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UC Davis history professors Gregory Downs and Eric Rauchway are among its signatories
“Trump has defied the Constitution and broken laws, norms, practices, and precedents, for which he must be held accountable now and after he leaves office,” the letter states.
It follows the violent protest on Jan. 6, after Trump encouraged his supporters to “show strength” at the Capitol during the ceremonial confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden. The House of Representatives has since introduced an article of impeachment that charges the president of “incitement of insurrection.” The letter addresses ideas behind this charge, stating that Trump is a “clear and present danger to American democracy.”
Gregory Downs, a professor of U.S. history at UC Davis, is one of the signatories of the letter. As a scholar of the American Civil War and Reconstruction era, he has studied periods when there were significant threats to the country’s survival, and, according to him, the letter was designed to emphasize that the recent events are unlike other times in U.S. history.
“In this case, what historians are saying is: ‘Even having seen a lot of extremely conflictual times in U.S. history, this stands out; even having seen a lot of times when democracy [failed], this stands out; even having seen times when the survival of the country seemed at stake, this stands out,’” Downs said.
Eric Rauchway, a professor of American history at UC Davis said that, for him, signing the letter was a “no-brainer.”
“It doesn’t take a sophisticated academic analysis to say, there’s a lot of damage that the president can still do, even with a relatively short time in office,” Rauchway said.
Similar to Downs, he stated that, though there have been many instances of violence in U.S. history, the president’s involvement in this event remains unique.
“There has been violence relating to elections throughout American history,” Rauchway said. “There has even been white supremacist violence relating to elections throughout American history, so I don’t want to say that none of that has happened before. But, I feel this is an important distinction to make for the president himself to incite a white supremacist mob to attack the Capitol with the express purpose of disrupting the election that he lost.”
According to Downs, in congruence with the letter, by intending to halt the processes of democracy, Trump has failed to uphold and protect the Constitution.
“All Republics are premised upon the idea of a peaceful transfer of power; the idea that people lose elections without trying to bring down the country,” Downs said. “As Abraham Lincoln said, the threat to secede if you didn’t win an election is the ‘essence of anarchy.’”
The open letter is the second call of historians for the impeachment of Trump. The first, published Dec. 16, 2019, received over 2,000 signatures from members of the field, including Downs.
Now nearing the end of Trump’s term, rather than waiting for Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, Downs stated that impeachment is crucial to limit future instances of violence. Furthermore, though Trump will no longer be president in a matter of days, should he be convicted, the Senate has the power to prevent Trump from holding public office in years to come.
“It’s important to remove him from office as quickly as possible, even if it ends up being just a day or a few hours because the damage he can do in the White House remains significant,” Downs said. “And it is important to try and disqualify him from future office because […] the Republican Party cannot do that.”
Encouragement of the violence at the Capitol by the president and the insurrection itself, has the potential to set a dangerous precedent, Downs said.
“One thing that’s very clear is these are rarely one-time crises,” Downs said. “Once you introduce the power, it’s going to be used again. So it’s a test of the country. Do we want to be back in this situation in 2024 or not?”
Written by: Sophie Dewees — firstname.lastname@example.org