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Today’s Events, a New Year

Dear Emerson Community,

Today, as I watched with a heart made heavy by the astonishing events unfolding in the nation’s capital this afternoon, I was reminded of what Elijah Cummings, chair of the House Oversight Committee said at a Committee hearing, one year and one month ago:

“The greatest gift that you and I, Mr. President, can give to our children is making sure that we give to them a democracy that is intact, a democracy that is better than the one we came upon.”

By that measure, this president has failed. This evolving grand experiment that we call democracy, at its ideal best, should be a place of liberty, of light, of hope and of promise – even in the face of its many flaws and shortcomings. But today, the light is dimmer, liberty is shackled, hope is elusive and the promise is ever receding like the tide going out to the sea.

What should have been a jubilant occasion of the peaceful and orderly transfer of presidential leadership – not only for the general election winners, but also for those who lost – was instead a day of riot and violence.

Of course, the predictable platitudes will make their appearance on schedule. “This is not who we are as a nation!,” they will exclaim, and so on. I still hear Representative Cummings’ exhortation to us: “Come on now, we’re better than this.”

But, are we better than this?

In the long moral arc of history, let’s hope that we are better than this.

The current occupant of the White House ­– in words and deeds – nurtured cynicism and hate, the dreadful by-products of fear and ignorance – the most toxic cocktail in human history. The President and his most ardent supporters created a fantasy about the 2020 presidential election – an election which he lost by 7,000,000 popular votes – and an electoral college margin of victory that Trump previously described as a “massive landslide” when he won the presidency by the very same margin four years ago. He was aided and abetted by mischievous Senators and Representatives of his own party who have remained conspicuously silent and who assembled in the Capitol to advocate and promote a grand fiction about the election results – an effort promulgated by their own greedy political expediency. It is my wish that Congress will vote to ratify the electors without further grandstanding and opposition when they next meet.

The president audaciously summoned a multitude of his supporters to the nation’s capital and set them loose like the Furies – the gods and goddesses of vengeance and mayhem. Their violence emptied the Congressional chambers and sent even those who were there to endorse the fantastical fiction that the incumbent had won the election scurrying for their lives. They defaced the Capitol, assaulted journalists and police, and attacked the very principles that are the cornerstone of our democracy.

On a day that began as a hopeful one for so many, exemplified by the outcome of a historic voter turnout in Georgia, this president and his marauders brought despair and darkness upon us.  History will not treat them with kindness or generosity.

So, our New Year doesn’t feel like a new year, but rather like a painfully poignant extension of the awful year we thought we had left behind.

The sad truth is that 2020 is still with us and it will be with us as long as the current President occupies the White House and, now it seems, even beyond his term in office.

Where do we go from here?  I don’t really know.

But I do know that we will be cursed to live this awful nightmare over and over again until people in his political party and others have the moral courage to say to the current president: “It is enough. You have done enough damage to the republic.”
Now is the time for our civic, business, and non-profit leaders to come to the aid of our country and help save our democracy.

Only then will our nation be able to live out in full measure Representative Cummings’ profound and eloquent assertion that the job of the president is to keep our democracy intact.

Lee Pelton

A portion of President Pelton’s message is included in an Inside Higher Ed piece, along with reactions to this week’s events from other college presidents.

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