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Price’s statement merely routine

guest letter

To the Editors of the Chronicle:

President Price issued a statement about the events of January 6th in Washington. As a holder of a Duke degree and long-time employee, I find this statement sorely lacking. President Price nods to the conventional pieties by condemning violence and “a campaign to sow mistrust in our democracy.” What is glaringly absent is any acknowledgement of who is responsible for this campaign, for encouraging the mob and the falsehoods about the election. Since it needs to be said, it is President Trump and his enablers in the Republican party up to the most senior levels, reporters in conservative media, pundits from conservative think tanks, and so on. Wednesday the 6th of January showed us why it was wrong to excuse saying the unspeakable, to wink at the transgression of customary boundaries, to accede to the perversion of our political institutions. It was wrong four years ago and it has been wrong every day since.

Some, like Senator Romney and our own Senator Burr, are being lauded for strong public statements of principle. Too late, gentlemen, too late. All those who have failed to hold Trump accountable, who have used his popularity as a means to feather their own nests, to eliminate regulations that protect the health and safety of the American people, to sell off our assets and our heritage, to appoint grossly unqualified and extremist judges, to allow a pandemic to rage out of control—all those who should have known better but went along because it suited their personal and political ends should be forever condemned and excluded from public life.

I grant President Price is in a difficult position. But there were other things he could have said. He could have said nothing at all. He could have said that Duke University takes no position on political issues and therefore he is unable to comment. He could have addressed the Duke community and asked us to consider how we might engage with the current broken state of our polity. Or he could have condemned the specific actions and tactics that have brought us here.

I am old enough to remember the Presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater, and the slogan circulated by his supporters after his defeat: ”26,000,000 people can’t be wrong!” It was absurd then, and it is absurd now. You don’t need a Department of Mathematics to tell you which is the smaller of two numbers. You don’t need to be smart or have a fancy college education to understand what is at stake. To understand the principles of democracy you just have to understand the value of listening to one another, of making arguments based on facts and reason, and of abiding by the established rules for how decisions are made.

Stuff you learn in kindergarten.


Caroline Usher, M.A. 1983

Staff member, Department of Biology

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