ST. PAUL — Dozens of political science professors from colleges and universities in Minnesota and the Dakotas have signed onto an open letter calling for President Donald Trump's removal from office, saying he is a threat to American security and the future of the country's democracy.
In the Thursday, Jan. 7 open letter, the hundreds of political scientists called on Congress, Vice President Mike Pence and the president's cabinet to remove Trump from office "immediately," via impeachment or by invoking the 25th Amendment. The letter comes one day after a group of Trump supporters violently stormed the Capitol, interrupting Congress's certification of the 2020 presidential election results.
"The President’s actions threaten American democracy," the professors wrote. "He has rejected the peaceful transfer of power, encouraged state legislators to overturn election results in their states, pressured a state official to change election results, and now incited a violent mob that shut down the counting of electoral votes and stormed the U.S. Capitol."
"He should be removed from office immediately before further violence takes place or further damage is done to our democracy," they concluded.
As of Thursday afternoon, 13 professors from the University of Minnesota signed the letter, and a spokesperson for the university confirmed its authenticity. One professor from the University of North Dakota, one from South Dakota State University and one from the University of South Dakota signed, as well.
Brian Harrison, a lecturer at UMN's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said he signed the open letter because "it was the right thing to do," as a private citizen and also as an expert "to send signals to the American citizenry that this is not normal. This is not something we should take lightly."
In the early 2000s, Harrison worked in the Dept. of Homeland Security, under President George W. Bush's administration. In a phone interview Thursday, he called Wednesday's events "the most egregious attack on our soil since 9/11."
"What’s remarkable about this particular attack on our federal government is that it came from within," he said. "And it came not only with support from the president, but encouragement from the president."
He said what happened Wednesday "sends all sorts of messages" not only to foreign nations — particularly "ones that are not necessarily our allies" — about the stability of the United States, but also "it signals to white supremacists and insurgents."
"Trump has still not disavowed what they've done," he said. "He of course famously said that he loves them. He held this rally yesterday that did nothing but rile them up and essentially give them a roadmap for what he wanted them to do."
C. Daniel Myers, an assistant professor of political science at UMN, said in a phone interview that what happened Wednesday does not happen overnight: He said since President-elect Joe Biden was declared the victor in November, Trump and down-ballot Republicans have told supporters "this election has been stolen from you," often coupled with "martial rhetoric, rhetoric about fighting, about patriots dying."
"That kind of violent rhetoric, if you have that kind of concentrated messaging from partisan elites on one side, people are going to start to believe that," Myers said. "What we saw yesterday I think was a fairly direct result of that kind of rhetoric."
From the University of North Dakota, political science and public administration professor Brian Urlacher signed the letter. Urlacher has been studying civil wars, political violence and state failure for 15 years, and has taught at UND since 2007.
“For myself, and for many political scientists, yesterday's events were genuinely terrifying not because such events are unprecedented in the United States of America but because they are common and familiar in countries experiencing democratic collapse,” he said in an email to Forum News Service.
Harrison said the lesson of Wednesday's events is that "it shows you how fragile democracy is."
"I think a lot of people thought authoritarianism couldn't happen here. And I think the lesson here is, it sure can, because it has," he said.
"How many people were willing to go along?" he asked. "How many elected officials, how many administrative officials? How many people who were very well-respected in their particular discipline previously simply went along with it? (...) All it takes is the complacency or the laziness or the fear of a few hundred people (in government) to really overturn our system of government. And I think that’s terrifying."
As for fear of repercussions or allegations of bias in his academic career, Myers told Forum News Service that it's "in the back of (professors') heads," but "that’s why I think that it’s important that it’s very rare that we make these kind of statements. We only do so in extreme circumstances."
Asked if he believes after Wednesday that a peaceful transition of power is possible on Jan. 20th, Myers said, "I think that ship has sailed. In a very literal definition, four people died during an attempt to disrupt the transition of power."
Asked the same question, Harrison hesitated for several seconds before replying, "I don't know. And 'I don’t know' is a terribly awful indictment."