Spurred by President Donald Trump’s fear–mongering cries of “if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” an alt–right mob stormed the Capitol building to stop the certification of President–elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory. This event was a break from America’s tradition of peaceful transitions of power, showing how Trump’s platform of authoritarianism and hate has turned into a direct attack on our legislative branch.
This attack was a clear demonstration of white supremacy in America. Insurrectionists proudly wore antisemitic “Camp Auschwitz” t–shirts as they stormed the Capitol. Rioters waved Confederate flags through the chambers of Congress. This exhibit of hate, racism, and antisemitism showed how Trump empowered these insurrectionists to act violent—all in the name of preserving his presidency and its white supremacist baggage. They clearly communicated that in Trump’s America, there is no place for non–white people.
And these attacks weren’t just displays of white supremacy. They were also displays of white privilege. Looking backwards into the very recent past, Trump called the National Guard to Philadelphia—a majority Black city—during peaceful Black Lives Matter protests. Meanwhile, the National Guard had no presence during this violent, largely white insurrection. While peaceful protestors and journalists were tear–gassed and shot at with rubber bullets to make way for Trump’s photo–op at St. John’s Church, the Capitol police took selfies with rioters and were unable to stop this coup–attempt. The Capitol riots unveil a clear double standard. While Black protesters are killed and arrested for holding vigils and peaceful demonstrations, violent white protesters are allowed to invade the Capitol with guns, zip ties, and bombs.
With Penn’s so–called commitment to civic engagement, President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett felt the need to write a statement regarding this attack on the US Capitol. Yet in this 144 word long paragraph, there was no mention of Donald Trump or any of the other political figures who caused this riot. Rather than calling Trump out by name, there were empty mentions of “threatening incitements” and “assaults on the political freedom of all citizens.” And instead of highlighting the roles that Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz played in inciting these alt–right rioters, our university leadership “[praised] those leaders of all parties who worked through the night to carry on the constitutional mission of recognizing the peaceful transfer of presidential power.”
By staying silent about the roles that Trump played in these riots, Penn is validating and encouraging the white supremacist values that Trump and his followers uphold. Despite Penn’s claimed dedication to diversity, the administration refuses to denounce the white supremacist violence at the Capitol that threatens so many of its students. The administration’s hypocritical emphasis on Penn’s diversity while declining to stand for its diverse population is a blatant act of violent apathy against its non–white students.
On top of Penn’s hesitant, avoidant word choice that failed to address Trump’s central role in the storming of the Capitol, university leadership didn’t send this statement out to the Penn community. In this largely meaningless statement, Penn’s administration didn’t have the courage to publicize their stance on this attack on our democracy to its students. With the administration’s calculated silence and weak condemnation of the mob (instead of Trump as an individual), Penn is showing the world that Trump’s connection to Penn isn’t unwelcomed.
As Trump’s alma mater, Penn’s words carry power. He wields his academic experience at Wharton as a weapon to convince others of his intelligence, winning over voters with his “qualifications'' and radicalizing them with his divisive, hateful rhetoric. Because of this, the administration’s silence regarding Trump isn’t only disappointing but also dangerous. Being silent allows Trump to divide the country by giving him credibility. Simply put, Penn is telling Trump that his despicable actions will go unpunished.
Words clearly can’t reverse the consequences of Trump’s presidency, but Penn at least needs to utilize its platform to condemn its most infamous alumni. Trump is plainly encouraging hate, polarization, and misinformation, and Penn’s current lack of action completely contradicts its democratic history and founding principles while also threatening the wellbeing of its student body and faculty.
Not only does Penn need to call Trump out by name, but they also need to take it a step further by revoking Trump’s diploma. By revoking his diploma, Trump won’t be able to use his admission to Penn as a qualifier for his intelligence and credibility. Despite numerous allegations of Trump cheating on his SAT and gaining admission to Wharton fraudulently, Penn has declined to investigate the terms of his admission. While other universities such as Lehigh University and Robert Gordon University have revoked his honorary degrees due to the despicable values he promotes, Penn’s refusal to speak up has shown that it can’t be a leader in condemning Trump’s actions.
Despite Penn founder Benjamin Franklin’s famous words of “Pardoning the Bad, is injuring the Good,” university leadership is complicit in pardoning Trump. Penn’s lack of action isn’t only shameful but also shows how Penn is a school that won’t and can’t act in the face of white supremacy, hate, and authoritarianism.