened by the assault on the US Capitol, an attack on the very fabric of our democracy. America is better than this. But all of our elected leaders also must be better.”
He said President Trump had failed to act in the best interests of the country or respond to his constitutional and moral obligations.
“It is far past time for every American to respect our electoral process and accept the results of the election. This is not about politics or partisanship. It is about stopping the spread of misinformation, violence, and insurrection. It is about doing the right thing.
“One of the defining elements of the American experience is the peaceful transition of power. The unwillingness to accept that peaceful and calm transition is what led to today’s events. It must not be repeated ever again.”
Association of American Universities President Barbara Snyder said the “shocking violence” that unfolded at the Capitol was “nothing less than an attempted coup, and every American should be horrified and humiliated by what is happening in the very seat of our democracy”.
The violence followed a speech by Trump designed to pump up his supporters, in which he claimed the country was under siege, that the “most brazen and outrageous election theft” had taken place and had to be confronted, that “we’re going to walk down to the Capitol”, and that there was a need to “fight much harder”.
Near the end of his speech he warned that “you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength”.
The speech has been widely interpreted including by members of his staff as a factor inciting the violence.
Snyder said on Wednesday that President Trump and his supporters in Congress should immediately denounce the violence, demand his supporters cease and desist, and drop all efforts to disenfranchise American voters.
“America operates on the rule of law, not mob rule. On 20 January Joe Biden will be sworn in as our nation’s next president, as dictated by our Constitution and the votes of the American people.”
DeVos, whose departure will not be mourned by education leaders, in her resignation letter to Trump, said: “We should be highlighting and celebrating your administration’s many accomplishments on behalf of the American people. Instead, we are left to clean up the mess caused by violent protesters overrunning the US Capitol in an attempt to undermine the people’s business.”
‘No mistaking’ the impact
“That behaviour was unconscionable for our country. There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is an inflection point for me.”
Hours earlier, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is the wife of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, had also resigned, as had seven other members of the Trump administration.
University leaders joined in the condemnation. Harvard President Larry Bacow called the mayhem “an incomprehensible spectacle in the heart of the nation”.
“The rioters who forced their way into the Capitol assaulted the democratic process and endangered public servants who have devoted themselves to the defining work of our democracy – carrying out the will of the people,” he said.
“The future of our republic depends on our willingness to defend the values that brought it into being. The time has come for people of every political persuasion to denounce the lies, lawlessness, and violence that have brought our nation to the brink of constitutional crisis.
“As members of a university community dedicated to truth, learning, research, debate, and service, we condemn ignorance and hatred, and stand in support of the rule of law and the role of knowledge.”
Duke University President Vincent Price, in a letter to students and staff, said: “The storming of the Capitol complex is not merely a brazen act by a relatively small group of instigators. It is the direct result of a campaign to sow mistrust in our democracy and to overturn an election that was by all reasonable accounts conducted freely and fairly.
“These events are made all the more shameful by their futility – they are based on falsehoods and conspiracies that have been rejected in local, state, and federal courts across the country, and they simply will not change the outcome of our democratic process.
“Joe Biden will rightfully be inaugurated as our next president on January 20. In the coming days, I hope that our nation can move past the hateful, divisive, and false rhetoric and come together to address the pressing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Calls for removal from office
As it emerged that Republican politicians and former Trump administration officials, along with Democratic senators and representatives, were calling for invocation of the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice president with the backing of a majority of the cabinet to initiate the removal of a president, or impeachment proceedings, academic experts on government weighed into the public debate.
“What happened today was not merely the storming of our Capitol building, horrible enough as that is and something essentially unwitnessed since the British sacking of Washington in 1814. What we saw were two things that are fundamentally incompatible with a republic,” said Daniel Carpenter, Allie S Freed Professor of Government at Harvard University, on the day of the mob riot.
“First, a faction incited by our executive shut down the body that makes our laws. This is a grave attack on the separation of powers. It is in monarchies and Cromwellian autocracies, not democratic republics, that strongmen prorogue or stop the meetings of representative legislatures.
“Second, that faction also halted the process of certifying the Electoral College vote. The factional attack succeeded in delaying that certification.
“So, what we saw today was an attack on the legislative foundations of our democratic republic and an attack on the popular sovereignty that legitimates our democratic republic. [And] for a moment, it succeeded,” he said.
Before the DeVos’ resignation, her former chief of staff, Josh Venable, appealed to her and Vice President Mike Pence on Twitter to help remove President Donald Trump from office by invoking the 25th Amendment.