Sixty political scientists at the University of Washington are warning that the Trump administration is responsible for a “fundamental erosion” of democracy, which is having an effect on the climate on campus.
Sixty political scientists at the University of Washington — about three-quarters of their department — have signed and posted a letter voicing their concern about a “fundamental erosion of democratic institutions” in America under President Trump and the ripple effects it is having on the university’s campus.
The political scientists, a group that includes tenured professors and graduate students, wrote the letter in large part because their students have been asking if the transition between the Trump administration and that of former President Obama is typical of a switch from a Democratic to a Republican administration, said professor Michael McCann.
In short, the answer is no, McCann said.
The letter, posted on the department’s website Tuesday and published in the student newspaper The Daily on Friday, says: “We write as professional political scientists who feel compelled to speak out about troubling developments in national politics and their effects on our local campus community. Transitions in partisan control of government often occasion rancor. However, we are concerned that a more fundamental erosion of democratic institutions and values is under way.”
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McCann said members of the group are drawing on their expertise as political scientists to highlight the dangers they see in this administration’s approach to governing.
“Most of us criticize every administration because that’s what we do for a living,” he said, noting that as a labor specialist he thought Obama made numerous errors throughout his presidency, including a failure to focus on economic issues.
But this critique has nothing to do with ideology, he said.
In the letter, the political scientists write that their role in academia is to “analyze the fragility of democracy, the conditions under which democracy can thrive, and how easily it can deteriorate into authoritarian or even fascist rule.”
They say they are “alarmed” by what they see as the Trump administration’s lack of understanding of basic American values and institutional arrangements that are the foundations of the American democratic system.
They identify four key principles they view to be in jeopardy: “democracy, including fair elections; the rule of law, including constitutional checks and balances; respect for rights of all persons; and commitments to fundamental norms of fairness and justice.”
In the letter, they say the new administration shows derision toward vulnerable citizens, distorts facts, dismisses science and holds the legal process in disdain.
All that, they write, “has demonstrated a threat to civilized practices and principles that is unparalleled in the last half century, at least.”
The faculty letter talks about how “radical shifts” may be feeding into a climate of intolerance, and that bullying, physical violence, hate speech and racist invective have become more common at the UW since the inauguration.
On Jan. 20, during a speech by Breitbart News tech editor and provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, a protest on Red Square turned violent, and one man was shot in the abdomen. Since that incident, McCann said, a number of people on campus have been harassed. One is Alan-Michael Weatherford, a graduate student who teaches a queer-studies course and who says he was harassed online after the Yiannopoulos event — including posts that have included slurs, threats and the release of personal information.
McCann said some professors believe the university’s leaders need to address hate speech and harassment more directly. “They’ve been in far too much of a managerial mode,” he said.
“Lots of people feel really vulnerable and nervous on campus,” McCann said. “We will do what we can to protect them.”